BRIGHTON, Mass. – Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy would be the first to tell anybody that he’s learned plenty of lessons since he was the youngest head coach in the NHL at 37 years old way back in 2002-03 with the Washington Capitals.
He was way too fixated on hockey 24/7 back then, way too hard on his players without letting up and understandably was a little intimidated as an inexperienced head coach in charge of a legendary Hall of Famer like Jaromir Jagr. A steady diet of AHL buses for 13 years in between NHL gigs gave Cassidy plenty of time to think about how he’d do things differently if he ever got the chance again, and maturity and a family of his own made him realize that there’s a balance to achieve between hockey and life away from the hockey rink.
“Mine was a long time, so the one thing I’ve learned is that I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin now than I was then,” said Cassidy, when asked about his early days with the Capitals. “I was young and I really had no NHL experience. I was just up in Chicago for bits and pieces [as a player], so you walk into an NHL locker room and there was still a little bit of that awe when you see [Jaromir] Jagr and [Sergei] Gonchar and guys that have been around. So it took me a little while to be comfortable going in there and saying this is what we’re doing today, and still have that confidence to be a good communicator while you’re doing it.
“So I think over the years I’ve learned to sort of have that mentality a little more, and when you’re around the game for 15 more years you’re going to learn stuff. There are different ways to communicate, different ways to see the game, how to delegate, how to use your staff and how to use your top-end players to keep them healthy and going for that common goal. I think that’s the big difference. A lot of newness back then and now there’s a lot more experience at this level.”
Cassidy went on to credit the current Bruins leadership group as “second-to-none” and that’s also a big difference from his dark days with Washington almost 20 years ago.
Cassidy’s humble attitude and self-awareness are what he’s proven to be all about while putting together a 117-52-22 record in his three seasons behind the Bruins bench after replacing Claude Julien, and his ability to make adjustments, manage personalities and get the most out of what he’s got have been hallmarks of three playoff-worthy hockey teams in that time. Cassidy is prepared, he’s candid about his hockey team and he has consistently over-delivered with the amount of blended talent on the Bruins roster.
That’s why the idiotic, clearly personal attack on him last week by Bates Battaglia on a Spittin’ Chiclets podcast was particularly annoying. Battaglia, a former Carolina Hurricanes player still employed by the Canes as a consultant, decided to go on the hockey podcast while the Bruins/Hurricanes series was still going on, and badmouth the Bruins coach while disingenuously pretending like he didn’t know that Cassidy was the head coach for the team that the Hurricanes were playing in the Eastern Conference Final.
“Oh yeah, piece of [expletive]," said Battaglia, who played for Cassidy during his brief stint with the Capitals. "Tip to tail. Never liked that guy. I don’t know how he is still a coach. It boggles my mind. I honestly didn’t even know he was still coaching. I randomly saw a highlight… as you can I tell I don’t follow a whole lot, I watch some but I’m not a diehard... but I saw him on the screen and I couldn’t believe it.
“It just shows how good Boston is, that they’re playing despite him. [He was] unprepared. Never knew what we were doing. [He was] just unorganized. Maybe things have changed. I hope they have. But that was not my bread and butter there with him."
All the while insisting that Cassidy wasn’t ever prepared as an NHL head coach, Battaglia essentially said he wasn’t prepared for the podcast because he doesn’t watch that much hockey, while his LinkedIn profile clearly states he works for the Hurricanes. Certainly the Barstool Sports hockey podcast is free to use whomever they want on the air, but the only reason the eminently forgettable Battaglia was noteworthy on a podcast in any way, shape or form was for ripping a highly respected NHL head coach in Cassidy.
So what did we learn from all of this?
As per usual, it’s about judging what’s said about somebody from the source that it’s coming from. In this instance, Battaglia showed he was actually more worthy of the vitriolic words he was using to paint the Bruins bench boss. And Cassidy once again took the high road, answered things honestly when asked and has proven over the last three seasons that he learned well from his first head coaching experience much like a football guy named Bill Belichick did when he was first in charge of the Cleveland Browns.
The bottom line is that Cassidy is a major reason why the Bruins turned things around after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for two straight seasons with the same veteran core that’s now back in the Stanley Cup Final. No amount of crap-talking NHL has-beens looking to settle scores is going to change that for people who are actually paying attention to the special thing that Cassidy has helped to build in Boston with his Black and Golden second chance.
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