Found on every NHL coach’s weekly To Do list is a note to call the coach of his team’s American Hockey League affiliate. It’s important to be updated on which players deserve promotions and how the prospects are coming along. To use a neighborly example, Tom Renney is known to dial Hartford Wolf Pack head coach Ken Gernander at least once or twice a week.
The number of times Ted Nolan reached out to Bridgeport counterpart Jack Capuano last season: zero.
The reasons were never quite clear – Ted’s son Brandon was let go by Bridgeport, the coach’s rep for preferring older players, maybe he just didn’t want to – but it was an alarming fact of life. Not the way for a team to develop prospects, we can all agree.
Capuano refused to get into this subject when I called him the other day. He refused to confirm or deny – that’s okay, I can – and insisted on moving on. Capuano was willing to open up about not getting the Islanders job, his thoughts on Scott Gordon and his role in the Islanders’ rebuild.
“Like every coach, my goal is to get to the NHL. But I’m very happy where I am right now. I spoke with Garth when the Islanders’ job opened up. He was fair with me. He told me he had a lot of faith in my ability to bring along our prospects, and this was an especially important job in the organization right now. He said he had a few candidates in mind he felt were the right guys for the Islanders. I was okay with it because Garth and I have known each other a while and have a straight-forward relationship. We don’t BS each other.
“Everyone in the organization knows exactly what the game plan is and we’re fully committed to it. Garth has met with all of us. We are going to build through the draft, build through Bridgeport. It’s an exciting time. It’s up to me and my staff to make sure our players are in position to succeed when they are called up by the Islanders and to bring along all of these skilled young players. The NHL is about winning hockey games. Here, of course we want to create an environment of winning, but development is the most important aspect.
“From top to bottom, Scott and I will be in sync. We will talk regularly. What he is preaching on the Island is what I’ll be teaching in Bridgeport. Our systems will be very similar. The only place where you could have even the slightest of difference could sometimes be on the power play. That’s determined by the skills of the players I have on my roster for a given game. If most of our top guys are with the Islanders as injury fill-ins, sometimes we have to make adjustments. Other than that, the way we play here will mirror the way the Islanders play there. Scott and I will be in constant communication. From day to day, he’ll have complete evaluations of our players at the American League level.
“I coached against Scotty Gordon a lot. The fans will like his style of play. His teams have always been very structured, but they play up-up tempo, an in-your-face speed game. His teams have always competed hard.
“This is a big responsibility for our staff. The kids are going to make some mistakes, that we know. The key is to make sure they don’t make the same ones time after time. I don’t want to get into specifics of each kid right now. Let them have their fair chance of being evaluated by the Islanders. We can get into that another day. I’m just really looking forward to it the season and the challenge.
“When I played at the University of Maine I had Shawn Walsh, one of the all-time greats, as my head coach. Shawn out-worked every coach. His work ethic was unbelievable. If we lost a game, it wasn’t because we were unprepared. But the best thing about Shawn was that he knew how to deal with all the different personalities and still get the best out of every player. That’s the kind of coach I strive to be.”