BRIGHTON, Mass – Bruce Cassidy paid his dues in the AHL with the Providence Bruins over the last eight seasons prior to joining the NHL club this fall as an assistant coach. It was all for a chance to again become an NHL head coach after serving as one of the youngest head coaches in the NHL during a tenure with the Washington Capitals from 2002-04 that didn’t end particularly well.
Now 51 years old and wiser, more mature and more prepared than he was in his last go-round with the Caps, Cassidy takes over as interim coach of the Bruins replacing a legend in Claude Julien, who won over 400 games with the Black and Gold over the last 10 years. The hope is Cassidy can open things up offensively for the Bruins up and down their roster, more seamlessly integrate young players into the fold and maintain the defensive structure always at the heart of Julien’s system.
“We have areas and gaps within our game that exist. Whether that’s strictly personnel related, or whether or not those are some tweaks that we need to make or continue to make, that’s what’s going to unfold here. I think the opportunity for Bruce, who I’ve had a working relationship with, to come in and sort of evaluate his job and where our staff is as well as our personnel is important,” said Sweeney. “It’s an important period of time that we can continue to allow to unfold as opposed to waiting until the season’s end and just seeing if we hadn’t done anything, whether or not that would have worked.
“So I’m not grasping and realizing that I changed the expectations necessarily in the group. I think I understand that, where our group is at. I think on any given night, we can bet any given team. Whether or not we can maintain the consistency to get to where we need to, that’s where we need to. That’s going to unfold in the next 27 [games].”
Cassidy is clearly hoping he’s up to the task over the next couple of months, and that he can show the kind of success that might allow him to continue as Bruins head coach. But either way Cassidy is grateful to get another crack as head coach in the NHL more than 10 years after his last gig in Washington, and hopeful his past relationships with so many of Boston’s young players can translate into results on the ice.
“My roots are in the American Hockey League recently, especially down in Providence, very close to here. So I’ve coached a lot of these players that, some of them have moved on to play good parts here in Boston, other ones are still finding their way. So, there’s a previous relationship that I think is positive for most of those players, so I have to build on that,” said Cassidy. “The American League is certainly not the NHL. There are things you have to do differently, but it’s still coaching. You’re still teaching. You’re still motivating your players. So hopefully there’s that mutual respect between player and coach that I have right out of the gate, because I’ve been there with them, and not being a new face coming off of the street.
“I have to use that to my advantage with these younger guys, and the one thing is that, I hope they would say that they get second, third, fourth chances as younger players, as long as they’re willing to work and play within the system, that they’ll be given an opportunity to play to their strength. And that’s my end goal, with these younger players, and all the players.”
That’s exactly the kind of thing that Sweeney and Bruins management was looking to hear from the head coach that was going to replace Julien. Now it’s up to Cassidy to make his own mark and see if he can help lead a run from the Bruins in a vaguely similar situation to fellow former AHL head coach Mike Sullivan after getting promoted to the Pittsburgh Penguins job last season.