By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — At this crucial point in development of some of the Bruins’ most important prospects who will determine the fate of the organization through the end of this decade, general manager Don Sweeney and executive director of player personnel John Ferguson Jr. have decided there’s no head coaching experience required to be the guy that will work closest with these vital players.
But by hiring Jay Leach to be the new coach of the Providence Bruins of the AHL on Monday, neither Sweeney nor Ferguson believes they’re turning over the reins to a novice. Both cited Leach’s time working as an assistant with former Bruins assistant Geoff Ward on a championship team in Germany, and his two seasons as an assistant in the AHL, including last season with the P-Bruins, as experiences that made him the right man to replace Kevin Dean.
And then there are the hundreds of games played (in addition to 70 in the NHL) Leach played in the AHL and ECHL.
“I don’t discount, nor do any of us discount, the time he spent as a professional hockey player at different levels. All of those experiences gained … the adversity, the opportunities all go into providing him the experiences that he’s going to be able to relay to our prospects, to our players, to our coaching staff at that level,” Ferguson said during a conference call. “I think those experiences are invaluable. While it is true that he’s just been behind the bench for three years, all of the experience as a pro and even prior to that are part of his makeup and part of what attracted us to him.”
By all accounts the Bruins conducted a broad search for a new Providence coach after Dean was promoted to the NHL staff. Several coaches with head coaching experience were considered. Although it wasn’t the only factor, Sweeney has proven time and again that continuity and familiarity are important to him, dating back to his promotion of Bruce Cassidy and Jay Pandolfo to the NHL staff as assistants and then the decision to retain Cassidy as Boston’s head coach after his stint as interim coach.
So Dean moves up and Leach moves over from the assistant’s desk to the head coach’s seat. Trent Whitfield, who finished his North American playing career with the Bruins, remains as assistant, and former South Carolina (ECHL) coach Spencer Carbery takes Leach’s assistant’s position. South Carolina was affiliated with the Bruins when Carbery coached there.
Under Sweeney the Bruins are nurturing their coaching staffs and front-office personnel the way they’re raising their prospects — with consistency and a singular message. Now the Bruins just have to hope that Leach’s experiences increase his maturity and there aren’t any hiccups that could cost them in terms of getting players ready to contribute at the next level. The P-Bruins are going to be young with an assortment of overage junior players, college departures and European prospects all descending on Providence at once. Leach and his staff will have to whip them into shape while forging a winning environment.
“I think we need to embrace youth. Our vets do a nice job of that and our staff did a nice job of that and I think as you look at the way the game’s going, we need to embrace younger players,” Leach said. “I don’t know what they’re eating these days but these kids come in at 20 and they look like men. So shame on us if we’re not going to take advantage of that and they’re ready.”
Leach is no coaching novice. He said that his marginal NHL playing career forced him to think the game differently, so his coach’s mind was forming long before he hung up his skates and decided to pursue the next stage of his career. Working briefly with Mike Sullivan in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton gave Leach a close-up look at what it took for the Pittsburgh Penguins to get their youth ready to contribute to two Stanley Cup championship teams. And one year as a Providence assistant and one summer of helping run Boston’s development camp might gave him great insight into what the Bruins are trying to accomplish and the type of talent they have in their pipeline.
All of the above could combine to disqualify Leach from rookie status, which should mean fewer rookie mistakes by the coach and more rookie contributions from the players.