As a Medford guy and former Boston University standout, Joe Sacco, hired by the Bruins on Thursday as an assistant coach, is coming home.
Sacco’s return, however, is simply a pleasant perk of joining a Stanley Cup-ready team after working for two organizations whose pursuit of championships was years in the future.
“I feel fortunate to be part of such a strong group, a team that’s had success for a number of years,” Sacco said during a conference call. “Hopefully it will continue its success moving forward.”
For four years, Sacco was Colorado’s head coach. The Avalanche lost to San Jose in the first round in 2009-10. They failed to make the playoffs the next three years. Sacco was shown the door after 2012-13 and replaced by Patrick Roy. The Avalanche lost to Minnesota in the opening round of last year’s postseason.
Last year, Sacco was an assistant coach for Ron Rolston in Buffalo. The Sabres crumbled early. Buffalo sacked Rolston and general manager Darcy Regier in November. Sacco finished the season as an assistant to interim coach Ted Nolan. But Sacco was reassigned to the scouting department at year’s end.
In his previous stops, Sacco’s charges included Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly, and Zemgus Girgensons. At the time, they were players taking their first strides on NHL rinks.
It will be different in Boston. Sacco, 45, will be coaching Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. Sacco dressed alongside Chara on Long Island and Seidenberg in Philadelphia. On Feb. 6, 1998, Sacco became Chara’s teammate after Anaheim traded him to New York in a deal that included Doug Houda. Houda is now his colleague on the Boston bench.
“I think it will be a different change,” Sacco said of joining a veteran group. “The mind-set of the team is probably a little different. It can handle some adversity with some of the obstacles it’s faced over the course of a season with its ups and downs. It seems to have a strong veteran presence. There’s great internal leadership inside the dressing room. It’s managed the highs and lows of the season very well.”
Sacco is replacing Geoff Ward, who was Claude Julien’s righthand man for the last seven seasons. Ward left the organization at the end of the year to become head coach of Mannheim in Germany.
Sacco contacted Julien after Ward’s departure in June to express his interest in the position. Julien interviewed Sacco several times. The Bruins offered the job to Sacco on Tuesday following an interview with general manager Peter Chiarelli and a final chat with Julien.
Ward’s primary responsibility was overseeing the power play. The PP hummed at a 21.7 percent success rate last season, third-best in the league. Torey Krug worked the point. Chara was stationed down low. Jarome Iginla opened up penalty-killing boxes because of his left-side one-timer. Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith connected on the No. 2 unit.
Julien has yet to determine whether Sacco will manage the power play. It’s possible Julien could change assignments for his assistants. Houda has been responsible for the defense and the penalty kill. Doug Jarvis has monitored games from the press box, keeping in touch with Ward via radio.
“He’s got some great experience, not only as a hockey player but also as an assistant coach in the American League and the NHL, and he was also a head coach in both leagues as well,” Julien said. “We’re able to have a guy with that much experience coming into our group. He’s been a player for such a long time that we all know he’ll have instant respect from our players.”
Sacco played in 738 career NHL games for Philadelphia, Washington, the Islanders, Anaheim, and Toronto. The forward scored 94 goals and 119 assists. Sacco played at BU for three seasons before turning pro in 1990. Julien, who was a defenseman, wanted an ex-forward to fill the position.
The Bruins considered Providence head coach Bruce Cassidy. But Cassidy will remain in the AHL. The Bruins have been satisfied with Cassidy’s work in developing prospects.
David Warsofsky agreed to terms on Thursday to a one-year, two-way extension. The defenseman will earn $600,000 with the parent club. The left-shot Warsofsky was a restricted free agent.
The 24-year-old is coming off his best professional seasons. Warsofsky, a Marshfield native, had six goals and 26 assists in 56 games for Providence in 2013-14. He was up with the varsity for six games (1-1—2) and didn’t look out of place.
If the Bruins don’t make any trades, the offensive-minded Warsofsky will be one of nine defensemen competing for seven jobs. Warsofsky, at 5 feet 9 inches and 170 pounds, is not well-equipped for shutdown situations. But the Bruins need his mobility and hockey sense to improve their breakouts and pace-pushing tempo.