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Lightning Strikes Demers


When the Tampa Bay Lightning decided on a coaching change, there was no question the struggling franchise would turn to Steve Ludzik.

The former NHL player not only had close ties to new owner William Davidson and vice president of hockey operations Rick Dudley, but his style fits the philosophy of the new regime to a tee.

"In today's game, there's a new wave of coach," Dudley said Wednesday after firing Jacques Demers and replacing him with the 38-year-old Ludzik.

"The old coach said this is my system and you will do it. The new wave says I have to be able to adjust because not everything I do every day is going to work against everything someone else does."

Ludzik spent the last three seasons in the International Hockey League coaching Davidson's Detroit Vipers. He was an assistant under Dudley for a year before succeeding his boss and leading the club to a pair of appearances in the IHL's Turner Cup Finals.

The sale of the Lightning to a group led by Davidson was finalized last month. Dudley, meanwhile, was lured from the Ottawa Senators to run the team's hockey operation.

Demers led the Lightning for a little less than two seasons, finishing with the NHL's worst record each year, including a 19-54-9 mark last winter. He had three years remaining on his contract.

Once Dudley decided not to retain Demers, whose 409 victories rank 11th on the league's all-time list, he moved swiftly to bring in Ludzik. Director of player development Don Murdoch was also fired.

Ludzik, 38, becomes the team's fourth coach in eight seasons.

He compiled a 154-58-34 record in the IHL and led Detroit to the league title in 1997. The Vipers were Turner Cup finalists the following year and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals last season.

His transition to coaching in the NHL figures to be helped by his relationship with Dudley.

"We will try to build this franchise the way we did it in Detroit ... Every coach that takes over says: `We're going to be the hardest-working team.' We're going to be hard-working, but we're going to work smart. We're going to learn and we're going to do things the right way," Ludzik said.

Demers, who led Montreal to the Stanley Cup title in 1993, joined the Lightning in November 1997. In just under two seasons, he guided the team to a 34-96-17 record.

In addition to serving as coach, he was the team's general manager, a role that will be handled now by Dudley, who also was responsible for making two draft-day trades that figure to help the team.

"I know these people," Ludzik said. "We will not stop until we get this franchise where it should be. And I can't say I'd be happy playing average. I want to get to the top of the conference."

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