2003 - 2004
October 17, 2003
Generals return under watchful eye of Adduono
In his second season as head coach, Rick Adduono hopes to improve a team he led to the playoffs last year.
BY LARRY KEECH
GREENSBORO - A hockey player for more than half of his 48 years, Rick Adduono admittedly was a coach's worst nightmare - a wisecracking, egocentric scorer with an exaggerated opinion of his ability.
"I was skilled, but I did my share of cheating on the dirty little jobs that can make a difference between winning and losing," Adduono said. "In my mind, backchecking took a back seat to scoring.
"I usually was the team clown. I never figured I'd be a coach, and my teammates would have laughed at the thought."
But as it turned out, Adduono learned enough about hockey and hockey players to remake himself into a coach who has become a consistent winner in the ECHL. He will begin his second season with the Greensboro Generals tonight as the on-ice linchpin for a franchise that is struggling to survive.
Last season, Adduono assembled and guided a team that had been an ECHL doormat for its previous three years of existence to a 42-21-9 regular-season record and the second round of the playoffs. Now, with Greensboro Coliseum managing director Matt Brown trying to bridge the gap between the 2002-03 management group and a different one in 2004-05, he is counting on Adduono to develop a team that is as good or better than the previous one.
Brushes with greatness
Adduono's journey to Greensboro began in Thunder Bay, Ontario, a city of 120,000 located on the north shore of Lake Superior, 40 miles from Duluth, Minn.
Although he excelled at football, baseball and bowling, hockey was unchallenged as the No. 1 sport in Thunder Bay and in Adduono's eyes. From the time he was a preschooler, his goal was to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, Ray Adduono, who became one of the leading scorers in the history of the old Eastern Hockey League with the Syracuse Blazers.
Adduono became a hockey prodigy of sorts, excelling in competition with older boys. By age 17, the young center was the leading scorer in one of Canada's premier junior leagues, the Ontario Hockey Association.
He figured to be a hot prospect for the new World Hockey Association, which was signing young players before the NHL could draft them, but his agent advised him to stay in the junior ranks for one more year and wait for the NHL Draft. But 10 games into the 1974-75 season he sustained torn knee ligaments.
Adduono wore a cast for three weeks, then began playing again. His scoring declined, and he was only the 60th player chosen in the '75 draft by the Boston Bruins.
He played three seasons with Rochester in the American Hockey League and became its leading scorer, but his NHL career totaled only six games - three with the Bruins and three with the Atlanta Flames. His only brushes with fame involved opposing players.
There's an aging framed photo in Adduono's office from his first NHL game. He's wearing a Bruins uniform and handling the puck. A close look at the opposing player behind him reveals that it's Bobby Orr, who was in the twilight of his career after moving from the Bruins to the Chicago Blackhawks. Adduono is misidentified in the caption because he's wearing an injured teammate's sweater. He scored the only goal of his NHL career in that game.
Adduono did manage to play in the WHA for a few years. His agent, Bill Waters, nearly landed him a two-year deal with the league's Indianapolis Racers, but he lost it when the team decided instead to offer $75,000 to a hot young junior player named Wayne Gretzky.
"I wondered how they could spend that kind of money on a skinny kid like that and not sign me," Adduono said.
Adduono spent a couple of productive seasons with the WHA's Birmingham Bulls, followed by his brief stay with Atlanta and stops in the AHL and Austria, but by '82 his pro playing career was over.
Becoming a coach
When Adduono was done with hockey, he and his wife, Melanie, returned to their native Thunder Bay, with two sons and a daughter in tow, to enter the family business.
"I was good at my trade, but there was something missing," Adduono said. "I missed hockey."
He began to scratch the itch by playing for Thunder Bay in a senior league for a team that won three straight national championships.
Then, Adduono began breaking his vow not to coach when he took on his son's Bantam team. Next, he was hired to coach the Thunder Bay Flyers, a junior team.
"I loved it," Adduono said. "I loved teaching the game. I loved dealing with the kids. It filled a void in my life, and I figured I'd be cheating myself if I didn't stay in it."
It had become somewhat of a midlife crisis in the 1990s when Adduono bumped into Rick Valve, one of his old line-mates with Birmingham. Valve was coaching the Charleston-based South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL, and he offered Adduono a job as a scout and assistant coach. The two collaborated in developing a team that dominated the league and won the 1997 Kelly Cup.
When Valve left a year later for an AHL coaching job, Adduono succeeded him as head coach. In four years with the Stingrays, Adduono guided the team into the playoffs every year and won another Kelly Cup title in 2001. But after the '02 team fell short of that accomplishment, Adduono's contract was not renewed.
Art Donaldson and Rocky Scarfone, the Generals' owner and president, respectively, were desperate to find a coach who could turn around the team. Scarfone placed what he figured would be a 20-minute phone call to Adduono to assess him as a job candidate. They spoke on the phone for two hours, and the search was over.
Adduono rebuilt the Generals practically from scratch while mixing generous portions of loyalty, discipline and fun.
"At this level, there's quite a bit of dishonesty among coaches toward players," said Jay Murphy, the captain of the 2002-03 Generals who now plays for the Richmond RiverDogs in the United Hockey League. "Rick is different because players trust his straightforwardness. He wants you to work hard, but he makes it fun."
One of Brown's priorities when he became the Generals' de-facto decision maker was re-signing Adduono.
"There are a number of factors that set Rick apart as a coach and player personnel manager," the coliseum manager said. "He's driven to work hard at the job the year round. He knows how to relate to players, and they respect his coaching style and philosophy and success.
"We're staking a lot on him with the confidence that he's equal to the task."
That kind of pressure doesn't exceed what Adduono places on himself.
"All I can promise is that this team will be credible, it will be organized, it will be run professionally and the players will work hard and be respectful," he said. "That should be enough to make hockey better in Greensboro."
Contact Larry Keech at 373-7080 or email@example.com
GENERALS 2003-04 SCHEDULE
Head coach: Rick Adduono.
Captain: Mark Turner.
Alternate captains: Geno Parrish, Kurt Drummond