Most of the time coaches in the minor leagues are teaching and preparing their players for the road ahead. While their dream may be to make the jump themselves and it may seem like the logical progression, coaches like the Islanders newly appointed interim head coach Jack Capuano, don’t always have the opportunity to make the same headway.
Beginning his professional coaching career as an assistant coach with the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks of the ECHL during the 1996-97 season, Capuano is one coach that moved his family across the country for that same opportunity.
“When I went from the ECHL to the American League and up in the NHL as an assistant here, there is always butterflies,” Capuano said. “You have to have the confidence in yourself and the belief in yourself as a coach and your staff that you’re going to do the right thing.”
Capuano continued his journey when he became the head coach of the Knoxville Cherokees midway through his rookie coaching season. The following year (1997-98 season), he began a three-year head coaching stint and also became the Director of Hockey Operations with the Pee Dee Pride. He was eventually promoted to the General Manager position at the start of the 2001-02 season, which he held until he took the assistant coaching position with the Islanders in 2005-06.
As the head coach of the Sound Tigers, Capuano made it to the Calder Cup Playoffs two of three years while amassing a career record of 133-100-8-14. And in 2008-09, he set a franchise record with 49 wins and 106 points.
While many coaches never make that jump, in this case, the former head coach of the Sound Tigers is taking the steps to progress his own career as he embarks on his new role as interim head coach of the Islanders. As expected, he’s excited about his new opportunity, but he knows his responsibility has changed.
“In the American Hockey League it was about development,” Capuano said. “Now in the National Hockey League it’s about winning. We just have to make sure we get on the right track and we get these guys moving in the right direction. It’s our job as a coaching staff to tweak a few things and get them physically and mentally ready to play every night.”
Even though he only had two days on the ice with his new team prior to his NHL debut, Capuano had already coached 13 Islanders, including General Manager Garth Snow before taking the ice on Monday, Nov. 15.
When he first arrived at Iceworks in Syosset, Capuano held a short meeting with the players. His goal was to be inspirational and encourage his team to live up to its fullest potential.
“I told them that there are controllable circumstances in life and uncontrollable,” Capuano said. “Things that we can control are our belief and trust in one another, our work ethic, our compete level and our passion for the game. That’s what we have to do to move forward.”
Since his hire, the mood in the locker room has been positive. For the last two days, everyone has been talking about how much they have enjoyed playing for Capuano in the past.
“I would consider him a players' coach,” Islanders forward Blake Comeau said. “He’s a competitive guy and he’s an intense guy when he’s on the bench. He wants guys to work hard, which I think is definitely acceptable. It’s going to be a good change. It’s a new starting point for us.”
Comeau was well groomed by Capuano when he was in Bridgeport. As a rookie during the 2006-07 season, Comeau scored 12 goals and 31 assists for 43 points and 46 penalty minutes in 61 games and was called up to play in three games for the Islanders as a result of his performance.
“He wants guys to go out and use their hockey sense, use their vision,” Comeau said. “I think when you get to this level, everyone is here for a reason and I think guys enjoy playing a little bit more when the game is not broken down in such a complicated way.”
The phrase “players' coach” was something mentioned by more than just Comeau, who explained, “It means he’s around the locker room. He talks and socializes with the guys.”
That style allows players to put their trust in their coach. That kind of connection is important to have when you know he is looking out for not only the best interests of the team, but also the best interests of each individual.
“I like Cappy,” said Islanders center Frans Nielsen
, who played the better part of two seasons with the Sound Tigers. “He’s a fair coach. He lets you play. He expects you to work hard and compete. If you play well you get ice time and if you don’t then you don’t get ice time. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”
The 2006-07 season was also Nielsen’s rookie season and in 54 games that year the center finished third on the Sound Tigers with 20 goals and fifth in points with 44. He also finished second in plus/minus with a +7 rating. Accomplishing such high marks in his rookie season, Nielsen is definitely a talented player who likes showing what he can do out on the ice.
“He’s going to have his systems, but when you get the puck that’s when it’s time to use your talent,” Nielsen continued. “Everyone should want the puck, use our skill when we have the puck and compete hard. You want guys to work hard and do the little things too.”
After seeing numerous players he coached with the Sound Tigers move up to the Islanders, it’s now Capuano’s turn to follow the progression and take his spot behind the bench at the Coliseum.