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New Lightning bench boss Barry Melrose says he improved as a coach after helping former NHL goalie Kelly Hrudey through a slump in the early 1990s. ((Chris O'Meara/Associated Press))

Barry Melrose is best remembered by many hockey fans as the NHL coach with the mullet and good looks who took the Los Angeles Kings to the 1993 Stanley Cup final.

To former NHL goaltender Kelly Hrudey, the charismatic and articulate Melrose is the man who saved his playing career.

It was in the midst of that memorable 1992-93 season that Melrose — named Tuesday as head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning — rescued Hrudey from a two-month slump the netminder thought would spell the end of his professional career.

"It was my 10th year in the National Hockey League," Hrudey, a Hockey Night in Canada analyst, told CBCSports.ca. "He did things that probably not a lot of people would have back then. It resurrected my career and got me back on track, and I ended up playing another five years."

Melrose made numerous attempts to help Hrudey by resting the goalie, playing him more, challenging him and praising his efforts.

Robbins revved up Hrudey: Melrose

He also facilitated a one-on-one meeting between Hrudey and motivational speaker Anthony Robbins.

"I saw Tony literally change Kelly," Melrose told CBCSports.ca. "It was about visualization and taking yourself outside your body. And Kelly probably played the best hockey of his life the last six weeks of the season."

"It was incredible," an emotional Hrudey said, recalling that trying 1992-93 season in which he posted an 18-21-6 win-loss-tie record and 3.86 goals-against average. "If it would have been old-school thinking and coaching, I would have been left to twist in the wind and I would have been gone.

"He [Melrose] is always a believer that you'll do the right thing and work your way out of a situation, whether it's a [personal] slump or a team slump.

"I owe a lot to Barry and I've told him this many times I'm forever indebted to him for saving me."

The Lightning job is Melrose's first in the NHL since he left L.A. in 1995.

'I think what separates Barry from a lot of people is that he really thinks about the people on his team.'—Kelly Hrudey, HNIC analyst, ex-NHLer

For the last 12 years, the 51-year-old has worked as an analyst with U.S. cable sports network ESPN, a role Hrudey believes will allow his former coach to make the adjustment back into the NHL game.

"Barry recognizes the game has changed a lot in the last bunch of years since he was last coaching," Hrudey said. "He knows the right buttons to push.

"And as much as he knows the game, he's really good at delegating, too. He'll give his assistant coaches responsibilities and it'll be up to them to ensure the team is going in the right direction."

Ex-goalie praises reported assistants

Melrose reportedly has hired Rick Tocchet, whom he coached in L.A., and former Minnesota Wild centre Wes Walz as his assistants.

Hrudey lauded both men, saying Walz played under respected coach Jacques Lemaire and his defensive-minded system in Minnesota, while Tocchet brings familiarity.

"I have not heard a single bad thing about a player that's ever learned the game from Jacques Lemaire," said Hrudey. "If you're a person like Wes Walz that basically resurrected his career under Jacques Lemaire, I want that person in my organization."

Tocchet most recently was an assistant to Phoenix Coyotes head coach Wayne Gretzky, who also praised Tampa Bay's hiring of Melrose. The Great One enjoyed one of his best playoff series with Melrose behind the bench, collecting 40 points in 24 post-season games in 1993.

"We were a dynamic team, obviously having Wayne, but a lot of it had to do with Barry's personality," Hrudey said. "I remember the first speech he gave in training camp [in '92].

"[He said] we weren't going to be a cautious team. We were going to go out and earn our victories. I was really excited after the first chance to hear Barry speak to the group. I think his new players in Tampa Bay are going to feel the same way."

Melrose succeeds John Tortorella, who was fired on June 3 after the Lightning finished last in the 30-team NHL with a 31-42-9 mark, despite a roster that includes stars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.

"I think what separates Barry from a lot of people is that he really thinks about the people on his team," said Hrudey. "He deeply cares for his players and wants them to have success. He's really going to grab the [Tampa Bay] players' attention in a positive way."