MONTREAL - John Stevens, fired as the Flyers' coach Friday after his underachieving team had fallen to 10th in the NHL's Eastern Conference, yesterday exhibited the dignified manner that marked his three-plus-year tenure.

In a conference call with reporters, Stevens said that he felt "responsible" for letting people down - and getting assistant Jack McIlhargey fired - and that he was "extremely lucky to be part of the organization for so long."

Stevens, in his first interview since the dismissal, called his coaching stint a learning experience, praised the organization, and said he was disappointed that he couldn't bring a championship to Philadelphia.

He said he would recall his coaching experience and "reflect on it and use it as an opportunity to get better. My goal and dream was to win the Stanley Cup, and it's important for me to review [what happened] and be better prepared for the next time."

Stevens, who said he wanted to make sure his family wasn't too demoralized by his firing before he talked with the media, hopes to coach again. Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said he would meet with Stevens in a couple of weeks and offer him another position in the organization. Stevens said he hasn't had enough time to decide whether he would accept.

Asked if he would have done anything differently, such as holding the players more accountable for their actions, Stevens said: "I don't know. That's part of the process I have to go through when I evaluate it. I'm not saying we totally failed. We had lots of success here. I think I do hold players accountable in my own way."

Stevens, who was replaced by Peter Laviolette, conceded that he was "surprised" by the firing - it came with the Flyers owning a 13-11-1 record - and that he thought he could have turned things around.

"When you coach, you always think you can get things done," he said, "but we had stumbled of late, and when I pull back and look at it, I can certainly understand" the firing.

Whether Mike Richards, 24, was best suited to be the team's captain has been an issue the last two seasons. Stevens was asked if he felt the team had the proper leadership group intact.

"It's not fair for me to comment on it anymore," he said. "You know how I feel about Richie. I love that kid. I think he's a great player and great person."

Stevens said he was still watching Flyers games on TV.

"I care so much about the people there, it's hard for me not to watch," he said.

He said it's time to turn the attention on the players he left behind.

"What's important right now is the team, it's not me," he said. "My tenure is done. That book is written, and it's time to put the focus back on the team."

Stevens lives in Washington Township and has a summer home in Sea Isle City.

"I'm going to miss it here," Stevens said. "My family has grown up here. The atmosphere at our home games is something I'll dearly miss. . . . What Homer [Holmgren] had to do was very hard, but his intentions were pure. Peter Laviolette is a very good man and good coach, and I respect the decision and I'm moving on."

Since his dismissal, Stevens said, he has received countless good wishes from folks in the hockey world. "I'm overwhelmed by the kindness of people," he said.

Breakaways. Ian Laperriere, who lost seven teeth and had close to 100 stitches after being hit in the mouth with a puck Nov. 27, hopes to have bridge work done next week. "And I'll be back to my modeling days," he said. "I'll be pretty like before." . . . Riley Cote replaced the suspended Dan Carcillo in the lineup last night against Montreal. . . . Slumping goalie Ray Emery has "nagging" injuries, but he could have played last night, said Laviolette, who instead started Brian Boucher. . . . Goalie coach Jeff Reese is spending time with the Adirondack Phantoms' goaltenders. . . . About 2,200 tickets remained for tonight's game against the visiting Islanders.