With some new blood at the helm, the Checkers’ are flourishing as one of the top defensive teams in the league.
Since the team’s AHL inception, Geordie Kinnear running Charlotte’s defense has been a mainstay. The longtime assistant coach was a consistent presence on the bench through the transition of head coaches from Jeff Daniels to Mark Morris, but departed this summer for Springfield’s head coaching gig, leaving a vacancy there for the first time.
Enter Peter Andersson.
A 54-year-old native of Stockholm, Andersson has been honing his craft as an assistant coach in various pro leagues across Sweden and Switzerland over the last decade. One of his stops led him to cross paths with Samuelsson, as the duo teamed up for two seasons with the SHL’s MODO from 2011-13.
A few years later, that connection would lead to Andersson making the jump across the ocean to North America.
“Coaching is kind of a partnership,” said Andersson. “We did good work together [at MODO] so I guess that’s why I had the chance to come over here and be a coach.”
While this is Andersson’s first coaching gig in North America, he’s no stranger to the continent. Aside from his nearly 500 pro games overseas, the blue liner logged 172 games in the NHL over three seasons with Washington and Quebec.
The key now is transitioning to coaching in the ever-changing American Hockey League.
“It was a little bit tough in the beginning with the group because we were adding players just the day before the first game,” said Andersson. “But it’s normal in this league, it’s the same for everybody.”
With the roster finally starting to settle into place at the beginning of the season, Andersson was able to turn his focus to the defensive side of things, further compartmentalizing the coaching staff’s specialties.
“It’s a game of managing small details nowadays,” said Samuelsson earlier this season. “You need everyone to be functional and you need your whole staff to be very effective. The staff is very important.”
Andersson, who logged 172 NHL games and nearly 500 pro games overseas during his 18-year career as a defenseman, has inherited a strong, young corps of blue liners in Charlotte and has seen them trending positively so far this season.
“We’ve been playing solid, especially through the end [of the last home stand] here,” said Andersson. “We’ve been playing very well defensively, we don’t give up many shots.”
With his group of defensemen skewing relatively young, Andersson has leaned on the veteran presence of alternate captain Matt Tennyson to help solidify the team’s back end.
“He’s a good leader and a good defenseman,” said Andersson. “He’s been playing on a high level every game so the other defensemen see him out there on the ice and they see how to act.”
For Andersson, the next step is ratcheting up his defensive corps’ performance on the other end of the ice. With a solid mix of proven scorers and skilled prospects, the talent is there. Now it’s time for Andersson, whose best NHL season saw him rank third among Capitals defensemen in scoring, to work with the group and get it out of them.
“We want to improve a little bit more on offense from the defense now,” said Andersson. “It’s what we’re working on now. It’s taking the chances and following up when you get them. It’s also a bit more movement in the offensive zone. We have been standing in the right positions, but we’re standing still. We have to move a little bit more.”
Still, the group’s overall play has been exceptional thus far, most noticeably in last weekend’s sweep of Rockford, when they held the visitors to a total of 31 shots on goal through both games.
With Andersson at the helm, the hope is that domination continues.
“It’s been going good,” said Andersson. “We’re growing as a team and as a defensive corps.”