with Washington Capitals' Head Coach Bruce Cassidy
Washington Life: How would you describe your coaching style?
Bruce Cassidy: My style is that I'm pretty hands-on. I'm a fixer.
WL: There are a lot of younger players on your roster right now, as well as many seasoned veterans. Does that affect your ability to coach them as a team? Must you coach them as individuals?
BC: As head coach, you are always dealing with individuals. I think it's crucial in this job that you are communicating one-on-one with players, giving them a direct line of contact. Then it's up to the assistant coaches to smooth things over. I've always been tougher on young guys; I want them to learn the right way. Older guys get the benefit of the doubt, but they don't always escape criticism. I tend to be more vocal and face-to-face and in-your-face with younger guys. I just think that's the way I've always been. Because I'm passionate, I have to take it out on someone, and it just happens to be the young guys.
WL: You were the AHL Coach of the Year for the 2001/2002 season. How have you had to transition your style coming from the AHL to the NHL?
BC: Well, the American Hockey League [tends to be] younger guys, it's [focused on] development and learning before winning. The NHL is almost the flip side. In the American League, young guys have basically two or three years to improve enough to go to the NHL, so they all have a common goal. They have to be pushed everyday, otherwise you're cheating them, because all of a sudden you are 24 and 25 years old and you are too old to be considered a prospect.
WL: How is your approach different this year from last?
BC: I think you have to give the guys in the NHL a lot of respect for what they've accomplished. Last year, it was an issue coming out of the minors, that I didn't respect all that the guys had done [to play in] 500 to 700 games in the league. So my approach has changed this year. I'm trying to be a little less abrasive with them, and that's probably the biggest difference.
WL: You touched on the importance of winning in the NHL, but this season has started off pretty rocky. How do you see things turning out this year?
BC: I don't know. I would expect to be better than last year. We've replaced four guys in our line-up. We lost a couple of crucial defensemen, but I don't think that's unusual. Our goal-tending is solid. We returned eleven forwards, and added a couple of first-rounders to the mix. On defense we'll have some growing pains, but we've added a first rounder on defense who has been rock solid for us. So essentially we're trying to groom one defensemen to replace a guy. We're young, we don't have a lot of defensemen who are 37 or 38 with their best years behind them. Our core group of guys are 28 and 32 years old and still getting better. They are at the top of their game, so I would like to think that we could improve on last year. Whether it's good enough to win the division kind of depends on our opponents, because they are better also.
WL: It's been written that chemistry is an issue for this team. Is gaining chemistry really a factor of time, or are there things that you could do as a coach to speed that process along?
BC: Well, chemistry should be better because of the continuity of the coaching staff and the players from last year. There are seventeen familiar faces in the locker room and three familiar faces behind the bench. So we can't blame chemistry for our slow start.
WL: Can you talk a bit about your background in hockey and how it came to be such an important part of your life?
BC: Well, it's my whole life, I've done it since I was seven years old. All I ever wanted to be was a professional hockey player, and I became one, not as good of one as I would have wanted, but I still made a career of it. I got into coaching because I love the game. Once you stop playing you either coach, scout, or [go into] broadcasting.
WL: What made you choose coaching over the other possible career paths?
BC: The owner of the minor league team that I played for saw something [in me], and I was asked to do it. I think that being a marginal NHL player, you tend to have to pay attention because that is how you get in the coach's good graces, and being coachable. I had been a captain and a player's assistant, those qualities tend towards coaching. I was a student of the game. I always loved it. I wasn't a big guy, and when I was drafted [to the NHL] it was because I had a head for the game, and that translates well into coaching.
WL: Do you think the NHL has changed a lot since you were a player?
BC: Yes, I think there are two or three things that have changed. The biggest is economics. The wealth that the players can acquire is tremendous compared to when I played. I think it's fantastic for the players. At the same time, I think some guys take it for granted. Not that long ago there were some great hockey players that now have to work for a living. These were great players, I mean Hall of Fame players that still have to work for a living. Some players on a three-year contract today, that invest their money wisely, will never have to work again. The second thing that has changed is that there are no secrets anymore. Everything is on the Internet, or in the media. You can't make a mistake on the ice without someone knowing about it, reading about it, or seeing it in the highlights. I think that really makes the players guarded, and it tends to disrupt what a coach and a player can do behind closed doors.
WL: Speaking of the spotlight, how has it been transitioning to the NHL where everything you do is suddenly on Sports Center?
BC: I always thought coaches were more behind the scenes and the spotlight was on the players but that is changing too. Coaches get a lot of credit and a lot of blame. Whether that is fair or not is irrelevant. It's the nature of the beast. In the American League you are there to develop the players and you have a lot more power because the players are all making about the same amount of money as the coach. In the NHL, the players have a lot of power, and it's a lot easier to replace a coach.
WL: Do you frequently get recognized when you are out and about in Washington?
BC: I go out a lot, I'm not the type to sit at home. I'm a social guy. Shy, but I'm social. Some people recognize me and some don't.
WL: How has your experience in Washington been outside of hockey?.
BC: I enjoy the city, but I live in Annapolis. My hobby is golfing, and I spend all of my spare time in the summer doing that. Playing golf at Congressional, Robert Trent Jones, and Avenel, where pro-tours go is a big thrill. I went to the Ambassador's Ball and that was something that I don't normally do.
WL: How do you feel about being named one of Washington's Most Beautiful People by the Washingtonian?
BC: There was a lot happening for me at that time and I got teased a lot. It's nice to be recognized in any manner…I don't know what to say to that, I don't know how to take compliments very well.
WL: Washington is not traditionally thought of as a "hockey town" but you obviously have many loyal fans in the area. How would you describe your fans here versus in other cities?
BC: We have a true following from Capitals fans. I also think because Washington is a transient town, there are a lot of people who like hockey, but the Capitals might not be their favorite team. We see a lot of jerseys from other teams in the stands, which is fine. We just want to attract hockey fans. We have to have success to get fans [into the stands]. I'm sure we could repeat what the Caps did in '97/'98 and make a run to the finals, that would attract fans that are on the fence. I'm from Canada. Everyone is a hockey fan there.
WL: The Capitals have done a lot to educate fans. What would you say to entice someone who has never seen a hockey game to come?
BC: I run into people who tell me, "Oh jeez, you're the Caps coach, and I've never been to a game, but I watch them on TV." I say there are some spectator sports that you have to see in person. For me, hockey is one of them, and baseball. With baseball, it's the atmosphere: being in the sun, having a beer, a bag of peanuts, and enjoying the day. Hockey is the fastest sport in the world, next to jai-alai, and who the hell's heard of jai-alai? I think you have to come to the rink to enjoy the action, the body contact, and hear the sounds of bodies against the glass. So what would my advice be? Come to the rink once, [so you can] appreciate how big, strong, and fast the game is.
WL: What is particularly exciting about the Capitals?
BC: I think you have the opportunity to see one of the best players in the world, Jaromir Jagr, who won the scoring title. Olie Kolzig doesn't get his due, and Sergei Conchar is a world-class defenseman. Also you can see Peter Bondra who has spent his whole career here, and is one of the highest scoring European players ever. You also have some future Hall-of-Famers, right here, right now.
WL: Many Capitals players are involved in Washington charities. Are you personally involved in any?
BC: I don't have one. Last year I had my hands full, getting acclimated, running an NHL bench and living the NHL life. That was my priority. I wanted the team to have success. If I am in town and the team has asked me to help on a charity, I have never said no, but I don't have a personal favorite charity. I think that when I have been part of the community for a longer period of time, like an Olie Kolzig, then yes, I will try to find something that is near and dear to me.
WL: Any final words for Capitals fans?
BC: To Capitals Fans: this may sound simple or redundant, but we appreciate your support. We are a team who has kind of teased the fans over the years, but at the same time, there should be a good appreciation for the all-star, world-class caliber players we have to offer. We have to put it all together in terms of individual talent and team success. I believe it's the greatest game in the world and that we have some of the greatest players playing, and that's reason enough to come out and support the team.