BOSTON — Butch and Rod.
Two hockey guys to the core, with the names and bonafides to prove it. The head coaches in this Eastern Conference Final are also evidence of how things have evolved in the sport, particularly when it comes to how those running a bench handle players.
There’s a little more trust and a lot less yelling than there once was.
There’s a deeper understanding, too.
Rod Brind’Amour’s Carolina Hurricanes are basically only on the ice when they’re playing games at this point. The head coach began opting for more restful off-days while his players chased down a playoff spot in the final month of the season and has only taken them out for a morning skate before a game once during the post-season.
Bruce Cassidy treads the line between forceful and passive. He can get plenty fired up when energy sags on the Boston Bruins bench, but he also sees value in stepping aside and letting veterans Zdeno Chara or Patrice Bergeron impart their own wisdom instead.
“He lets us as the leaders have control of the room,” Chara said Friday.
The approach can best be described as a player’s touch from men who are probably still players at heart.
Brind’Amour, the 1,400-plus gamer, even had to catch himself after Thursday’s 5-2 loss in Game 1. He was talking about Dougie Hamilton playing on the edge throughout the night and added: “We all were. I mean not me, but the guys were.”
The first-year head coach also produced a highly gif-able moment when cameras caught him reviewing Hamilton’s questionable third-period roughing penalty. It came during a sequence where Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov was simultaneously belted in open ice with his back turned and that infraction wasn’t whistled.
Here’s how it looked to coach Rod:
“That’s the one I was frustrated with because I thought earlier in the game there was one where [Micheal] Ferland gave the guy less of a shot and there was a penalty,” Brind’Amour explained Friday. “I actually thought we were going on the power play. I didn’t see Dougie’s in the corner, so that was what kind of confused me on the whole thing.
“That’s not why we lost the game, but yes, I thought that [hit on Svechnikov] was the penalty.”
Knee injuries kept Cassidy from enjoying the kind of NHL playing career his counterpart had, but he is a former 18th-overall pick with 36 games on his resume, plus hundreds of others in leagues ranging from the IHL to Italy.
Today he is among the most articulate, detailed and open coaches in the NHL. Cassidy can take a question about why his defencemen aren’t generating many shots on goal — as he did Friday — and turn it into a 100-plus word answer that touches on the impacts of different coverage patterns by opponents, why he doesn’t like seeing the Bruins pass it out to the points, how his skilled forwards create opportunities for better shots … and then punctuate it with a zinger.
“I’m not sure if our defencemen love me for that, but that’s just the way it works out,” said Cassidy. “I think they’re all under long-term contracts so they have nothing to worry about.”
However, by his own admission, the thinker can also put his charges on blast. He believes there are times when buttons need to be pushed, and he doesn’t shy away from those moments.
“I think you are who you are. I don’t think it’ll ever change,” said Cassidy. “I don’t think I’ll ever be this stoic guy behind there that never says a word, it’s just not my personality.”
“There’s times where he gets a little excited and emotional,” said defenceman Torey Krug. “Sometimes you just look over your shoulder and go ‘All right, let’s take a deep breath here and relax.”’
It can be an emotional time of year and teams take their cues from the voice at the front of the room.
When the Bruins scouted Carolina in the lead-up to this series, they saw a team that plays 200 feet and competes all over the ice. In essence, they saw the style Brind’Amour was known for during his 20-year career.
“I think they’re a reflection of their coach and how he approaches things in his own lifestyle, and they’ve got some juice,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney.
There’s been a renaissance among his own team since Cassidy took over from Claude Julien in February 2017. The 53-year-old began his coaching career with the Jacksonville Lizard Kings more than two decades ago and is well aware of the opportunity at hand now that Boston is among the Final Four still playing in mid May.
He takes a moment each day to remind himself about that.
“Bobby Orr’s in the building [Thursday] night, walks in and I get an autographed book,” said Cassidy. “The guy’s my idol. How can you not enjoy that part of it? Ray [Bourque’s] doing the banner, another defenceman I’ve looked up to for years.
“I mean you’ve got to be in the moment, but for me, I [reflect] a lot, right or wrong.”