WILMINGTON, Mass. — While working mostly with the defensemen as assistant coach for the Bruins’ Providence (AHL) farm club under Rob Murray, Bruce Cassidy has helped mold some key contributors to the organization’s success and the 2011 Stanley Cup championship squad.
Now that he’s the head coach, Cassidy expects to have the same type of impact on all of Boston’s prospects who are one step away from the NHL.
“When I first started, I was called a player’s coach. I don’t know what that means, to be honest,” said Cassidy today at Bruins development camp during his first public statements since getting the P-Bruins head job. “I talk to the players, they’re human beings, I like to put them in a position to succeed. I like to push them, to get a little bit more out of them. But I think I’m a lot less vocal than I was when I first started. I think part of that’s just being around it longer and having young children now. I think that changes the way you look at things. But at the end of the day we’re there to develop. So developing means communicating, teaching, it’s reinforcing and then it’s motivating and then when it’s time, when the puck drops, then you’re coaching. So those are basically the elements that I look at.
“But I think communication is a big thing nowadays … you can’t just bark at them like you did 15 years ago and expect them to perform. It’s a lot of explaining why and the purpose and how it benefits the team, how it benefits them. So that’s what I’ll do. It will just be an extension of what I’ve done for three years. I think the defensemen that have come through Providence in the last three years, for the most part, have all gotten better. They’re not all playing for Boston because that’s impossible, but you know Jeff Penner is a kid that played well but didn’t really make it but we were able to move him for [Anton] Khudobin. So he was an asset, [Andrew] Bodnarchuk has been down there for a while and he’s gotten better. It’s just there’s number crunch up here. You know [Adam] McQuaid and [Johnny] Boychuk, they’ve made it and good for them. And hopefully, some of these other young kids we have will get up also.”
Cassidy’s style earned him a head-coaching gig with the Washington Capitals, but he was dismissed during his second season in 2003-04. He last served as a head coach with Kingston of the OHL in 2006-07 and 2007-08, his last job before heading to Providence.
The P-Bruins haven’t reached the postseason the last two years after a solid run of success that included an Eastern Conference finals berth in 2009. Cassidy thinks he knows why the team hasn’t thrived and how to turn the club around.
“Well last year I think early on we had some goaltending struggles. I mean, coaches tend to do that, pin it on the goalies because it’s easy, but I think they’d be the first to admit that there were some struggles you know,” he said. “Like I said, [Michael Hutchinson] was a first-year guy. At the end of the day, I think he had a very good year but he had his ups and downs, and Nolan Schaefer had his ups and downs. Matt Dalton was given a chance. You know, usually at that level there’s a lot of mistakes every night from every team, so you need a goalie to keep you [in there].
The year before I think we lacked scoring. The Bruins had some injuries two years ago, so we lost [Brad] Marchand, [Vladimir] Sobotka, [Trent] Whitfield, for extend periods of time. And those were the guys we relied on for scoring. And last year the Bruins stayed relatively injury-free so we had most of our lineup. I just think the younger guys that we counted on to score, some did, some didn’t, but maybe there was too much pressure on them. I think down in the American League it’s always nice when you have some proven guys to take that slack off the guys night in night out. I mean they have to, if you’re drafted and you’re a scorer, you’ve got to get it done. But it’s hard when you’re the go-to guy every night and you’re playing against the other team’ss best pair … so those are some the things that I think hurt us.”
The Bruins recently re-signed Whitfield and added Jamie Tardif and Josh Hennessy for their veteran presence and scoring ability. Khudobin was re-signed to be the P-Bruins’ rock in goal. Now it’s up to Cassidy and his assistant (still to be determined) to get the most out of a pretty deep pool of prospects Boston has drafted over the last several years.