After nearly 10 seasons behind the Boston Bruins bench, the Claude Julien era is over. On Tuesday, Feb. 7, GM Don Sweeney announced that Julien had been relieved of his coaching duties and assistant coach Bruce Cassidy will be taking the reins for the Bruins for the remainder of the 2016-17 season.
Assistant coach Bruce Cassidy takes over as BOS interim head coach, per Bruin release.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) February 7, 2017
Cassidy may not be a stranger to the Bruins’ fan base, but some might not know the path he wandered before landing his new role with the organization.
As with many coaches in the league, Cassidy is a former NHL player. He played Junior hockey for the Ottawa 67’s and was drafted in 1983 by the Chicago Blackhawks with the 18th overall pick. Coincidentally, current Bruins president Cam Neely was selected with the ninth overall pick in the same year.
Cassidy was a promising young defenseman and he made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks late in the 1983-84 season. However, a series of severe knee injuries derailed his career and he only appeared in 36 NHL games. Towards the end of his playing days, he bounced between the IHL, Italy and Germany before retiring in 1996 to accept his first head coaching job with the Jacksonville Lizard Kings of the ECHL.
Minor League Adventure
In the 1996-97 season, Cassidy took over a struggling Lizard Kings team and ended the season with a 15-25-10 record. However, the following season he led the team to 35 wins before leaving to coach the Indianapolis Ice in the IHL.
Between 1996 and 2002, he coached four different teams with moderate success. His work in the minor leagues caught the attention of the Washington Capitals, and he soon found a job at the NHL level.
The Capital Debacle
Before the start of the 2002-03 season, the Capitals hired Cassidy to be their head coach at the age of 37. His hiring came as a surprise to many since he had no prior experience as a coach at the NHL level and was relatively young compared to other coaches.
As noted in a 2003 article in The Washington Post, Cassidy’s time with the Capitals did not go well as his inexperience was a major downfall. The problems started on his very first day with the team, as one player recalled:
“It looked like he was winging it. He had all summer to prepare for this day and it looked like he didn’t know what he was doing. Guys started to worry right away.”
Things only got worse for Cassidy and the Capitals as he clashed with many of the players and deployed strange coaching tactics. However, he was able to lead the team to 39 wins and a playoff birth, but the Capitals were bounced in the first round.
Cassidy returned to the Capitals’ bench for the 2003-04 season, but after 25 games the team only had eight wins and he was fired. George McPhee, the GM at the time, stated Cassidy was fired due to the abysmal start to the season, but constant conflicts with players seemed to be the real reason for his release.
The most famous of these disputes occurred about a week before Cassidy was dismissed when he, “ripped the team after a 3-0 loss and made references to players not using pregnant wives and sick children as an excuse for poor play.” The comments did not sit well with the team and it was evident he had completely lost his locker room.
At the end of the day, Cassidy was not ready to tackle the demanding role of being a head coach in the NHL and worked to move on from the ugly situation.
Moving on from Washington
After stints with the Blackhawks and Kingston Frontenacs, Cassidy landed on his feet again when he made his way over to the Boston Bruins as an assistant coach with their AHL affiliate in 2008. For the 2011-12 campaign, after three years as an assistant, he took control of the head coaching duties for the Providence Bruins and over five seasons he accumulated a 249-155-11-45 record with the club.
Before the start of the 2016-17 season, Cassidy was promoted to the big club as an assistant coach under Julien and is now assuming his first NHL head coaching role since his time with the Capitals. It has been an interesting journey back to the NHL for Cassidy as he looks to leave a positive mark on the Bruins for the remainder of this season.
Anthony Pagliarulo is a Boston Bruins contributor for The Hockey Writers. He is a Massachusetts native and a Worcester State University alumni. You can follow Anthony on Twitter @APags87.