by Adam Kaufman || AHL On The Beat Archive
In every partnership, there must be give and take, collaboration and common ground.
Some of those partnerships, friendships, begin from nothing more than a common knowledge of the other individual. From there, trust, confidence and a foundation must be built in order to forge ahead.
The situation in Providence during the 2008-09 campaign is no different with the promotion of Rob Murray to head coach from the assistant’s role he occupied for the last five seasons and the hiring of his replacement, former National Hockey League head coach Bruce Cassidy, appropriately known to many as “Butch”.
As a first-time head coach welcoming a new assistant, Murray could only think back to several years earlier when he found himself in a similar position to Cassidy, who’s now playing the sidekick’s role of the Sundance Kid.
“It’s not unlike Scott (Gordon)’s and my situation,” recalled Murray. “We didn’t know each other at all either. The first time I met him was in training camp that first year I was hired but we grew to be great friends. Hockey players just kind of gravitate to each other, I think, and I feel that’s how this relationship with Butch has started off. It’s really no different than a new team being thrown together – you get a bunch of guys together for almost a week and all of a sudden they’re all best friends.”
“It’s odd that we didn’t know each other because we’re similar in age, both came out of the Ontario Hockey League, spent a lot of time in the minors and we both grew up in Ontario,” said Cassidy. “But we’re both good people and both good hockey people. It’s worked out great so far, we’ve had some laughs and we’re definitely on the same page in the way we go about preparing and what we believe the players need to get from us.”
What the players need, with a club comprised of men averaging a shade over 22 years of age, is guidance and instruction for development.
“Rob’s the boss,” stated Cassidy. “I am here to help the young guys get better. I have some experience at this level and a lot of different levels that I can pass on to him if and when he needs it. But until you face adversity in pro sports, everything is good. In the meantime, I see a lot of good, young players in the back-end and hopefully we can help them in their progression to Boston.”
Cassidy brings a lengthy coaching background to Rhode Island after 12 years on the bench, all but two spent in the lead role. But despite the differences now in responsibility from years past, such as overseeing the defensemen and the power play, Cassidy’s new role is one he intends to cherish.
“I enjoy the American League level,” said Cassidy. “I think maybe it has something to do with the fact that I spent a lot of time at this level as a player and I appreciate seeing a player get ahead and move up to the NHL.”
The Ottawa native was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks 18th overall in the first round of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft and, after a tremendous junior career with his hometown Ottawa 67’s, Cassidy went on to play 12 professional seasons, many hampered by recurring knee injuries. The former defenseman spent parts of eight seasons playing in the American Hockey League and the old International Hockey League, while also enjoying 36 games worth of call-ups to Chicago.
Still, it was not until his days further down the line that Cassidy was able to spend his first full season in the NHL – as coach of the Washington Capitals. That experience, lasting nearly a year-and-a-half, came after a successful run with the Grand Rapids Griffins, where his clubs won 95 games and he was honored as the AHL’s Coach of the Year.
Cassidy’s work since running an NHL bench has found him as an assistant with Chicago, in the AHL for Norfolk, and as the head man again for the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL, where he last worked for much of the previous two seasons.
But after a conversation with Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, who he worked with when both were in the Ottawa Senators’ organization, Cassidy knew Providence could be an ideal destination to a level and group of people he enjoys so much.
“I enjoy the young guys’ enthusiasm,” said Cassidy when asked what he likes most about the AHL. “They come to the rink everyday with a smile on their faces. They’re young guys here to practice and play hockey. They’re not at a point in their lives where they’ve got other things going on. Life is all about hockey and the people in the room are a support system for them, especially the young guys.
“When you get older,” Cassidy continued. “There’s more money involved and it becomes more of a job so it can change a player’s approach a bit, which is good and bad. But, right now, these kids are still young enough that it’s still a game to them and that’s an excitement I can see and really enjoy.”
As much enjoyment as the Providence Bruins can potentially provide on the ice in 2008-09, many of the laughs and stories are sure to come from inside the doors of the coaches office between men who went from familiarity in name only to working a few short feet away essentially overnight back in mid-September.
Now, if there is to be a new Butch and Sundance partnership here in the East, in roles more so than names, the only robbing they intend to do is that of wins from the opposition.