Rowe leading River Rats into new era

by Don Helbig || AHL On The Beat Archive

When the Carolina Hurricanes informed Albany River Rats head coach and general manager Tom Rowe they were going to sign a deal to place their top prospects with the River Rats, the 50-year-old native of Lynn, Mass., was pleased with the news.

Having spent part of the 1982-83 season playing with the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings, Rowe was not moving into foreign territory.
“My wife (Bernice) and I rented a place in Lake George, because Detroit had told me I was going to be there for the rest of the season,” Rowe said. “I was only there for 20 games, but we love it. A couple weeks after we moved in, Detroit called me back up and I was there for the rest of the year.

"When we learned we doing the deal with Albany, both of us were real excited.  We are familiar with the area.”
Although American-born, Rowe headed over the Canadian border in 1973 to play in the Ontario Hockey Association with the London Knights. Following a 39-goal, 94-point season in 1975-76, he was selected by the Washington Capitals in the third round of the 1976 NHL Draft.

At the time Rowe was drafted, Americans playing in the National Hockey League was a rarity.
“It was obviously a big thrill to play. There weren’t a lot of us (Americans) back then but the wave was starting to come,” Rowe said. “There was myself and Mike O’Connell, and a few others. I had to establish and prove myself to a lot of the Canadian players, which was a big adjustment.  But once I did that I was kind of accepted like you are into any college fraternity. 
“I had my share of ups and downs, but after my third year pro, I knew I could play.”
Rowe went on to play in 357 NHL games in parts of nine seasons with Washington, Hartford and Detroit, recording 85 goals and 100 assists with 615 penalty minutes. In 1978-79, he became the first American-born player to score 30 goals in an NHL season when he lit the lamp 31 times in 69 games for the Capitals.
“Washington was my fondest place that I played,” Rowe said.  “I met my wife there and we had a lot of friends away from the rink. We (the Capitals) weren’t very good. We were an expansion team trying to build a franchise. Everyone was very close. Win or lose, everyone went out together. That’s the way it was back then. It’s not as common today because there are so many different variables.”
After nine seasons, Rowe’s playing career came to an end following the 1983-84 season.
“I got hurt my last year in Moncton (AHL), suffering a pretty serious neck injury and the doctor suggested that I retire. That’s the way the game is. You have to prepare for short careers and sudden injuries. I always had a real good support system from Bernice and the people around me.

"The adjustment was fairly quick, but I missed the game and that’s why I got back into it as a scout with Hartford in the early 1990’s. The game has been real good to me."
After serving as a scout and assistant general manager with the Whalers and working as color analyst on radio broadcasts, Rowe assumed a variety of posts, including executive vice president, general manager and assistant coach with the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate, the Lowell Lock Monsters.

"Getting into coaching was the last thing on my mind," Rowe said. “The reason I became involved in coaching was (Carolina general manager) Jim Rutherford asked if I had any interest in being an assistant to Ron Smith. From that point on, I was hooked.”
Rowe attributes much of what he knows about coaching to Smith.
“A lot of my philosophy was developing working with Ron. He was always very up-tempo and liked a lot of puck control. I have to credit everything I’ve learned about coaching from him.  He taught me how to prepare practices, how to run a bench and how to handle different personalities.  Every year I come into coach, I look back at the three years I spent with Ron and think about how he handled situations.  He was a tremendous hockey coach and a real good guy to train under.”
As a coach, Rowe believes it’s important to deal with the players in an honest fashion.
“One of my biggest assets is communication – being able to talk to guys,” Rowe said. “They might not always like what you tell them, but if you’re up front with them and them and don’t lie to them, then most of the time the players will accept it – maybe not right then and there – but after they think about what was discussed they can come to grips with it.”
The system the Hurricanes employ is a style of hockey that Rowe feels the fans in Albany will enjoy watching.
“The way we like to play is more wide open – not that we run up and down the ice and don’t think about defense – but we certainly like to pursue the puck. We think as an organization that the best defense is an aggressive offense. The less time the other team has the puck and the more we have, the tougher it will be for teams to play against us. Jim Rutherford has drafted and traded for players that fit that mold.”
Historically in the AHL dual affiliations have failed as often as they have succeeded. Rowe believes the key to being successful in a shared arrangement centers around communication.

"With (assistant coach) Joe Sacco and I, there’s not a thing we don’t talk about,” Rowe explained. “Whether it’s a road trip, how we’re going to set up the locker room, who’s going good and who is not going good, we talk about it. As long as you have those lines of communication going all the time, and upper management has communication with each other, you really don’t run into many pitfalls (with a dual affiliation). 
“It’s a win-win situation as long as the people that are in charge of coaching the team and the people managing the team are on the same page. This will be our fourth season with a dual affiliation and we’ve really had minimal problems with it.”