- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 12, 2002

When Stephen and Bruce Cassidy played street hockey day after day in Ottawa, they didn't dream of being coaches in the NHL. Their dreams were of playing in the NHL.

But playing wasn't Bruce Cassidy's destiny. He appeared in 36 NHL games, his promising career done in by severe ligament damage to his left knee at 19. That condition was aggravated further by other injuries. He had four knee operations just to survive 12 years of minor league and European hockey on guts and guile until he was finished playing at the age of 31.

Destiny is the only way to explain how a 37-year-old unknown with no NHL coaching experience winds up convincing a savvy owner and general manager to hire him to coach a $50million team with playoff expectations.

Cassidy made his NHL coaching debut with the Washington Capitals last night in the season opener, a 5-4 win against the Nashville Predators at MCI Center. It was the second coaching debut we have seen around here this fall, and the two of them couldn't be more different.

It is Steve Spurrier's destiny to coach the Washington Redskins. One could easily argue that he already had fulfilled his destiny at Florida and that the Redskins job is simply icing on the cake.

Those who know Cassidy believe he has the same "right stuff" to be successful. What drove Cassidy to be an outstanding young hockey prospect is also what put him behind the Caps bench last night and coaching players like Jaromir Jagr and Peter Bondra: the determination to win and the intelligence to accomplish it.

"He will do a great job," his older brother said. "I'm sure of it. He is very smart and is a very good coach. People will see that here."

Those who have seen Cassidy work believe it. His minor league record of 215-169-60 shows he can coach, but the record was accomplished in places like Trenton, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Grand Rapids. The minor league track record caused a stir when general manager George McPhee, with owner Ted Leonsis' blessing, hired Cassidy in June.

"I would go into the chat rooms down here for the Caps when he was first hired and was reading a lot of things like 'Who is this guy?' and stuff like that," Stephen Cassidy said an appropriate question, one that Bruce Cassidy himself kept asking. "But I know what he can do."

It's doubtful that many people who came to MCI Center last night for the season opener have seen evidence that Cassidy can coach.

The handful that did were probably members of the Cassidy family. His mother, Louise, flew in, as did Stephen, who brought his wife and two sons, Andrew and Drake.

"When we had an inkling that Bruce might get the job when they had him in twice for interviews I said, 'If you land this, I'm flying the whole family down and we'll be there for this first game,'" said Stephen, a computer software consultant who still lives in Ottawa.

It was important for Bruce to share his debut good or bad with the people who helped him get here: his mother who drove him to countless hockey practices and his brother, who spent so much time playing hockey with him.

"I spent countless hours in ball hockey, every day, playing against him," Bruce said. "That's all I ever did as a kid. I used to have to poke and prod him to get him out there, but he was a pretty good goalie, and I'm grateful to him."

That's what Stephen remembers about his brother, the street hockey days. "We would get home from school and all I would do is play, play, play," he said.

At some point this season perhaps very quickly what happens on the ice, the wins and losses, will carry much more weight. But given what the entire Washington region is going through right now the fear of losing everything that is really important to each one of us a moment like last night was something to step back and treasure. It was a moment that meant something special to two brothers who used to play every day until dark and dream of playing in the NHL.

"We are a hockey family," Stephen Cassidy said, and right now, for all of us, family means everything.


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