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Penguins Hlinka fired as Penguins coach; Kehoe named as replacement

Monday, October 15, 2001

From local and wire dispatches

The Pittsburgh Penguins fired coach Ivan Hlinka and replaced him with assistant Rick Kehoe today, hoping to turn things around after a franchise record-tying 0-4 start.

Ivan Hlinka was named Penguins head coach in June of last year. (Peter Diana, Post-Gazette photo) Click for more photos.

"Rick Kehoe has worked under some of the best coaches in the NHL in Bob Johnson, Scotty Bowman, Herb Brooks and Ed Johnston, and can draw on his vast experience with these very successful coaches," said Penguins General Manager Craig Patrick in announcing the change.

Patrick also said in a prepared statement that the rest of the Penguins coaching staff would remain the same and, in addition, Johnston, a Penguins assistant general manager who has two earlier stints as coach of the team, will work closely with the coaching staff.

Hlinka, whose contract runs through next season, will be offered another position in the organization, Patrick said.

"Ivan has an excellent hockey mind," Patrick said. "We'd like to keep him in the organization in another capacity."

The Penguins have scored only seven goals while losing their first four games for the first time since the 1983-84 season.

Hlinka, one of only two born-and-bred Europeans to become an NHL head coach, coached the Penguins to the Eastern Conference finals last year in his only full season leading the team.

He was brought in the year before after leading the Czech Republic to the gold medal in the 1998 Winter Olympics, mostly because the Penguins had the league's most European-dominated roster at the time.

However, Hlinka clashed at times with NHL scoring champion Jaromir Jagr, who was traded this offseason to Washington, and language problems prevented him from establishing a close working relationship with Penguins players who aren't Czechs.

Rick Kehoe has been named the new Penguins coach. Click for more photos.

Players said Hlinka rarely talked to the team before or during games and that Kehoe -- a former Penguins player -- often did most of the talking and handled many of the in-game moves.

The Penguins ordered Hlinka to take English lessons during the offseason, but he instead returned to the Czech Republic.

Team owner and star Mario Lemieux was upset that Hlinka was not communicating better with his players than he did last season.

Players complained of Hlinka's inability to match lines in the Penguins 6-3 loss Wednesday to the New York Islanders.

"Total chaos," said one player. "By the time Hlinka figures out what to say, it's too late. It's already time to say something else."

After the Penguins' 4-1 loss yesterday in Buffalo, Hlinka said he was aware that his tenure as coach might be over.

"You have to accept the possibility if you take the job. That's part of the job. But I'm not thinking of that right now," he said.

Lemieux has missed two of the Penguins' games and has yet to score a goal going in to Tuesday night's game against Ottawa.

Kehoe has been with the Penguins organization for 27 years, including 14 as an assistant coach. He played 11 of his 14 seasons with Pittsburgh and still ranks third on the club's all-time scoring list with 636 points. He scored 312 goals in 732 games, ranking fourth on the Penguins all-time list in both categories. He won the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship in 1981, after setting career highs with 55 goals and 88 points. He retired as a player in 1985.

After retiring, Kehoe served as a Penguins scout for two seasons, then began his coaching career as an assistant on Pierre Creamer's staff in 1987. In addition to Creamer, Hlinka, Johnson, Bowman and Brooks, Kehoe has served as an assistant under four other Penguins head coaches: Gene Ubriaco, Craig Patrick (twice), Kevin Constantine and Johnston.

Hlinka posted a record of 42-35-9 as head coach of the Penguins and led the team to the Eastern Conference Final last season. He was named head coach on June 21, 2000 after joining the Penguins as an associate head coach on Feb. 20, 2000.

Follow today's continuing developments here at post-gazette.com with complete coverage and analysis in tomorrow's print editions of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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