- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Bruce who? That was the question on everybody's mind at MCI Center yesterday as the Washington Capitals introduced 37-year-old Bruce Cassidy as their coach, ending a 46-day search for Ron Wilson's replacement.
Cassidy has never been even an NHL assistant coach, and he played all of 36 games in the league, but Caps general manager George McPhee believes the highly successful minor league coach is the right man for an underachieving team laden with such All-Stars as five-time scoring champion Jaromir Jagr, Olie Kolzig, Peter Bondra and Sergei Gonchar.
"It's a great situation for a first-time coach," Cassidy said. "I caught a break and I want to take advantage of it. I certainly didn't see it coming this year, but I'm very pleased that it did. I owe it to George McPhee to prove that he made the right choice.
McPhee, whose only previous coaching hire was the veteran Wilson, interviewed more than 10 candidates and chose the untested Cassidy over such proven NHL winners as Pat Burns, Ted Nolan and Alain Vigneault, as well as former Caps captain Dale Hunter and ex-NHL goalie Glen Hanlon, the 2001 AHL Coach of the Year with Washington's farm team in Portland, Maine. The general manager said Cassidy's contract was for at least three years but provided no other details.
"Some guys [have] names because they've coached in the league and been fired or they've been a good player and they want to be a head coach," said McPhee, who noted that three of the four coaches who reached this year's conference finals had little or no NHL experience when they took over their first teams. "Some coaches come in with a system and ride it for 20 years. You have to be able to tailor things for your team."
Caps scout Archie Henderson and director of hockey operations Shawn Simpson recommended Cassidy, the International Hockey League's runner-up as the top coach in 2001 and the AHL's top coach last season with Grand Rapids. Cassidy was 200-144-40 the past five years with Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Trenton and Grand Rapids after a rough debut season at Jacksonville in 1996-1997.
"No matter the circumstances, Butchy has been able to put together a winning team," said Simpson, who loved watching the versatile defenseman play in their native Ottawa before Chicago's first-round 1983 draft pick blew out his left knee the next spring and never truly recovered. "And his teams have gotten better as the seasons went on."
Cassidy wasn't even sure he was being considered for the top job until he asked McPhee 10 minutes into his first interview in Toronto in late May.
"Bruce had all the things that we were looking for: great poise on the bench, dealing with the players and pushing the right buttons, and the creativity to try different things," McPhee said. "I thought he would be a very good coach in the NHL one day. As the weeks went by, his name kept coming up and I talked to him again. After a while I thought, 'Why not this guy right now?'"
When Caps owner Ted Leonsis and president Dick Patrick met Cassidy last Friday in Toronto on the eve of the NHL draft, they concurred.
"Someone who's hungry and fresh, has a different perspective and is grateful to be in the NHL is a breath of fresh air for us," Leonsis said. "If we're healthy and with perhaps a more positive dressing room, we should have a better team this year."
The Caps have missed the playoffs twice and lost twice in the first round since making the Stanley Cup finals in Wilson's 1997-1998 debut season. But they also finished just six points behind Eastern Conference champion Carolina in last year's Southeast Division race.
"One reason you see a lot of younger coaches being hired is that they can communicate a little bit better than the old-school coaches," Cassidy said. "That's a strength of mine. I've always said that the players are the show. People aren't paying money to see Bruce Cassidy coach. I have to be the leader of this team, but they're the ones who go out and play. I'll implement a system that I think is going to work. If it doesn't, we'll go to Plan B and find one that does."
Defenseman Brendan Witt was surprised to hear that his new boss was a coach he knew so little about. However, the co-captain was supportive of the move.
"A good, young coach should bring a lot of enthusiasm which could really energize our team," Witt said.
Notes
McPhee said he would talk to Cassidy today about whether to retain Wilson's assistants, Tim Army and Tim Hunter. Hanlon's status also is uncertain. McPhee said that the Caps likely would make a change by holding a rookie camp before the veterans report in September. The rookies might also participate in a tournament in Traverse City, Mich.


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