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.
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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.”
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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.