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Flyers Hire Ramsay as Head Coach

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VOORHEES, N.J. (AP) — The last time Philadelphia won the Stanley Cup 25 years ago, Craig Ramsay was there — on the ice, wearing an opposing uniform.

Now he's been given the responsibility of helping the Flyers win it again.

Ramsay was hired Thursday as the 13th coach of the Flyers after stepping in for ailing Roger Neilson during the season and leading the team to within one victory of the Stanley Cup finals.

It's the first head-coaching opportunity for Ramsay, who spent 15 years in various assistant coaching positions after his 14-year playing career with Buffalo ended in 1985. Ramsay was a forward on the Sabres team that lost to the Flyers in the Stanley Cup finals in 1975.

``There's some doubt you'll get the chance, but I never doubted I can do the job,'' Ramsay said about the long wait.

Ramsay finished the regular season with a 16-8-1 mark after Neilson stepped aside in February for cancer treatment. He took Philadelphia to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference finals against the New Jersey Devils.

The move ended speculation about whether Neilson would return for a fourth season. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in December and left the team Feb. 19 to pursue aggressive treatment.

``I'm very happy for Craig. It's something he's earned and I'm sure he's going to do a great job,'' Neilson said. ``Naturally, I wish it wasn't my job, but he deserves it and I'm happy for him.''

Neilson had wanted to return for the first round of the playoffs in April. But general manager Bob Clarke and Neilson's doctors decided the 65-year-old coach wasn't ready.

Clarke told Neilson of his decision Thursday.

``It wasn't fun calling Roger,'' Clarke said. ``There will be a job for him here if he needs one. He won't be an assistant coach. There are plenty of jobs in the organization for a hockey man.''

Neilson said he wasn't bitter toward the Flyers but added he felt he should have been given a chance to return. He said he wasn't surprised by the move and plans to look for another job.

The Flyers have given Neilson permission to look elsewhere for an NHL head-coaching job.

``We've talked to the three teams that don't have coaches right now — the two expansion teams and Calgary, so we'll just have to wait and see what happens,'' Neilson said.

The Flyers also announced that John Stevens will replace Bill Barber as coach of their AHL affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms. Barber also is seeking an NHL-head coaching position and is interviewing for the job with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Mike Stothers, an assistant with the Phantoms, will join the Flyers as an assistant. Wayne Cashman, former head coach with the Flyers, will not return to his assistant position, Clarke said. Cashman is interviewing for an assistant job with Tampa Bay.

Barber may return to fill the assistant vacancy with the Flyers.

The Flyers were 29-17-1 with Neilson behind the bench this season. Ramsay helped the team overcome a 15-point deficit to capture the top spot in the conference. The team then beat Buffalo in the opening round of the playoffs and Pittsburgh in the second round.

``We've already had a run with this team,'' Ramsay said. ``It will be nice to start the season and be organized from the start.''

Ramsay, who spent two seasons with the Florida Panthers as an assistant to Neilson, rejoined him with the Flyers in 1998 after two seasons as an assistant for the Ottawa Senators. He spent the 1995-96 season as a scout for the Dallas Stars.

His coaching experience also includes three seasons in the mid-1980s with the Buffalo Sabres as an assistant coach and interim head coach. He went 4-15-2 record during November and December 1986 before being replaced by Ted Sator as head coach.

Neilson, who was hired as the Flyers' coach in March 1998, had said Clarke promised him he could return after he recovered from a stem cell bone-marrow transplant.

In late April, he fired a shot at the organization, telling a Toronto radio station, ``I don't think they want a cancer patient who is a friend of Eric Lindros behind the bench right now.''

Neilson said at the time he had an agreement with Clarke on a new contract in February that was withdrawn. He called the situation a ``nightmare.''

``I feel really good and I felt that way ever since I came back from Florida in the first round,'' Neilson said Thursday. ``I certainly wanted to coach then and I would have liked to coach next year, too, but that wasn't to be and that's the way it is in this game. There are decision you don't agree with and you just got to go on with it.''

Ramsay and Neilson have similar coaching styles, but Ramsay is more willing to play younger guys and role players.

Neilson, who was 76-52-22 with the Flyers, has coached seven NHL teams in 15 seasons and has a career record of 443-372-148.
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