Saturday, June 25, 2011

P-Bruins give Cassidy a shot to reprise AHL success

Bruce Cassidy brings one royal mixed history to the position of Providence Bruins head coach.

On Saturday morning, the P-Bruins formally offered Cassidy his second coaching job at the Triple-A hockey level, where he has at least a brief history of applying the Midas touch.

In 2000-01, the final year of the IHL, Cassidy guided the Grand Rapids Griffins to the league’s best record at 53-22-7. He followed through on that with a not-so-shabby 42-27-11 transcript in the Griffins’ inaugural AHL campaign, coupled with the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the league’s most outstanding coach.

Since then, though, Cassidy’s track record has read less like King Midas and more along the lines of Henry VIII. His two latest head-coaching endeavors have culminated in mid-season dismissals.

After his success in Grand Rapids pole-vaulted him to Washington in 2002, the Capitals ultimately chopped the head off its coaching staff with just 25 games gone in Cassidy’s second year. Washington was not only mired 8-18-2 and mired in its third three-game losing streak of the year, but Cassidy had allegedly called out some of his players for letting difficulties in their family lives divert them from the game.

Cassidy was similarly fired early in the 2007-08 season by the Ontario League’s Kingston Frontenacs after completing one 68-game season with a remainder of 12 the following autumn. Kingston was off to an egregious 2-9-1 start and in a pothole of six straight losses at the time.

But 11 months later, in September 2008, newly-hired Providence foreman Rob Murray invited Cassidy to return to the only league that has been consistently kind to him as a coach. And upon deciding it was time to shake up the scenery on his farm this spring, Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli made the most sensible choice in promoting Cassidy.

The Murray administration ended after the P-Bruins missed the Calder Cup playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in team history. But that was not before they grittily pushed to the 2009 Eastern Conference finals, where they were expectably dumped by the dynastic Hershey Bears.

Cassidy has been on board for that promising first year, the subsequent recession, and the more recent revival that saw Providence finish this past season on a 12-6-1 tear. He along with the better part of the padded personnel, including several late-season call-ups from the college and junior levels and goaltender Anton Khudobin, will vie to build upon that in 2011-12.

Plenty of old friends
Over the pre-Black-and-Gold days of his coaching career, Cassidy had brushes with three members of Boston’s recent Stanley Cup championship team. Defenseman Shane Hnidy, acquired for a second stint with the spoked-Bs late this past season, appeared in two games with the 2000-01 Grand Rapids Griffins.

The following year, Chris Kelly broke into the professional ranks with Grand Rapids, which functioned as the Ottawa Senators’ AHL affiliate at the time.

When he was still an AHL mainstay, Shawn Thornton mustered 10 games with the Blackhawks in 2005-06 while Cassidy was an assistant on Trent Yawney’s staff.

More recently, even after Murray was discharged at the advent of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Cassidy was retained to work with the Bruins’ Black Aces. That notion all but leaked the hiring that was confirmed Saturday.

And if there are any Michael Ryders to Cassidy’s Claude Julien, then Providence captain Trent Whitfield is it. Whitfield began his journey with Washington’s organization and saw action in 58 regular-season and six playoff games during Cassidy’s year-plus as the Capitals skipper.

Quick feeds: With Cassidy’s promotion, four of the last five P-Bruins coaches have been elevated from the assistant position. Bill Armstrong worked as Peter Laviolette’s sidekick for two years before succeeding him in 2000. Armstrong’s assistant, Scott Gordon, maintained that post until his elevation in 2003. For the next five years, Gordon worked with Rob Murray at his right hand before Murray filled the vacancy in 2008, bringing Cassidy on board to assist…Cassidy is the third former recipient of the Pieri Award to serve as Providence’s head coach. Laviolette is the only man to receive the honor while coaching the spoked-Ps (1999), although his immediate predecessor, Tom McVie, also won it with the Utica Devils in 1989.

Al Daniel can be reached at