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Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy retains a deep appreciation for Bruins

Former Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy returns to Boston Monday as the coach of the Vegas Golden Knights, the top team in the Western Conference.David Becker/Associated Press

Bruce Cassidy walked out of the tunnel at TD Garden and stood on the home bench, and not because of muscle memory.

“Just to see what it was like,” the Vegas coach said Sunday, as his Golden Knights ran through an optional practice. “I’ve been in that spot a lot. I used to always look at the banners up top. Wanted to hang one. That didn’t happen. But still, great memories.”

Cassidy is back for Monday’s game with the red-hot Bruins, the team that stunned many by dismissing him last June. The Garden was quiet on Sunday, when bull gang mainstay John Grzelcyk, Matt’s dad, was one of the few familiar faces greeting him. There will be more who do so on Monday, including some in Black and Gold uniforms.


Cassidy had a deep appreciation for the Spoked-B long before joining the organization in 2008. He grew up a Bruins fan in Ottawa, mesmerized by Bobby Orr. After 14 seasons with the franchise, including a successful six-year run as head coach, his love for that crest is now dormant. But not erased.

“The appreciation of being around solid professionals like Zdeno Chara, Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] obviously,” he said, reflecting on what he took with him to Vegas. “Watched the growth of Marchy [Brad Marchand] and Pasta [David Pastrnak], the growth of Tuukka [Rask]. I could go down the list. The culture that was created — and I’ve said this before, Claude [Julien] laid a terrific foundation. We built off that, and Monty’s continued to do the same.

“When I was younger, I didn’t maybe appreciate it that much. I was thinking, ‘This is how we’re going to play, these are my matchups.’ It’s deeper than that.”

Cassidy was head coach of the Bruins from 2017 to 2022.Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe

Matchups against his successor, Jim Montgomery, could be a challenge on Monday. Vegas (18-7-1), the top team in the Western Conference, could be without its two best players. No. 1 defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is not in Boston, set to miss his fourth consecutive game for personal reasons.


No. 1 center Jack Eichel took a friendly-fire puck to the face five days ago and has since worn a bubble face shield. Like ex-Bruins Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari once did under Cassidy, he played well in the fishbowl: He scored a goal in each game. Eichel, however, left Saturday’s 4-1 win over Detroitcq with a lower-body injury. He was at the Garden on Sunday receiving treatment.

“That’s a tough one for him,” Cassidy said of the North Chemlsford Chelmsford and Boston University product (13-16—29 in 26 games), who leads the Golden Knights in scoring. “He’s having such a good year. He was really looking forward to it. Hopefully he heals quickly.”

Because of injuries in Buffalo and the November 2021 trade west, Eichel hasn’t skated on TD Garden ice since Dec. 29, 2019. In six seasons with the Sabres, he posted a pair of four-point games at the Garden, going 5-7—12 in eight games here.

He has been Vegas’ “best player every night ― away from the puck,” Cassidy said. He is trying to build Eichel into a 200-foot center, in the mold of Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, or Anze Kopitar. Faceoffs (42.3 percent) are the only area of improvement. He’s even playing some secondary penalty-kill minutes.

“I can’t say enough about the commitment he’s made to be a full, complete player,” Cassidy said. “He’s walked the walk.”


Breakouts have been tougher without Pietrangelo, the Knights losing more than their share of battles on the walls. Cassidy sees a Bruins team that activates its weak-side defenseman more than he did — Hampus Lindholm being a key driver of that — and is more aggressive in the neutral zone than his old squad.

“Sometimes your game simplifies when you’re missing key players,” Cassidy said. “I think our team has responded to good teams. We’re a bit of that team that can elevate our game. Sometimes unfortunately we can go the other way against opponents we should be doing better against.”

Goaltending was a major worry for Vegas, after No. 1 Robin Lehner was lost for the year with hip surgery. Logan Thompson has inserted himself into the Calder trophy race with a .920 save percentage and 12–5–0 record through his first 17 starts. He also has a pair of shutouts.

“There’s some [Jeremy] Swayman comparisons there,” Cassidy said. “A guy that came in the year before, did well late in the year and the guys had confidence in him. We knew he had the ability to play. Could he sustain that over the course of the year? We’re still finding that out. So far, so good.”

Matt Porter can be reached at Follow him @mattyports.