Bruce Cassidy

Cassidy's experience and approach are big reasons for Bruins' Cup run

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Cassidy's experience and approach are big reasons for Bruins' Cup run

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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Bruins had many turning points this season before reaching Stanley Cup Final

Bruins had many turning points this season before reaching Stanley Cup Final

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Veteran Bruins players that have been there before always have the expectation that something special is going to happen with each and every hockey season.

Perhaps it’s just part of the culture that the Bruins have built over the last 12 years, and a key optimistic part of what’s pushed the Bruins to three Stanley Cup Final appearances over the last eight years. Certainly it’s the mindset that 42-year-old captain Zdeno Chara brings to the table every season, and has made the Bruins a playoff team in 10 of the 13 seasons that he’s been in Black and Gold.

“There are always some moments and sequences when you can look back,” said Chara, when asked if there was any moment that he knew this Bruins team had the makings of a special group. “I’ve never felt any differently this team. The team that we have is always one that I believe in. That won’t ever change. That’s the biggest thing for me.

“I always believe that the group of guys we have, the players we have, the coaches, the system and what management goes, I always believe that’s the way we go and I follow the lead that’s set by the organization. I just go and try to make the best out of it.”

But optimism was high coming off last season when the Bruins pumped 112 points out of their regular season, even if it was a little bit guarded with the knowledge that they still needed to get by a Tampa Bay Lightning juggernaut in their own division.

As circumstances would have it, the Bruins once again had an excellent regular season in 2018-19 even if it wasn’t the kind of historic campaign put together by the Lightning. Then they outlasted Toronto in the playoffs and all of a sudden people started paying much closer attention to a Bruins team that had a clear pathway to the Stanley Cup Final once Tampa, Washington and Pittsburgh all fell by the wayside in the first round of the playoffs.

But let’s not shortchange this Bruins team either. They have been one of the NHL’s best teams for most of this season, and they truly do deserve to be in the Stanley Cup Final, whether they received breaks along the way or not.

“I’m proud of the guys. We’ve earned the right to be where we are and be in the Stanley Cup Final,” said Bruce Cassidy.  “We’ve beaten three good teams. There’s a bit of unfinished business here, but I think our guys understand that there are four more steps to go here.”

They traveled all the way to China during training camp, took the Winter Classic crown when they defeated the host Blackhawks at Notre Dame’s football stadium, ripped off points in 19 straight games down the stretch and have pieced together an impressive seven-game winning streak during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Bruce Cassidy felt like the Winter Classic and the “Peaky Blinders” outfits worn by the Bruins players was a turning point moment for the B’s when things really started coming together.  

“There was the core [group] right from the beginning, right? But some of that core group wasn’t in China, so it was a lot of the young guys that had to take charge. Guys like Jake [DeBrusk] and Charlie [McAvoy] that had been here for a year got a little more vocal. I think the Winter Classic was a little bit more of a turning point if you want to look back. The whole ‘Peaky Blinders’ theme really brought the guys together, and I think that was Torey Krug’s doing if I’m not mistaken.

“But in the game itself we seemed to take off from there. That was one instance where we really came together. I think that was the first time we had probably had everybody healthy with the group we thought we’d start with at the beginning of the year. We’ve always allowed the players to kind of have that room. It’s Zee, Bergeron, Krejci and Tuukka, these guys have won a Cup. We’ve never really interfered with it too much and have always viewed it as a positive that [the players] can kind of police their own things.”

Certainly the Bruins season has been about overcoming adversity with the Bruins losing both Patrice Bergeron and Chara for an overlapping month, losing David Pastrnak toward the end of the season with a freak thumb injury and not getting a truly effective Charlie McAvoy until after the midpoint of the season. That as much as anything else has defined the Bruins over the course of this NHL regular season and steeled them against many of the things thrown underneath them over the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“There are a lot of things that brought us together throughout the season,” said Brad Marchand. “The Winter Classic was a pretty special thing to go through as a group, but another one was [the trip] to China. We had a lot of fun over there as a group, and a couple of long nights and fun bus rides. Those are the things that bring you together and you look back on as building relationships. There were a lot of different things that we went through this year and things you can look back on. But it’s also something we stressed in the room and take a lot of pride in. It’s really paying off for us right now.”

No trash talk from John Tortorella “denting” Tuukka Rask was going to throw the Bruins off track, and no amount of scrutiny thrown at Brad Marchand was going to make him shrink from the big moments, even if the entire Canadian media seems to be against him at any given moment.

This Bruins team has proven time and again that they are big game performers and that they are survivors who will be there at the end of the day. Those two things as much as anything else allow the Bruins to be there still standing at the very end of the Stanley Cup playoff tournament, and lying in wait for a challenger in the Western Conference that’s going to be the underdog in the final series, no matter who it is. 

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Was the Winter Classic win the turning point for the Bruins in 2019? They sure think so

Was the Winter Classic win the turning point for the Bruins in 2019? They sure think so

Entering their 2019 Winter Classic clash with the Blackhawks, the Bruins were 22-14 and far away from title contention. Tampa Bay and Washington were presumed to be the best teams in the Eastern Conference, while the Bruins were destined for another underwhelming close to a season. 

Then they became one of the top teams in the NHL in a matter of two months, almost immediately following their 4-2 win over Chicago in Notre Dame Stadium.

If you ask Torey Krug and Bruce Cassidy, they'll tell you that the Winter Classic win was a turning point in the B's season.

Boston then went 19 consecutive games without losing a game in regulation, sparking a 107-point regular season, which was good for second-most in the league trailing only the Lightning. 

Boston had its issues in the playoffs finishing out the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets, but in each series, they seemed to have overcome a level of diversity you expect out of championship teams. 

Whether the Bruins end up winning the Stanley Cup or not, the Winter Classic transformed them from pretenders to contenders. At least, that's what the Bruns believe.

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