It’s not lost on Rangers assistant coach Dennis Wideman that his career in hockey has come full-circle.
In fact, every day he walks into the team’s front office, the hometown boy from Elmira feels like he “couldn’t be luckier getting to be a part of this organization.”
“I got extremely lucky to get involved with the Rangers – considering its history and having grown up locally,” said Wideman.
“Coaching is something I thought about doing eventually, but I didn’t know it would happen so quickly.”
Having officially joined the coaching staff in late November 2017, the former defenceman had just completed his 12-season NHL career with the St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers, Washington Capitals and Calgary Flames.
Originally drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the eighth round (241st overall) of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Wideman played in 870 regular season and playoff games and recorded 100 goals as well as 419 total points.
That’s a pretty good resume for someone who started his career with the Elmira Sugar Kings before being selected by the Sudbury Wolves and then being traded to the London Knights.
He would spend the next three and a half seasons with the Knights and then parts of another two in the American Hockey League before making his NHL debut in the 2005-06 season.
Needless to say, Wideman knows what it takes to get to the next level as a defenceman and has seen the potential in past and present Rangers.
“I worked with Logan Stanley when I first joined the coaching staff. He’s one of the first higher-end draft picks that I had worked with and, dealing with him, he was pretty far ahead of a lot of the other guys – especially being older too,” Wideman said.
“Currently, Michael Vukojevic has come a long way. I think from when he first got here, he’s really grown into a player that understands how to play the game at a high level,” he said, adding, “The way he’s been playing right now has been really good and it’s been fun to work with him.”
“Sebrango is another guy who, since Day One, has gone up against top lines and played really well.”
As a player and coach, Wideman also knows full-well that the environment at The Aud on any given game night is intangible experience for the Blueshirts as they look to develop into professionals.
“You want that pressure. To have fans that are passionate about the game … is a good learning experience,” Wideman explained.
“The flip side to that is it works for the other team too. When a team comes in here, we’re going to get their best effort 99% of the time, just because they’re excited about playing in front of a full building too.”
“Coming in to Kitchener, it’s not too often where you get an off-night from the other team.”
And, despite transitioning from a playing to teaching role, there hasn’t been much downtime for Wideman on a day-to-day basis during the season. He’s constantly communicating to his proteges about how they can improve in practice and certain game situations, but even that presented a bit of a learning curve.
“I’m learning something new every day. Every player is different in how you frame thoughts that you’re trying to get across to them,” he explained.
“Now that I’ve been around this group of players for a couple of years now, they know who I am a little but more. When I’m saying something that may come across a little stern, they realize that I’m not being negative. It’s about trying to help them.”
Just don’t necessarily expect him to jump on the technology bandwagon that most of the players nowadays are riding.
“I’m not huge into technology, so the video we get from games and going over that is basically where it ends for me,” Wideman said with a chuckle.
The comfort and familiarity with his fellow coaches on the Rangers staff though have especially helped the shift to being a mentor – which he hopes to continue being in the foreseeable future.
“I think we have a pretty good group. I’ve known Brandon Merli a long time and, getting to know Andreas, it’s been a good working relationship with him,” he said.
“We have a pretty good mix with everyone and, with Mike coming in, he’s done a great job as well – obviously.”