It Starts At The Top
It is the beginning of May, winter appears to have loosened its grip on our region and we have quickly swapped sweats for shorts. Fortunately, two remnants of winter still linger. The Boston Bruins and the Boston Celtics both advancing to the second round of the playoffs. Both teams won seventh games in their respective first round series. Regardless of what happens going forward, here's a tip of the cap to the two people most responsible for the the position their team sits right now. The head coaches, Bruce Cassidy and Brad Stevens.
Let’s begin with Cassidy who took over from Claude Julien last year and rallied the Bruins to a playoff slot where they were eventually eliminated BUT it was the first time the Bruins had been in the playoffs in three seasons. Cassidy is a man who has paid his dues. He spent 15 years as a player riding buses throughout minor league hockey.
While many of his contemporaries were giving up the game in search of another profession, Cassidy listened to his heart. Hockey was part of his DNA and so was coaching. After standing behind the bench for a number of teams Cassidy was hired by the Bruins to coach in Providence in 2008. He spent nine more seasons in the minors waiting for the call to travel north on I-95 and he was ready.
This year Cassidy had to deal with a plethora of injuries and the infusion of several players with limited or no experience at all. Bergeron, Chara, Marchand and others all missed considerable time due to injuries or a suspension. Big slots to fill SO Cassidy integrated some youngsters who are flourishing now thanks to the opportunity that was presented and the manner in which Cassidy mentored them - something he mastered in all those years in minor league hockey. Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk and eventually Ryan Donato. Cassidy is up for NHL coach of the year - he probably won't win it - but the Bruins are winning games in April and playing in May because of Cassidy's leadership. A fairly similar story with the Celtics. Brad Stevens club was staggered on opening night when Gordon Hayward went down - then they lost their home opener before they they ripped off 16 straight wins. Marcus Smart went down in early March, Al Horford was out with a concussion as was Jaylen Brown and still Stevens managed to win 55 games in the regular season.
Soon there was the crushing news that Kyrie Irving would not be available for the playoffs and the Stevens led Celtics somehow were able to eliminate the Bucks in 7 games. Like Cassidy, Stevens paid his dues long in advance. A National Honor Student in High School, Stevens was an Academic All American in college. He was an economics major who worked for the Lilly company when he graduated from DePauw University. Soon the lure of coaching was irresistible. Stevens quit to be a volunteer coach at Butler University. He worked at Applebees and slept in a friends basement until a full time job as an assistant opened up.
Like Cassidy, coaching was in Stevens DNA as well. Players like Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown matured rapidly under the guidance of Stevens. It’s no accident the Bruins and Celtics have the city buzzing in the month of May. Sure we all talk about Bergeron, Rask, Marchand, Horford, Tatum and Rozier. But make no mistake, the fuel for the success of the Bruins and Celtics in the spring of 2018 begins at the top with Bruce Cassidy and Brad Stevens.