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Bruce Cassidy on verge of coaching Vegas Golden Knights to Stanley Cup

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Bruce Cassidy struggled so badly in his first NHL coaching job with Washington that it knocked him out of the league for more than a decade.

Cassidy coached in the junior ranks and the minors before getting a second chance with Boston. When he was fired from that job, he was out of work a grand total of a week before the Vegas Golden Knights hired him.

Less than a full calendar year since putting pen to paper with Vegas, Cassidy and the Golden Knights were on the verge of winning the Stanley Cup going into Game 5 on Tuesday night. It would be the first championship for the franchise and the veteran head coach.

“The rewarding part is seeing it all come together at the right time,” Cassidy said after Vegas beat Florida to take a 3-1 lead in the final. “Every coach in this league works hard to prepare their team, puts in a lot of time and effort, sacrifice away from your family at times, so, that’s the rewarding part. And then to get your name on the Cup is the ultimate reward.”

Almost two decades ago, when Cassidy was dumped less than a season and a half into his tenure with the Capitals, it seemed unheard of that he’d get another NHL job, let alone be on the doorstep of guiding a team to a championship. George McPhee — now Vegas’ president of hockey operations — hired Cassidy in 2002, then fired him 17 losses in 25 games into the 2003—04 season.

“Most guys go through what he went through and you’d never hear from them again,” former Capitals goaltender Olie Kolzig said in 2019.

Instead, Cassidy paid his dues, first as an assistant in Chicago, then coaching Kingston in the Ontario Hockey League. He returned to the pros as an assistant with the American Hockey League’s Providence Bruins, was promoted to head coach and got back in the NHL on Claude Julien’s staff in Boston by 2016.

“Give the guy credit: He came back from the dead,” said retired defenseman Colby Cohen, who played under Cassidy in Providence. “He grinded his way through, and he developed players. It really is impressive.”

Cassidy was a midseason replacement for Julien early in 2017 and coached the Bruins to the playoffs six seasons in a row before a first-round exit last year prompted Boston to let him go. When the Golden Knights wanted a coach with winning experience, they hired Cassidy.

“If you have a team, a veteran team that is ready for winning, I’m not sure there’s a better coach right now in hockey than him,” Cohen said. “He is good at what he does. His ability to adjust in game, and his ability to see what’s happening within a game and change on the fly or or pull a different lever — changing lines, getting a certain matchup changing the forecheck, changing neutral zone sets — if you do it, you are successful as a team.”

With their new coach, the Golden Knights won 13 of their first 15 games and finished atop the Western Conference despite goaltending injuries and other adversity that might have knocked them off course — like it did last season, prompting Peter DeBoer’s firing as coach.

“He thinks the game really well,” Vegas leading scorer Jonathan Marchessault said of Cassidy. “He kept us humble and kept us also the mindset of just one game at a time and don’t think too far and stay in the moment. I think that’s been one of the big things for us this year.”

Vegas cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs, beating Winnipeg in five games and getting past Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Edmonton to reach the West final. That is perhaps where his best coaching of the year came the night before Game 6 against Dallas. The Golden Knights, once up 3-0, had lost two in a row and were on the brink of falling apart.

Cassidy gathered players for a meeting to crystallize for them what was at stake.

“It was kind of like, ‘All right, that’s enough, let’s close this out,’” center Chandler Stephenson recalled. “So, we had our best game of the playoffs.”

Better could be ahead given Cassidy’s ability to prepare a team for crucial situations — like locking up a Stanley Cup championship.

“That would be the ultimate reward for me is to be part of a team that won as a team and played as a team,” Cassidy said.


AP NHL playoffs: and

Mark Anderson And Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press