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Thrashers hire Hartley as coach

Posted: Wednesday, January 15, 2003

ATLANTA -- If Bob Hartley wanted a challenge, he came to the right place.

The Atlanta Thrashers hired Hartley as head coach Tuesday, hoping the 2001 Stanley Cup winner can turn around the team with the NHL's worst record.

Hartley was fired less than a month ago by the Colorado Avalanche after a 10-8-9-4 start.

''At certain stages of your life, you need to challenge yourself,'' Hartley said. ''I really think this organization offers me the challenge I need.

''It was not a matter of choosing the team with the best record. This is the team I wanted to coach.''

The Thrashers fired Curt Fraser on Dec. 26, and general manager Don Waddell took over on an interim basis. Atlanta went 4-5-1 under Waddell, including a 7-4 victory Monday over Philadelphia.

The Thrashers are last in the Southeast Division at 12-25-2-4.

A couple of days after Fraser was let go, Hartley called Waddell and expressed an interest in the job. They met for two days, including a three-hour conversation before Waddell would even agree to an interview.

''I told him I couldn't interview him until I knew him a little better,'' Waddell said. ''We went to my house and sat in my basement and talked for three hours. We talked about hockey and general things, and the next day, I actually interviewed him.''

During his 14 full seasons as a head coach, Hartley's won five championships, including the Stanley Cup he won with Colorado. He also won two minor league and two junior league titles.

''Bob has won at every level he's ever coached,'' Waddell said. ''His previous record is right there for us all to see. He's the guy that can take our young players to the next level.''

Hartley led the team through a spirited workout Tuesday, and he'll coach his first game Wednesday night against visiting Montreal.

''We had a quick, upbeat practice, and he made a couple of points in our defensive zone that I think will help us,'' forward Dany Heatley said. ''You could tell he knows what he's doing.''

Hartley went 193-118-48 -- including 49-31 in the playoffs -- in 4 1/2 seasons with Colorado, and he was the first NHL coach in 35 years to take a team to the conference finals in each of his first four seasons. His Avalanche beat the New Jersey Devils in seven games in the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals.

Atlanta forward Jeff Odgers played two seasons in Colorado under Hartley, and he's been fielding questions from curious teammates about the new coach.

''Everybody's kind of anxious to find out what kind of coach he is, what kind of style he has,'' Odgers said. ''I've told them he's a great teacher of the game. Everybody in this locker room will benefit from him being here.''

Hartley was under contract to Colorado through next season, but was fired Dec. 18 after the mediocre start.

Waddell said the Thrashers assumed the remainder of the contract after working out a deal with the Avalanche, but he wouldn't say if the agreement was extended.

Five NHL coaches have been fired this season, but two -- including Hartley -- already have landed other jobs.

Darryl Sutter, fired by San Jose, was hired a few weeks later by Calgary.

''It came down to making sure we made the right decision,'' Waddell said. ''Not just for now for years to come.''

Before getting into coaching, Hartley spent eight years working at a paper mill and a windshield manufacturing plant in tiny Hawkesbury, Ontario, where he was raised. He started coaching 16 years ago, at age 26, with his hometown team in the Central Junior Hockey League.

Jobs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the American Hockey League followed, until he was hired by the Avalanche in June 1998.

He never played professionally.

''He's a hardworking guy,'' Waddell said. ''It's hard to find anyone that's climbed the ladder as he has.''

Fraser, the first coach in the Thrashers' history, left with a record of 64-188-31. Atlanta was 8-20-1-4 this season under him.

''Winning breeds winning,'' Hartley said. ''This team will be good for many years to come.''



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