Peter Laviolette has been an NHL head coach since 2001. Since 2003, he has had Kevin McCarthy by his side as an assistant coach. Now with Laviolette taking over behind the bench for the Capitals, McCarthy is once again joining Laviolette as an assistant.
It was not initially known if McCarthy intended to follow Laviolette to Washington when Laviolette was hired as McCarthy was pondering retirement. But he found the chance to win a Stanley Cup too enticing to pass up.
"To be able to go to a team that has won the Stanley Cup and knows what it takes to win a Stanley Cup and have a roster which I believe can compete for a Stanley Cup right away, that was a big factor in my decision," McCarthy said. "I feel very strongly about that."
But that actually was not the first reason he listed when speaking to the media. When asked why he ultimately decided to coach another season, he began his answer with, "Well, I think the biggest thing to me was the opportunity obviously to work with Lavi again."
Hockey is a tough business. Coaches are frequently hired and fired and staff is constantly shuffled. Struggling staffs see coaches fired and replaced, while successful staffs often see successful assistants move up the ladder and try to become the head coach on other teams. Laviolette and McCarthy, however, have been coaching together for the past 17 years.
And the funny thing about it is they were initially forced to work together.
"Actually, Lavi, he inherited me when Paul Maurice got fired in Carolina and Lavy took over," McCarthy said. "We didn't really know each other."
"I'll never forget Jim Rutherford, I didn't know Kevin at all when I took him on my staff," Laviolette said. "Jim Rutherford had asked me to work with the coaches in place until the end of the year. I had gotten hired in Carolina in December."
When a coach is hired mid-season, he often has to lean on the existing assistants to get his bearings and learn about his team; who the players are, their personalities, their strengths, their weaknesses, the team and the locker room dynamic behind closed doors, etc. Laviolette began to lean on McCarthy for those things when he was hired in Carolina.
"When you come in as a new coach, you don't know anybody, you don't know the players, you can't put names to faces so you really have to rely on your staff to help you out in those situations," McCarthy said. "I thought that we really hit off right from the start and we had the same philosophies of how we want to play the game."
Carolina finished that season 28-34-14-6 with 76 points, good for 11th in the conference, but missing the playoff field by 15 points. The next season, however, was a very different story. The 2004-05 season was wiped out due to a lockout, but In Laviolette's first full season with the Hurricanes in 2005-06, Carolina went on to win the Stanley Cup.
During that year, Laviolette says he came to really appreciate how strong of a coach McCarthy was.
"For me, it was then I realized how special he was as a coach and a person," Laviolette said. "The way he could teach and he had a real way about his personality where he could really be effective with the players. I think his track record speaks for itself."
That record consists of one Stanley Cup and two additional conference championships that Laviolette and McCarthy have earned together.
McCarthy now joins Laviolette in Washington, the lone newcomer on a staff that also consists of Scott Arniel, Blaine Forsythe and Scott Murray, three coaches who are all holdovers from the previous staff. But with Reid Cashman headed to Dartmouth as their new head coach, that left an opening for a defensive coach and it is no surprise McCarthy was hired to become that coach.
A coaching tandem is rare in hockey, but that appears to be what Laviolette and McCarthy are to one another. In their three previous coaching stops, they have managed to lead each team to at least a conference title. They will be looking to have that success again with Washington and it is only fitting that they do it together.