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Bruins hire former defenseman John Gruden as assistant coach

John Gruden becomes the first outside assistant hired by new coach Jim Montgomery, who according to general manager Don Sweeney is likely to retain Joe Sacco, Chris Kelly, and goalie coach Bob Essensa.Winslow Townson/Associated Press

The Bruins made an assistant coach hire, adding former Bruins defenseman John Gruden to Jim Montgomery’s staff on Wednesday.

Gruden, 52, spent the last four years as an Islanders assistant, his first NHL coaching gig. New Islanders coach Lane Lambert, taking over for Barry Trotz, dismissed Gruden in June.

Gruden helped run the defense for Trotz, who surprisingly was fired after a 37-35-10 season that saw the team saddled with a COVID-19 outbreak and a five-week road trip while their new home, UBS Arena, was being finished.

In the three previous seasons, the Islanders finished second, ninth, and fifth in goals against. In 2021, they knocked the Bruins out of the second round of the playoffs in six games.


Gruden becomes the first outside assistant hired by Montgomery, who according to general manager Don Sweeney is likely to retain Joe Sacco, Chris Kelly, and goalie coach Bob Essensa. Gruden replaces Kevin Dean, who hooked on with the Blackhawks after running the defense for Bruce Cassidy. Another one of Cassidy’s former assistants, Jay Pandolfo, left last year to coach Boston University. The Bruins also are looking to replace skating and skills coach Kim Brandvold, who also left for BU.

Gruden is best remembered in Boston as a hard-shooting depth defenseman for the Brian Sutter- and Steve Kasper-coached Bruins of the mid-1990s. Gruden was an eighth-round draft pick (168th overall) in 1990 who played 59 games with Boston (1994-96). While he didn’t have a long stay on Causeway Street, he was an excellent AHL blue liner, putting up 18 goals and 45 points for Providence in 1996-97.

In his 11 pro seasons, the former Ferris State captain also played 22 games for Ottawa (1998-2000) and 11 for Washington (2003-04), spent time with IHL Detroit and Grand Rapids, and played a season for Eisbären Berlin in Germany.


A year after retiring in 2004, Gruden got into coaching. His path took him from two Michigan high schools (Brother Rice and Stoney Creek) to a stint as an assistant coach with the US National Team Development Program (2011-15). In Ann Arbor, he tutored future Bruins defensemen Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Connor Clifton, and Connor Carrick, as well as forward Trent Frederic. Gruden was also on Team USA’s Under-18 World Junior Championship staffs in 2012, 2014, and 2016, and the U-17s in 2013 and 2015. The Americans won gold in 2012 and 2014.

Gruden earned his first head coaching job in the OHL, with the Flint Firebirds in 2015-16. He jumped to the Hamilton Bulldogs (2016-18) and won an OHL championship in 2018. That put him on the radar of Trotz, who in 2018 brought Gruden on his new Islanders staff despite having no apparent history with him.

Gruden, born in Virginia, Minn., has a 22-year-old son, Jonathan, who is a winger in the Penguins system.

Gruden is scheduled to speak to the media via Zoom on Thursday.

Matt Porter can be reached at matthew.porter@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.