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Wamsley plans to be himself in Peoria

by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com

After he got the job as new head coach of the Peoria Rivermen last week, Rick Wamsley checked around with some of his coaching buddies for advice.

The consensus was that if Wamsley was going to run his own show, the best way to do it was by being himself.

Get ready for the fun and games to begin.

Wamsley, who has never been a head coach before, has built a deserved reputation as one of the most colorful figures in hockey, whether he’s showering referees with a few choice words from the press box, scorching goalies who allow soft scores or just regaling listeners with tales from his 12-year NHL goaltending career.

"I have kind of a sarcastic sense of humor. I don’t see that changing. I have a little bit of temper. I don’t see that changing. But when the play is over, it’s over," he said. "I know I have the ability to be hard on people. Emotion is not a bad thing. I like to win. I really believe the fun comes from winning."

Then Wamsley, 50, should take over his new post with a smile on his face. With a points percentage of .583, the Rivermen are part of a logjam around the top of the West Division. The stress point is that, unlike the case when a newcomer takes over a bad team, it’s Wamsley’s job to keep Peoria trending upward.

"The team is doing well. We have to play better to make sure we secure a playoff spot," he said. "I enjoy the challenge. So far, everything in my hockey career has gone OK. I was a decent player. I played for a lot of good head coaches. The knowledge of what a head coach goes through behind the bench is invaluable."

He got the chance for that tutorial when Davis Payne was promoted from Peoria to St. Louis’ top spot. Wamsley, an assistant with the Blues, had made it clear that he aspired to be an NHL head coach himself someday. Going to Peoria is an upgrade of his resume.

"I’m as ready as I’m going to be. We’ll see how far I can take it, and what level I can take it to," Wamsley said. "There’s not a need to change a lot. There’re a few things I will put my stamp on, what will help them play better."

Like, say, stressing an old goalie’s emphasis on keeping the puck out of the net above all else?

"You have to be careful. You can’t take any offensive guy and make him a checker. But you can take an offensive guy and make him aware that if you can put him on the ice and (trust him defensively), he’ll get to the National Hockey League quicker," Wamsley said. "Goalies have a different view of things. Whether it’s right or wrong, we’ll see. We understand the importance of good defensive play. Championships are won with defense, no matter what the sport is."

Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com. Read today’s complete column here.