Bruins

Bruins-Blackhawks also a classic matchup for Cassidy

Bruins-Blackhawks also a classic matchup for Cassidy

BOSTON – For his own personal enjoyment, the Winter Classic matchup between the Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks couldn’t have been tailor-made any better for coach Bruce Cassidy.

It’s the Original Six NHL team that’s employed him for the past decade and elevated him to B’s bench boss for the past three seasons against the Original Six team that drafted him in the first round all the way back in 1983.

Certainly, a Bruins/Habs rivalry game might have been better from the standpoint of pure emotion on the ice and maybe even entertainment value.

But it didn’t work out that way when the two teams tangled a couple of years ago outdoors at Gillette Stadium and it certainly didn’t merit a repeat matchup. Either way, there are no two crests that Cassidy has more of a fondness for across the NHL than that of Boston’s Spoked B and Chicago’s Indian Head.

So there will most definitely be a little extra spring in his step on New Year’s Day at Notre Dame.

“If I was the one picking the matchup, this would be it,” said Cassidy to NBCSportsBoston.com. “Listen, I think it’s going to be a great experience. One, it’s the outdoor game that speaks for itself at Notre Dame. And No. 2 it’s Chicago. It’s the team I was drafted by. I didn’t play a lot of games, but any that I did play in it was Chicago. I’ve always been pretty fond of their crest as well, so it will be great when we get going.”

“The old [Chicago] Stadium was unbelievable...unbelievable. The national anthem, to me, was one of the spectacles of sports. If you like the Indy 500 or the Kentucky Derby, then you should have been at Chicago Stadium just once to experience it. The hair would stand up on your neck. I know when they built the new United Center they put some of the old pipes in there to try and keep the old sound. When I used to get scratched we wouldn’t stay in the press box because it was too small. We’d stay in what was called the organ loft, and I’d be standing right next to the organ and the anthem singer. It was so loud I couldn’t even hear Wayne Messmer singing, and he was right next to me.”

Interestingly enough, the Blackhawks turned out to be the only NHL organization that Cassidy suited up for in a pro playing career that was impacted almost immediately by knee injuries. Still, Cassidy managed to play 36 games for the Blackhawks between 1983-1990 and has fond memories of former teammates, coaches and the general manager that drafted and developed him over some pretty interesting years for the 'Hawks that formed him as a coach. 

“Jim Playfair, Trent Yawney, Doug Wilson, Bob Murray, Marc Bergevin, Jim Johansson, Cam Russell, Jimmy Waite and Ryan McGill. There are a lot of us that I ended up playing with that stayed in the game. It’s almost a funny thing that so many guys from that era ended up staying in the game as coaches or GM’s,” said Cassidy to NBCSportsBoston.com. “Curt Fraser coached. Dirk Graham coached. Rick Vaive coached for a little while. Bob McGill was a coach in the American League. When I retired and started coaching [in the AHL] there was a lot of us, so that was pretty interesting.

“I don’t why that was. Was it [longtime Blackhawks GM] Bob Pulford, who was a constant there a long time? I always liked Pulley. You would hear some things afterward, but he was a really nice guy to me even though he sent me down [to the minors] a lot. He always treated me as a person. I stayed at his house once for a month after I’d gotten hurt as a high draft pick.”

The sheer number of pro coaches produced by the Blackhawks from the mid-80s-90s is remarkable as Cassidy just reeled them off while bumping into those former Chicago and Saginaw Hawks teammates amid his travels as a pro hockey coach. Surely most of them won’t be at Notre Dame on New Year’s Day, but Cassidy won’t be blamed if his mind drifts to those memories a bit before he gets his game face on at puck drop for his first Winter Classic as an NHL bench boss.

“I had a lot of good friendships there because it was the only pro organization that I was with [as a player] and coached there for a while as well,” said Cassidy. “Me and Eddie [Belfour] started together in Saginaw and he was down there for a couple of years. Darren Pang, who is in TV now, we played together for a few years and were good friends from Ottawa. So there are a lot of old [teammates] that I’ll still see around the league.”

Pretty much all of those former teammates have moved on from the Blackhawks, like Cassidy himself, but there’s going to be a special kind of energy with the Bruins coach behind the bench once the anthem gets going on New Year’s Day for the puck drop between the Black and Gold and the Blackhawks. 

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Extra defenseman Steven Kampfer placed on waivers by the Bruins

Extra defenseman Steven Kampfer placed on waivers by the Bruins

With the return of John Moore to good health and a general lack of tight focus to the team recently, the confluence of events pushed the Bruins to make a move ahead of a four-game road trip next week.

The Bruins announced that they have waived veteran defenseman Steve Kampfer at noontime on Sunday for the purpose of sending him down to the AHL. It was clear the B’s were going to opt for the 31-year-old Kampfer rather than Connor Clifton, who just a couple of weeks ago passed the 60 NHL games played barrier that would also require waivers for him to be sent down to the AHL.

There’s a far greater chance that a team would put a claim in on the 24-year-old Clifton, who has two goals and a plus-5 rating in 24 games for the Black and Gold this season.

The final straw for Kampfer was the healthy return of Moore, who missed the first 28 games of the season coming back from shoulder surgery. But Moore has played in back-to-back games for the Bruins and collected an assist in Saturday night’s 4-1 loss to the Avalanche while showing that he’s all the way back from an injury suffered during last spring’s playoff run.

Kampfer has played in just four games for the Bruins this season as their seventh defenseman after putting up three goals and six points in 35 games as their spare D-man last season. While there’s a chance that a team could put a claim in on Kampfer, the likelihood given his age and experience level is that he’ll head to Providence to stay sharp for when another round of injuries inevitably hit the Bruins on the back end.

There’s also no question that a player being put on waivers that’s been with the Bruins for the last couple of seasons might be enough to also shake the complacency out of a B’s group that’s been sleepwalking against opponents over the last couple of weeks. They are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, of course, but they have needed a handful of third period comebacks after making slow starts the norm as of late.

There’s also the chance that the Bruins need the cap savings associated with Kampfer’s $800,000 cap hit after Moore’s $2.75 million cap figure was added back onto Boston’s books once he got healthy earlier this week.

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Bruce Cassidy: 'We've just got to wake up and start playing to our abilities'

Bruce Cassidy: 'We've just got to wake up and start playing to our abilities'

BOSTON – It was only a matter of time before the Bruins got burned for playing like they could flick on a third period switch and beat everybody across the NHL.

After a number of third period comebacks and salvaged points over the last couple of weeks, the Bruins couldn’t pull the same trick against the Colorado Avalanche in a 4-1 loss at TD Garden on Saturday night. It was the first regulation loss on home ice for the Bruins this season at TD Garden and it was exactly what Boston deserved after managing just nine shots on net in the first two periods while making some simple mistakes that led to goals against at inopportune times.

“For us, [it was a] lack of urgency. We talked about it the other night, again tonight, some of that is definitely in our game early on. If we’re on our toes, I think we’re cleaner. I’m not going to say that we’re not going to execute from time to time, but it’s been an issue for us I think. Some of the unforced errors — I just look at the play, Grizz [Matt Grzelcyk] takes a hit, [Danton] Heinen goes back with the puck. If we’re playing the right way, we’re in and out of our end. We’re gone,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We go back with it and all of a sudden [it’s in the net]. We win a faceoff to start a period and we ice it instead of making a play. Now we’re in our end and there’s just a lot of details that are working us against us now. We’ve just got to wake up and start playing to our abilities in those situations, and live with the result.

“[It] doesn’t mean we’re going to win, but I think we’re leaving plays on the table because our lack of urgency or understanding that teams are coming after us. They’re good teams. We got away with it for a while here, good for us, right? It’s a results-oriented business. But against the better teams, I think at some point, they will close out games. [The loss to the Avs] was a great example of that.”

The Heinen play really was the killer as it came midway through the second period, led to the Bruins running around in their own end and then ended with Ian Cole rocketing a slap shot past Jaroslav Halak from the top of the face-off circle. Then Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk botched defensive coverage in transition at the end of the second period, and that led to Andre Burakovsky scoring the insurance goal right at the end of the period.

At that point, it was over despite Boston outshooting Colorado by a 12-6 margin in the third period, and the Bruins have to hope that it was a lesson learned at this point. It may take a few games for the Bruins to snap out of some of their current bad habits, but there’s also that overall malaise that might be an unavoidable part of the team’s commanding 13-point lead in the Atlantic Division.

That being said, Brad Marchand spoke for all of Boston’s team leadership in knowing that the current state of being for the Black and Gold isn’t something that can sustainably bring success.

“It’s a losing game. You can’t continue to go down by a couple of goals, especially to good teams,” said Marchand. “Teams like that know how to win and how to keep a lead. No matter how many times you come back, it’s going to eventually catch up to you. We’ve had that, especially early on [in games]. We tend to be much better when we’re behind. I think then it’s a bit of a wakeup call and we all have to play good in order to come back.

“But we have to play that way from the first shift of the first period. If you want to win, if you want to be a good team and if you want to have a chance in the playoffs, you have to be able to do that all game along. It’s tough sometimes because the season can get long. That’s no excuse. We have to realize the mistakes that we’re making and improve if want to continue to get better. That’s what good teams do.”

It would behoove the Bruins to get things in order quickly with a slate of important games over the next week including a mid-week tilt with the Washington Capitals, and a pair of divisional games against Tampa Bay and Florida later on in the week. But there really isn’t any worry coming from the B’s about anybody distantly trailing them in the standings right now while 8-1-1 in their last 10 games overall.

Instead it’s about the Bruins themselves becoming the best hockey team that they can be and getting back into a groove where they are paying attention to details and doing the little things that lead to winning hockey.  

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