An Interview With: Don Sweeney & Bruce Cassidy
Q. Coach, first can you just give us a quick update of Brad Marchand and his absence from practice?
BRUCE CASSIDY: He had a maintenance day today, so that’s all, he’ll be ready to go tomorrow.
Q. And your team obviously in this winning streak, everything has gone well for you. You had the goaltending, the power play, different guys from different lines who stepped up. Is there one thing in particular that, I don’t know, you’re most proud of or impressed with that maybe has improved from the regular season to now to get where you are today?
BRUCE CASSIDY: Certainly, I won’t say impressed, but our secondary scoring’s been a big part of our success. And then kind of the next man up, throwing different guys in the lineups, Charlie missed game one. So guys like Clifton coming in, Kampfer coming in, hadn’t played in a long time, Johnny Moore. So, but that’s been a kind of a hallmark for our team all year. So it doesn’t surprise me, but to be able to do it this time of the year to get to this stage says a lot about the guys and how they prepared to play when it’s their turn.
Q. For both of you, we always ask you whenever a Boston-based team is in the final what it’s like to be in this city. Now you guys are kind of in the center of attention during this cup run. How does that feel?
DON SWEENEY: You can imagine it feels pretty good. This is a tough city, you got to keep up with the Jones’s in this city and you realize that the expectations, the pressure as a player, you certainly welcome that. As a manager sometimes it’s challenging. You’re trying to balance things and you just want to win, but the needle moves a little slower at times. But then you get real good players that are invested, you get a good coach that’s invested with his staff, and you cross your fingers that you have pieces and that they come together and we’re fortunate. And obviously the city itself, they love winning teams and they will support you if you play a certain way and I think our team has done that.
Q. Wanted to ask both of you what you thought of Charlie McAvoy’s season and what does he mean to you in this final?
DON SWEENEY: His what? His development?
Q. His development. He’s only a second-year player. So how do you think he has fit into your team this year?
BRUCE CASSIDY: Well, he’s been an obviously a top-tier guy, plays penalty kill power play every situation. When he came into the league, playoff series against Ottawa, you could tell that he wasn’t going to be bothered by the moment, so to speak, so he’s kind of taken off from there. Couple injuries, he had to sort of reclaim his game, Z’s been good for him, he’s been good for Z, so I think he’s got a good partnership there. But he’s been real steady for us. He’s a good player, a real good player that generally the bigger the moment gets, the more he relishes being in it and for a young guy that’s impressive. And that’s why he’s had the success he’s had and hopefully keeps right on trucking, because he’s been real good for us.
Q. Bruce, we have had a number of days obviously to look at this series and break it down, you’ve had a number of days to scout it. As you looked at the Blues, do you, like many others, see a lot of mirror images to what your team is and similarities in terms of style and build, in each team?
BRUCE CASSIDY: I do. I see two teams that play good team defense. They don’t give you a lot of room, protect the slot well, responsible, don’t take a lot of penalties. They are physical, we’ll be physical, we like to play a blend. I’m sure they would say the same thing. We want to use our skill and speed but we want to be physical while we’re doing it. I don’t think we shy away from that type of game. We saw it with Columbus. So we relish that challenge and I think they’re similar. I said I think they’re a little bigger — well, they are bigger than us in the back end, but I think both teams move the puck well, I think both teams create problems for the other to get inside, I think that’s why we’re still playing, because this time of the year it’s tougher to score. Both teams have goal tenders on top of their games, so it’s kind of like let the best man win now and we’re looking forward to it.
Q. A moment like this you were talking earlier in the week or maybe even the week before, I can’t keep count all the days, but —
BRUCE CASSIDY: 10. 10.
BRUCE CASSIDY: Yeah.
Q. Just like your journey to get where you are right now; I was wondering if there is anyone you look back on whether it be a parent, a family member, a coach, that in this moment you’re thinking of?
BRUCE CASSIDY: Good question. Obviously my parents. They both passed away but they knew as a kid how much I loved the Bruins and Bobby Orr. That’s what turned me into a Bruins fan at a young age. So they would probably be the most proud. My brother’s on his way up. I only have one, so I guess we’ll enjoy that moment together. But back to work tomorrow. But, yeah, immediate family. Obviously my wife and kids, they know how important it is to me and how much work we have put in together as a unit, so I think that’s it in a nutshell. We’re all kind of proud to be here and like I said ready to go.
Q. Question for Don. The last three Stanley Cup champions have had a winning goalie that has not been overused. I don’t know that the science is perfect yet, it’s still debatable. But how much do you buy into the idea of protecting your starting goalie throughout the year? Obviously Jaroslav Halak had a big role this year. Is that a science that you believe in or was that planned out all year in terms of keeping two Tuukka as fresh as possible for this run?
DON SWEENEY: On a bunch of different levels that was exactly what we had planned to do. We just felt that you get to this stage and the mentally and physically that position demands so much. And Rask’s had some injuries, he’s played a lot of hockey over the course of the years, had a lot of success. We felt we needed somebody to compliment that to push him. There were times that Bruce made decisions that Jaro was going to take the net and I think that mentally continued to challenge Tuukka in a positive manner, not in a negative manner. When he didn’t have the net, Tuukka was able to let his own game sort of disappear for a day or so. And I think those are vitally important moments and you get to the stage now where in those other cases sometimes they were flip flopping goal tenders and playing the best one. Rask, to his credit, has played really well and gotten better as the playoffs have gone along.
Arguably, your goalie is generally 1 or 1A when you’re at this stage and we play good team defense in front of him. I think Tuukka has valued winning this year; being able to win 2-1, as well as, 5-4 on some nights. And, again, credit to our staff and our coaches, our players and his teammates. But there’s a big reason why we did it this way and we believe it’s paid off.
Q. Coach, how difficult has it been to balance and incorporate some of the maybe old school values that you’ve learned along the way and blend those with some of the requirements of today’s game? And how have you seen the players buy into a kind of mash up of the two?
BRUCE CASSIDY: Well the old school values, if you’re describing them as hard work and being held accountable to one another; we have good leadership in the room, so it allows you to do that. The younger guys; how to communicate with them, it’s just changed over the years, so you want to allow them to be successful, put them in positions to be successful, but you still have to hold them accountable. So I think how you hold them accountable has changed over the years. So I’ve tried to be up front and honest, sometimes it’s loud, they don’t like it, other times it’s a one-on-one conversation, other times you use the leadership group to send your message, they will talk to the players. So there’s different ways. At the end of the day I always think it’s a personal relationship you develop, usually based on honesty and trust and that’s what we try to do. It sounds simple, but telling the truth, why they’re playing, why they’re not playing, why we’re moving them around, I think that works at any age, to be honest with you. So that’s what we have tried to do here as a staff right from the top on down and I think it’s worked for our group and I think it has a lot to do with our older guys. That’s the way they function, the Bergeron’s, the Chara’s, so we’re kind of in step with them.
Q. What do you believe is your biggest advantage over the Blues in the series?
BRUCE CASSIDY: Boy, that’s going to be board material. Experience. I’ll go the easy route. I just believe that our guys that have been there, that have won a cup, have lost a cup, that should give us an edge. Some people disagree with that once you’re here, but I believe it will give us an edge. I think it’s helped us a lot this week in the preparation, with all the down time, and hopefully going forward that is an advantage for us.
Q. Noel is a guy that has won at basically every level he’s played at. What was it you first identified about his game that you thought would be a good fit here in Boston?
DON SWEENEY: It’s probably the intangibles for Noel. He’s a guy who plays with his nose over the puck. I think other teams would acknowledge that. He hits through people, protects it real well, has continued to learn and adapt his game, put penalty killing into his role here at the NHL level, stuck up for his teammates, he’s a really good teammate and good character person. Can’t have enough of those guys. Not guys that can necessarily play up in the lineup, but accepts where he does play and does it well.
Q. For both of you, you’ve mentioned the experience of the guys who have been here before, the leadership. Where is that sort of day-to-day impact of those guys who have been here since 2011, who have gone through all this and sort of who have stayed together, both sort of on the day-to-day level and also for you, Don, in terms of what you’re able to do in creating this team.
BRUCE CASSIDY: From my end, the value of theirs is being selfish with your time, how to prepare, urgency in practice, routine, how important it is to get your rest away from the rink. Even though you, as a younger guy you might look ahead and say, oh, we got 10 days, I can start getting ready in four days and I think that our veteran guys that have done a good job of trying to get the guys squared away with what’s important. That’s where the value is there.
DON SWEENEY: I think for me having the ability to tap into that resource — I’m not in the locker room, but to have the pulse of that room coming from guys that you trust that are always putting the team in front of themselves as individuals, I think that goes a long way and it sets the standard for what we try and accomplish as an organization on and off the ice, whether that’s community service, whether that’s pride in their own game, and how they go about their day-to-day activities. To me it bleeds into what we try and do as an organization and it’s invaluable.
Q. Don, for you, talk about the job that Bruce has done kind of getting this team ready to play at its best this time of the year.
DON SWEENEY: Well obviously Bruce and I have a long history and we have worked a long time together. Him having the opportunity to do it at the National Hockey League level really is just a testament to what he has done as a person and as a coach. I believed in it, I knew that his ability to adapt and make decisions in game would be really beneficial for us as an organization, especially when you’re implementing younger players. Not having to micromanage like you do, I think at the AHL level, on days that you don’t even know what your lineup is going to be. Really dedicated to continuing to move the game forward, holding players accountable, as he mentioned before, whether that’s in the moment on the bench where there’s color involved and such, but also going to bat the next morning in the teaching capacity and recognizing that the same player will have the opportunity, if he’s able to adapt and do the things and implement the things he’s trying to do. So the challenging component to it, the teaching component to it, the motivating aspect of it, the humility part of understanding when your team has made mistakes, you make adjustments and you take responsibility for those as a coach. It’s been an evolution of him as coach overall, his experiences. You know, he’s been at the NHL level, he’s worked his back way up to the NHL level, he’s had success for those reasons. He’s a smart guy. He sees the game offensively but respects the game defensively.
Q. Looking back to your time with the Capitals, your first head coaching gig, I know it was awhile ago but where did you kind of take from that experience and how do you feel like maybe that made you better in this one?
BRUCE CASSIDY: Well, you know, it’s probably — it was awhile ago. I was a younger guy, really no NHL acumen, I played a few games up in Chicago here or there, so that was a learning experience for me, how that world works. This time I was a lot better prepared for it, being around Boston, even though I’m in Providence, you’re a little bit older, better balance, you know, in my life overall, it makes you a little more patient with players as well. But I think it’s just the aging process, you learn, — 15 years — if you want to get back, you got to do things differently, take what you did well, learn what you didn’t do well. For me part of that was how I communicated my message, I believe. I’ve learned to be better with it. Players are more receptive to it now than they were then, so shame on me. But that’s the way it goes, here we are, and hopefully continue learning. I’m sure I will again next year and the year after that and the year after that. It’s just the way it goes in this business. So that’s probably the biggest thing. Much more comfortable in my own skin is the term I’ve used both personally and in career-wise and I think it’s made a difference.
Q. Following up on that a little bit, we have seen some coaches like yourself and Craig Berube benefit from getting second chances. It took you a while to get it. Did you wonder if the second chance would ever come for you?
BRUCE CASSIDY: Yes and no. You want that chance, you keep working at it, if it didn’t come, I would be helping kids develop in the American League. I enjoyed that process. I was around young guys, I was a young player that was trying to fight my way up so I think I related well to those guys. At the end of the day the chance came and I wanted to make sure that I took advantage of it. I think I was ready for it when it happened, and off we went. But like I said, it wasn’t something that was going to consume me every day, but fortunate to get a chance. And you said it, there’s a lot of guys, you can go right down the list, that have, you know, Joel’s won three cups, he got a second and third chance. Claude here, so it happens a lot. Usually you learn from your first experience. It’s a tough business, it’s a results oriented business and if you’re not hitting the ground running, ready that first time, that you learn some things so the next time you are completely prepared for all the elements. I think that’s what happened with me, probably happened to a lot of guys in this league, Craig, go right on down the line.
Q. Bruce, Don was talking about the relationship you guys have and I’m curious from your perspective what it means to have his trust to the degree that you have and what it means to use that trust to develop the team’s character to get to this stage.
BRUCE CASSIDY: Well, trust is important. We talked about a player/coach relationship, or coach/GM right on down the line. So for me and Don we have been at this for at least 10 years now, I think we have talked enough hockey over that time to see the game evolving the same way. No one’s ever completely going to share the exact same opinions, so we have had good discussions, healthy discussions, usually end up on the same side of it at the end of the day what’s best for the player, how we’re going to get there. So for me it’s great to have that. To go in not knowing the individual, obviously there’s going to be some apprehension — there would be for me, because I’m not the person that just walks in the room and kicks down the door and it is my way or the highway type of personality. So I think it was important in this situation that, going into it, knowing Don, we have been together, how we’re going to get from A to B, didn’t take us, you know, three weeks to make a decision to get there. Like I said, we thought the game the same way, because we had worked together and I think it’s helped us going forward, it helps us in the summer when we discuss free agents, it helps us tomorrow when we discuss — well we won’t discuss the lineup tomorrow, that’s kind of set, but you know what I mean. In season, who is going to go in if this guy is hurt and how the pieces are going to fit, how we’re going to coach that particular game. We have good healthy discussions. We’re both passionate about hockey and so I think that’s just made it work out real well.