Phil Esposito made Gene Ubriaco an offer he couldn't refuse.
Esposito, general manager of the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning, brought Ubriaco, former coach of the Skipjacks and Pittsburgh Penguins, to Florida for a 10-day visit to convince Ubriaco that he should join Tampa Bay as coach of the team's International League development team, the Atlanta Knights, who will play their home games in the Omni.
"He's a tremendous coach, one who is respected throughout hockey," Esposito said. "We're very fortunate to have him working with our young players, who are the future of our franchise."
"It's a great opportunity to get back into coaching in North America," said Ubriaco, who coached in Europe for two years, most recently as chief of the Italian Olympic team at the Albertville Games. "I love working for the young guys, and it's wonderful to get the opportunity to do it again."
Ubriaco, who makes his home in Lutherville, coached in the United States League, Central League, International League, Eastern League and American League, before getting the coaching job with the Penguins in the NHL. Ubriaco was named Coach of the Year in every minor league he coached in except the International League.
"I started the Milwaukee Admirals franchise and took it to the playoffs for the first time in the 1977-1978 season," Ubriaco said. "Then I moved on to Baltimore, where I had some of my finer years [eight] and became a Baltimorean and an international spokesman for the Baltimore Chamber of Commerce. I love it here and so does my family."
Ubriaco said he will continue to maintain his home in Lutherville and take an apartment in Atlanta during the hockey season.
"I consider myself very fortunate," Ubriaco said. "I love the sport of hockey, and it's done a lot for me. I want to sell this sport and do all that I can to continue to help it grow. It's grown in leaps and bounds since I began playing hockey, what now seems like ages ago. I also consider myself very lucky to be able to work with people I grew up with and people who are Hall of Famers like the Espositos."
Ubriaco, the Espositos, Phil and Tony, and Lou Nanne, former Minnesota North Stars general manager, all grew up on the same block in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
Ubriaco, who played with the Clippers, Hershey Bears, Providence Reds, Rochester Americans and Pittsburgh Hornets in the AHL and with the Oakland Seals, Chicago Blackhawks and Penguins in the NHL, has long been considered one of the best teachers in hockey.
"When I watch the Stanley Cup playoffs on television and see players who played for me like Marty McSorley [Los Angeles Kings], Jon Casey and Chris Dahlquist [North Stars], Andy Brickley [Boston Bruins] and Phil Bourque, Bob Errey and Troy Loney [Penguins] playing well, it gives me great satisfaction," Ubriaco said. "I really enjoy working with the young guys, and I believe my added experience in international hockey will help me even more this time around."