- The Washington Times - Friday, September 13, 2002

The Butch Cassidy era begins in earnest today when the Washington Capitals' new coach puts 61 players through their paces at Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton, Md.
"There's no pressure right now, no challenges from me to them, no confrontations," he said yesterday, summing up his first few weeks in the area. "Once we push the players a little, let's see how they react and hopefully we won't have [confrontations], hopefully we'll push each other. But we have to realize what happened last year can't happen again. We have to get off to a better start."
The Caps fumbled and bumbled their way through the first 5 months of the schedule before deciding to get serious and finishing with a 9-2-2 run and a reduced roster. The traditional strong finish is usually enough to get the late-charging Caps into the postseason but last season Montreal finished a little stronger and earned the final playoff spot.
"We've got to get them into a winning mentality right off the bat," Cassidy said. "October is just as important as March and April, when you want to be peaking. There has to be a sense of urgency coming out of the gate. The NHL today is just too tight a league; you can't afford to have a bad month. You can't have bad stretches."
Cassidy, 37, will be getting his first taste of NHL coaching. He was a promising defenseman for Chicago, but knee injuries prematurely ended his playing career. He has been coaching in the East Coast, International and American leagues since 1996, and was named AHL Coach of the Year last season with Grand Rapids, Mich.
The Caps hired Cassidy in late June after a seven-week search. General manager George McPhee said he interviewed about a dozen candidates before deciding.
"There was something about him, it's hard to describe, but we felt this guy was going to be a very good coach in the league one day," McPhee said. "The more we talked, the more we felt that day might be now."
Cassidy faces several key tasks in less than a month.
"You've got to get the players' respect and got to get it right away," he said. "I don't have the credentials of a Hall of Famer. I can't walk in there and command respect, so I have to go about it in a different way. I have to be prepared, have a good plan of attack in place and do what I've done best communicate with players and show them why I was chosen as head coach at age 37. I'm sure a lot of them are wondering about that."
There isn't a lot of time before pucks start flying for real. The Caps play their first exhibition Thursday against Philadelphia at MCI Center and also have games the next two nights.
Notes The team has been divided into three groups, and the ice at Piney Orchard will be occupied virtually continuously from 10a.m. to 3p.m. today. Kyle Clark, the 6-foot-6, 230-pound right wing from Harvard, has decided to retire from pro hockey at 22. . Dainius Zubrus and Andrei Nikolishin, centers who also can play wing, continue to be unsigned and will not be allowed into camp until they come to terms. Backup goalie Craig Billington, usually one of the first players on the ice every day and the last off it, was the last player to report, making his grand entrance yesterday.



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