His journey back to the NHL head coaching ranks took some twists in turns for over a decade. But Bruce Cassidy persevered and the Bruins rewarded him for a job well done.
On the eve of players reporting to Warrior Ice Arena for the start of training camp, the Bruins announced that they’ve agreed to a multi-year contract extension with Cassidy.
“He’s earned the right to lead this hockey club,” Boston GM Don Sweeney said.
And with good reason. This past spring — in his second full season — Cassidy guided the team back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in six years. He took a Bruins franchise in transition following Claude Julien’s departure and guided them to three straight postseason appearances after taking over on an interim basis in February of 2017.
Cassidy navigated the team through some rough waters during his first three years in Boston. It started when he guided the team to an 18-8-1 mark under the interim coach label after taking over for Julien. It continued into two straight second-place finishes in the Atlantic Division and the Cup Final appearance this past spring.
Along the way, Cassidy earned the trust of the Bruins’ locker room. Yet, from Day 1, he earned a stamp of approval from a pair of prominent leaders.
“Zee [Zdeno Chara] and Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] were the first two I talked to,” Cassidy recalled. “I remember that day, Bergy said, ‘Listen, you’re my coach. Whatever you need, I’ll do.’ I thought that was, for a guy in my position that – right away it’s like, ‘Ok, let’s go.’”
Cassidy felt ready when he came into the NHL coaching ranks in 2002. He spent less than two seasons in Washington where he had a tumultuous time leading the Caps.
Times change. The game has changed. And so has Cassidy.
Cassidy is an ideal coach for this era. He helped spearhead a youth movement led by David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, while keeping a healthy veteran core featuring Bergeron, Chara, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, Brad Marchand and Torey Krug (among others) intact.
Each year provides a different challenge, though. Finding a balance between keeping players sharp and well-rested following a long playoff run gives Cassidy a tough task from the start. The other is finding spots for the next core of Bruins — like Jack Studnicka and Urho Vaakaninen — in this year’s lineup.
“I think it’s gonna be more of a challenge for those younger guys, so to get them to understand that and, you know, push for those spots ‘cause you always want that internal competition. Whether they can crack that lineup in October or November, we want to make sure [they’re ready]” Cassidy said. “So there will be a little less of that, but it’s, there’s still that next wave of new guys that we’re gonna have to make sure they understand that part of it.”
“The next part of the challenge is just getting back up and running,” Cassidy added. “I mean, it’s been talked about. A lot of teams have, to me, I think I said it the other day, ‘One more day of talking about that,’ but I just feel like we’ve got a bunch of great professionals in the room that are hockey players. And they’re not going to be worried about what happened last year, or what’s gonna happen next year. The focus is on now, and I think they’ll be pretty good at that.”
But there’s a fine balance for everything. Cassidy understood that following his first head coaching gig in the nation’s capital nearly two decades ago. He slowly found his niche as an assistant and a head coach in Providence before making the trip up I-95.
Cassidy certainly earned his new deal. Now, to paraphrase Cassidy himself, he hopes to find his name engraved “on the damn Cup.”
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