Coaching Little League or Bruins, Bruce Cassidy feels right at home
PROVIDENCE — In Washington, Chicago, and Kingston, Ontario, Bruce and Julie Cassidy bought their homes, which speaks to their disregard for the principle that hockey coaches should rent.
In Providence, where Cassidy was hired by fellow Ottawa native Peter Chiarelli, the couple rented the two residences they’ve called home, which speaks to the lesson they learned in job security (sacked by Washington and Kingston in Year 2, not retained by Chicago after Year 1) and the forecast on the length of their Rhode Island stay.
Nine years later — the longest they have stayed in one city — the Cassidys can laugh about their initial caution. This is home to 8-year-old Shannon and 6-year-old Cole. Sister and brother attend the same Montessori school, where they are learning Chinese, which they speak to each other sometimes to avoid parental oversight.
Shannon had a skating birthday party at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, her father’s eight-year workplace. Cole is a veteran of Fox Point East Side Little League, where his dad has been a volunteer assistant for the last three seasons.
On a recent late afternoon at Sessions Street Field, Cole and the Oral Surgery Services Mighty Molars are playing ball against the KLR Tax Warriors. The Double A Little League division produces as many smiles for its observers as it does for its participants.
Hits do not regularly reach the outfield. Oral surgeon Fred Hartman, who laughingly calls himself the team’s owner, provides in-game commentary via a wireless microphone and a speaker placed in front of the first base dugout.
During the NHL season, to the assorted Marshies and Bergies and Millsies, the Bruins head coach is known as Butch. During Little League season, Cassidy answers to two names: Bruce to his fellow coaches and parents, and Dad to his kids. He likes all three.
When the Mighty Molars are in the field, the coaches stand close to their players to offer guidance. The Tax Warriors are short on coaches, so when the Mighty Molars are at bat, Cassidy pitches to his team. The hitters are granted unlimited swings.
“No strikeouts,” Cassidy says with a smile. “James Harrison wouldn’t like us.”
Cassidy lobs batter-friendly pitches with the relaxed arm of an ex-baseball player — one stunted by a broken right elbow when he was a teen-ager — and driven by the still-sinewy legs of a former professional defenseman. Cole swings and misses on several pitches before he sprays one to the opposite field. Nobody speaks a word about hockey.
When Cassidy returns from the mound, Shannon asks for his phone to take a picture. She has left her device at home, an old phone that snaps shots but can no longer make calls. At first, she has no luck.
“You know the rules,” says Cassidy, instructing Shannon to ask her mother, who offers similar resistance.
Shannon, who knows her parents’ weak spots, returns to her father. Additional pleading produces a breakthrough. Cassidy hands over his phone and insists on its return after one picture. Such compromises would not serve Cassidy well with his older charges.
“I save my game face for the players,” Cassidy says.
Twists of fate
Cassidy is one of 26 NHL coaches (vacancies remain in Florida and Buffalo) now out of their in-season wardrobe of suits and track suits. He has settled into his offseason routine of playing golf, riding his hybrid bicycle, managing Cole’s baseball and Shannon’s lacrosse schedules, and watching playoff games on TV.
Cassidy would prefer to have been unavailable for more than the one Little League game he missed in April because of his professional responsibilities.
“I was kind of [angry], really,” he said. “We could have come out of our division. I felt that. If other people agree, I don’t know and I don’t care. I felt we could have come out of our division. It didn’t happen.
“Yet I still felt good about the effort we gave. It’s not like you’re going home saying, ‘Well, we didn’t leave it out there, or this or that.’ I felt we left it out there. I still felt with a break here or there, maybe a healthy guy on the back end — you’re always going to have some injuries — we could have been the team like Ottawa right now.”
The Feb. 7 ascension of Cassidy into Claude Julien’s position, after all, was the catalyst for the Bruins’ revival and postseason qualification. Two-plus months of auditioning resulted in Cassidy’s permanent dismissal of an impermanent title when he became the Bruins’ 28th head coach on April 26.
This is the third summer in which Cassidy will enjoy the comfort of an NHL head coaching position. That 14 years have passed since the last one is not lost on a coach who wondered whether he would ever experience similar security.
Of the NHL’s current bosses, only four have coached more AHL games than the 380 Cassidy has to his name: Bruce Boudreau (655), John Stevens (480), Barry Trotz (400), and John Hynes (384). Cassidy’s total seasons in Providence (three as assistant, five as head coach) are surpassed only by the nine Boudreau (his former minor league teammate in Nova Scotia) spent in Lowell, Manchester, and Hershey.
Cassidy does not like to think about what would have happened had his first year in Providence not taken place. In August 2008, late in hockey’s calendar, former Providence head coach Scott Gordon was hired by the Islanders. Cassidy was out of work at the time, having been fired by Kingston earlier that season.
Cassidy landed the assistant’s job to Rob Murray partly because of his personal and professional relationship with Chiarelli, then the Bruins’ general manager. For two seasons, Cassidy was the head coach in Grand Rapids, Ottawa’s former AHL affiliate, when Chiarelli was the Senators’ assistant GM.
“I knew nothing about Providence,” Cassidy said. “I’m an old IHL guy. I don’t think I ever played a game here.”
Professionally, it was a good fit. Cassidy enjoyed working with Murray and Don Sweeney, then the organization’s director of hockey operations and player development. Providence, paced by future Bruins Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask, Adam McQuaid, Johnny Boychuk, and Vladimir Sobotka, went 43-29-8.
Personally, Cassidy and wife Julie, a former lobbyist and Motorola executive, enjoyed life in downtown Providence. Cole arrived 18 months after Shannon. Cassidy did not apply for any AHL head coaching openings following his first season in Providence.
There would be seven years in Providence to follow. Cassidy was not impatient. He and his family had become Rhode Islanders. Consider that when Cole plays himself in NHL 17 on his Xbox (he is a Bruin, naturally), he does not mind when underwhelming performance leads to a demotion. Cole belongs to a small club that welcomes an assignment to Providence.
“It wouldn’t have bothered me at all,” Cassidy said of staying in Providence longer than expected. “As you get older, you want a home. We love it here.”
It will not be home for much longer. The Cassidys have identified a house they like in Winchester. A father can take only so many commutes that begin before his children rise and end well after they’ve gone to bed.
Cassidy had to time it right. If he left his East Side townhouse at 5:30 a.m. on a weekday, he could pull into Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton 75 minutes later. If he dawdled until after 6 a.m., traffic on 95 North would turn his 50-mile drive into a two-hour grind.
The Cassidys considered moving when he was hired as Julien’s assistant on May 24, 2016. But Cole, who has a late 2011 birthday, would have been too young to enter first grade in Massachusetts.
So Cassidy took on the miles. It made for a long day. On game nights, the ones he didn’t spend in a Boston hotel, he would not be home before 11 p.m. Soon after he opened his door, he did the same with his laptop to review the just-completed game.
Winchester is also the home of assistant coach Jay Pandolfo. Cole, who plays hockey, could join the Boston Junior Eagles program, which is overseen by Dave Hymovitz. Cassidy coached Hymovitz in Grand Rapids.
As he prepares for the move, Cassidy is experiencing his first offseason as the Bruins head coach. It affords him the freedom of considering system adjustments that he, for the first time, has the power to put into place.
He is thinking about shifting from a 1-2-2 to a 1-1-3, which would advance the defensemen higher up the ice to help close down opposing entries. Cassidy monitored the Rangers and Penguins, the Senators’ other playoff opponents, to ponder methods to breach the neutral zone.
He has attended Providence’s home games with a close eye on Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen, who are possibilities to ride with David Krejci on Boston’s No. 2 line. Cassidy admired Western Conference finalists Nashville and Anaheim for how they engage their puck-moving defensemen to generate scoring chances.
For the last 10 summers, such decisions belonged to Julien. Now Cassidy is the boss.
“It’s kind of nice to go in with your own game plan,” Cassidy said, “to get the things you want up to speed right away.”
Cassidy will have a busy summer. He will huddle with his assistants soon to discuss offseason responsibilities in preparation for camp. He will attend the draft in Chicago. He will watch over the team’s annual development camp in July. By then, Sweeney will have built most of next season’s roster, which will allow Cassidy to think about lines and pairings.
Away from hockey, Cassidy will pull up roots he did not intend to plant. If all goes well with the acquisition, the family will move to Winchester in August. Cole and Shannon are of the age where they will miss their old friends. But they will not have trouble making new ones.
“Kids are resilient,” Cassidy says.
Cassidy is reminded of this after the Mighty Molars’ win. It is their ninth in nine games, a run the professional hockey coach does not mind acknowledging. Cole has fallen off a slide and suffered a cut near his mouth. Julie says Cole is OK. In fact, she relates to her husband that their son would not mind short-term evidence of his misfortune to remain so he can show his classmates.
“It would look cool,” Julie says.
The day is over. The Cassidy family is ready to return to a residence that will not be home for much longer. Their next adventure awaits.