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Bruins coach, Blue Jackets assistant are friends, playoff opponents

Cassidy, Shaw reflect on relationship that started as junior hockey teammates in 1982

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

BOSTON -- When Brad Shaw showed the picture around the Columbus Blue Jackets dressing room, a photo of two teenagers skating side-by-side in old-school Cooperalls and Canada hockey jerseys, he had a request: "I said to a couple players, 'Can we beat these guys so this guy in this picture isn't rubbing it in the whole time?'"

Shaw was the right-shot defenseman in the picture, an intense look on his face, his stick out in front of him. Next to him, a little looser, the chin strap of his helmet undone, was his left-shot defense partner on the power play and a teammate at the 1984 IIHF World Junior Championship: Bruce Cassidy.

The pair of defensemen go back a long way, back to 1982, when they first became teammates with Ottawa of the Ontario Hockey League, when Shaw sat two seats down in a room that would become the foundation of the 1984 Memorial Cup-winning 67's, when they teamed with players like goalie Darren Pang and forward Gary Roberts, led by legendary coach Brian Kilrea.

They now stand behind opposite benches, with Cassidy coach of the Boston Bruins and Shaw an assistant to coach John Tortorella on the Blue Jackets, with the two teams playing in the Eastern Conference Second Round. The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1 heading into the Game 3 at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

 

[RELATED:Complete Bruins vs. Blue Jackets series coverage]

 

"The hockey world seems big, but when you really boil it down it's a pretty small world, so you keep coming across the same faces," Shaw said. "We have so many good memories because of what we went through as a team, what we accomplished."

In a recent press conference, Cassidy used the word idol to describe Shaw, perhaps an overstatement, as he later clarified that his hockey idols were defensemen like Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque. But for him, Shaw was also an idol, if a more real, tangible one. 

The year before he joined the 67's, Cassidy was playing an hour outside Ottawa. He would go to the OHL games when he went home on weekends, and he watched Shaw play. He saw similarities to himself and his game, and he took note of what he could.

"He was my size-ish, offensive guy, puck mover," Cassidy said. "Back then, smaller defensemen -- we were considered small at 6-feet [Shaw] or 5-11, 185 pounds [Cassidy]. I like the way he played, controlled the pace of the game, good passes, power-play guy. And still seemed like he didn't want to get scored on as well."

The next year, they became teammates. They reflected each other, both quiet, in a room dominated by talkers like Pang and Roberts. Shaw and Cassidy sat back. They observed.

"I always really looked up to him," said Cassidy, who sees a comparison between Shaw and current Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk. "He would always give me the puck. He would carry it up the ice. He was the guy who always took it in. I was more the shooter or make the last play to the net as a defenseman. And I always appreciated that.

"He didn't say much. If he had something to say, he said it, but he was a good, positive guy. Good teammate."

The veneration isn't one-sided. 

"One of the calmest guys with the puck at the blue line I'd ever seen to that point," Shaw said. "It was a bit of a revelation watching how he could see the ice and get pucks through and make the right play. We used to joke all the time that when he'd take the shot from the point somebody was remote controlling it because it seemed to go through three or four guys and still get on net. 

"He's as smart a player as I've played with ever. He was a first-round draft pick for a reason."

It was the smarts, and the confidence. 

"I just remember being really impressed the way a young player came in like he did as an underage guy and played with the poise and confidence that he did," Shaw said. "It was a pretty incredible thing to watch. I felt like I was just trying to keep my head above water and to watch him with that confidence level with the puck, it rubs off on you."

And though they have many differences -- Pang compared them to Felix Unger and Oscar Madison of "The Odd Couple" -- their former goalie believed even then that they both could go into coaching, both could be successful. It was the way they each thought the game, Pang said, the "quiet leadership" that Shaw had, "how calm they were under pressure."

"I think if you asked Bruce, his first couple of jobs as a coach he probably did fly a little bit by the seat of his pants, used his instincts extremely well, whereas Brad Shaw would have a binder there and a couple of pencils and he'd be jotting down every note," Pang said. "Really two different personalities or hockey minds, but at the end of the day, two incredibly bright hockey guys."

From their days in the OHL, the pair had diverging careers. Cassidy, who was chosen No. 18 by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1983 NHL Draft, injured his ACL in a ball hockey game and played 36 games in the NHL. Shaw, meanwhile, was selected in the fifth round (No. 86) of the 1982 NHL Draft and played 377 games in the NHL, eventually being named co-captain of the expansion Ottawa Senators.  

Both turned to coaching. 

"The way his injuries went, he probably had to stop playing a lot sooner than he would have liked," Shaw said. "I'm not surprised by his success, that's for sure."

And Cassidy put in a plug for Shaw as a potential future coach. He believes in him and what he could do after 13 years as an NHL assistant and a 40-game cameo as coach of the New York Islanders in 2005-2006, a notion that Pang echoes, saying, "It's overdue."

Before Game 1 of the series, Pang started a group text message with his old teammates. Pang, now a broadcaster with Fox Sports Midwest and NHL Network, joked that he didn't know which team to pick. The text chain spun off into a conversation about the old days, former teammates, memories.

"It's fun," Shaw said. "Going against somebody you know that well, it's fun. As players, it was great. As coaches, it's just as fun."

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