Tom Rowe was officially named the 10th general manager of the Florida Panthers Monday, the culmination of a hockey career which has taken him, quite literally, around the world.
From his NHL playing days in Washington, Hartford and Detroit — as well as minor league stops in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and Moncton, New Brunswick — to coaching stints in North Carolina, Texas, Maine and Russia, Rowe has traveled a long road in his quest to become an NHL general manager.
“I get up every day pinching myself,’’ said Rowe, who will celebrate his 60th birthday next Monday.
“This is such a great opportunity for me. My end goal when I started however many years ago it has been, was to be a general manager. I got on the coaching train for a bit, and I think it has only helped me.’’
Monday, Rowe was introduced as part of a revamped Panthers’ front office team with Dale Tallon now president of hockey operations.
Along with Rowe, Steve Werier and Eric Joyce were also promoted to assistant general managers.
“We really have put together a team we feel can have collaborative discussions and make decisions as a group,” Rowe said.
“It’s no different than other teams in different pro leagues. There’s so much going on in hockey ops, one person just can’t do it alone.”
For Rowe, finding himself general manager of an NHL team is something he would have found hard to believe at this time last year.
Last summer, Rowe was gearing up for his third season behind the bench of Florida’s AHL team as its affiliation moved from San Antonio to Portland, Maine.
Rowe wouldn’t last the season with the Portland Pirates as he was in South Florida shortly after Christmas to join Tallon and Florida’s front office as associate general manager.
Less than six months later, he’s now the GM.
“You just never know,” Tallon said. “Fate is a wonderful thing. If you put yourself in position enough times, you’re going to have success.”
Although Rowe — who, as a forward, played in 357 NHL games from 1976 to 1983 — has been involved in hockey for most of his life, his path to the Panthers really started in Russia.
In 2012, Rowe was hired as coach of the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team as they re-entered the KHL a year after their program was decimated when their team plane crashed on takeoff heading to a game in Minsk, Belarus.
All 37 members of the organization who were on board — including former Panthers Ruslan Salei, Alexander Karpovtsev and Karlis Skrastins as well as Lokomotiv’s entire coaching and support staff — were killed on impact.
Rowe left his job as an assistant coach with the Carolina Hurricanes to help Lokomotiv start over.
Brad McCrimmon was Lokomotiv’s coach on Sept. 7, 2011, when their plane crashed into the banks of the Volga River.
McCrimmon was friends with Rowe, the man who would become his replacement behind the bench.
“I wasn’t ready for the emotional toll,’’ Rowe told the San Antonio Express-News in 2014. “It hit me harder than I thought it would.”
Rowe coached Lokomotiv to the playoffs in their first year back, yet after winning just one of its first five games the following season, he was fired in 2013.
A few weeks later, Rowe was back home when he got a call from the Panthers. Florida fired coach Kevin Dineen, and AHL coach Peter Horachek was called up to replace him.
In his years with the Hartford/Carolina franchise as a broadcaster, assistant GM, scout and coach, Rowe worked under Eddie Johnston and Jim Rutherford, whom Tallon calls two of his “best friends in hockey.”
After talking to his old pals, Rowe’s name continuously came up.
“I got great insight,” Tallon said, “and luckily for us, [Rowe] was available. It was a good fit.”
Rowe was asked to join the Panthers as Horachek’s replacement, at least on a part-time basis.
If the Panthers gig didn’t work out, Horachek could return to his old job with the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage.
Rowe wouldn’t accept those terms; if he was to take the job with the Panthers, he wanted to be able to keep it.
The Panthers relented and gave him the job full-time.
After two-plus seasons in the AHL, Rowe was summoned to South Florida to serve as Tallon’s associate general manager, a job which led to his promotion as the 10th GM in franchise history made official Monday.
“I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time,’’ Rowe said.
“I’m lucky because I get to work with Dale who is a great guy and an unbelievable evaluator. We work well together, have a good give-and-take. It’s going to be a great fit and it’s going to be a lot of fun getting this thing going and winning the Stanley Cup here soon.”
Florida Panthers General Managers
Bobby Clarke 1993-94
Bryan Murray 1994-2000
Bill Torrey 2000-01
Chuck Fletcher 2001-02
Rick Dudley 2002-04
Mike Keenan 2004-06
Jacques Martin 2006-09
Randy Sexton 2009-10
Dale Tallon 2010-16
Tom Rowe 2016-present