Bruce Cassidy took a winding road in hockey to become the head coach of the Boston Bruins. Since taking over after the firing of Claude Julien last season, Cassidy finished his first 82 games behind the Boston bench an astounding 53-20-9. That’s a sample size equivalent to a full season. Boston is in the mix for the Presidents’ Trophy and could conceivably finish with a better record than Cassidy’s 82-game sample.
He started his coaching career in the 1996-97 season, with the ECHL’S Jacksonville Lizard Kings. His career has taken him all over pro and junior leagues in North America, but Cassidy hit his stride in Providence. He never had a losing season in his five with the Providence Bruins. With Boston rolling, it’s a good time to look at how those P-Bruins teams fared down the stretch run, and look at how Cassidy went from leading the Lizard Kings to the Bruins.
Success Started in Providence
Before Cassidy’s run in Providence, his career started with multiple stops in the ECHL, AHL and just under two seasons with the Washington Capitals. He coached junior hockey with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs before joining the Bruins organization as an assistant in Providence for the 2008-09 season.
It’s often said about coaches in all sports that it takes a few tries to get it right. Cassidy became the head coach of the P-Bruins in the 2011-12 season, and started a run where Providence never finished below .500. Providence went 35-34-3-4 his first season — the worst in terms of record with Cassidy at the helm.
What may be useful as a measure of coaching success is to consider this was a time when the Bruins franchise wasn’t drafting particularly well. The organization had missed on some high picks, and missed out on the middle rounds of the draft because of traded picks in those draft years.
For example, Cassidy coached Bruins first-rounder Zach Hamill. Hamill was taken eighth overall in 2007. The Bruins took Tommy Cross in the second round of that draft and wouldn’t pick again until the fifth round. The following drafts were headlined by Joe Colborne and Jordan Caron respectively. More importantly, they were draft classes that didn’t exactly stock the farm with prospects. They were drafts that could have provided Cassidy with a core upon his arrival.
Caron was a part of the 2012-13 team after a 48-game stint in Boston the year before. The P-Bruins also featured two eventual Boston regulars on the blue line with Kevin Millar and Torey Krug. Backstopping the P-Bruins was Swedish goalie Niklas Svedberg, who would go on to win the Bastien Memorial award for the league’s top goaltender.
The P-Bruins’ .691 winning percentage that season was the third-best in franchise history, but Cassidy’s squad would fall short in the playoffs. The P-Bruins let a three-games-to-none series lead slip away to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Bruins fans are unfortunately familiar with blowing a three-game lead to a team from Pennsylvania, but the loss was particularly disappointing for a team that had been one of the AHL’s best all season.
Perhaps chalk it up as a learning experience for Cassidy, as he’s currently in position to take one of the NHL’s best teams into a playoff run. Losing in that fashion may have some value, as Cassidy has undoubtedly analyzed his team’s approach to that 2012-13 series.
Cassidy Had Resilient Providence Teams
The P-Bruins went 40-25-2-9 the following season. Veterans Chris Bourque, Christian Hanson, Trent Whitfield and Jamie Tardif departed as Cassidy took a much younger group to the playoffs. Matt Fraser and Joe Morrow were added to the mix as pieces from the Tyler Seguin trade. The team would be led in scoring by 19-year-old Russian and second-round pick Alexander Khokhlachev. Svedberg provided another solid season between the pipes.
Providence would once again make it out of the first round of the playoffs with a hard-fought 3-2 series win over Springfield. Once again, the P-Bruins would fail to go any further, losing to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in seven games.
The storyline would be different from the previous season, however, as Cassidy took a young team battling injuries within a game of the Conference Final. The P-Bruins were missing Fraser, and key defensemen Morrow and Zach Trotman in that final series. They nearly erased a 5-0 deficit in Game 7, falling 5-4. Cassidy’s Bruins team this season has also shown resiliency and relied on young players in important roles.
Cassidy would get Providence to the playoffs in his final two seasons in Providence, with first-round exits in both years. It’s tough to evaluate playoff performance at the minor-league level. Players moving at the trade deadline combined with call-ups, a reality of every team, lead to teams performing their best at the end of the season.
What is certain about the Cassidy era in Providence is that his teams were always there. He coached when the organization wasn’t considered to have great depth. Cassidy’s overall record with Providence was 207-128-21-24. His youngest team battled the hardest. Time will tell if the playoff experience will benefit the team Cassidy now leads. He will take one of the more talented, young Bruins squads in recent memory to the playoffs.