It was just like any other game day for Amerks assistant coach Chadd Cassidy. Get to the rink right around the time the sun comes up, pour a cup of coffee and get himself situated in his half of the office hours before the players arrive for morning skate.
From there, his game day routine continues, in similar fashion to that of his players, much as it has since his first game behind the Amerks bench back in the fall of 2011, spending each morning organizing the pre-scout notes and putting together a full-game plan specific to that night’s opponent and the keys to win. He’ll then deliberate with the rest of the coaching staff, compile what they believe is most essential and formally present it to the team prior to the abbreviated pre-game skate.
The preparations don’t end there, though, as immediately following the team’s practice session are the special teams meetings, where Cassidy will closely examine video with the players and provide tactical breakdown in order to maximize efficiency in a game that relies heavily on puck possession and creating chances. After that, it’s home a few hours and then back to the rink in the afternoon to put the final touches on what he and the rest of the staff hope is a fool-proof plan of execution.
Sounds like a pretty standard day in the life of a professional hockey coach, and it certainly was, up until 3:15 p.m. that afternoon when everything he was accustomed to and everything he carried out habitually was about to change. That’s when Cassidy was informed there was going to be some major overhaul within the organization, and that effective immediately, he was taking over as the Amerks interim head coach.
“I was just about to leave to come back to the rink, I looked down at my phone and saw that I had to two missed calls – one from Ron Rolston and the other from Darcy Regier,” recalls Cassidy. “I obviously knew that there was something going on. I talked to Ron first and he told me he was going to be the new coach of the Buffalo Sabres and that I should be prepared to take over here in Rochester.”
The elevation of Cassidy to head coach in Rochester came moments after the promotion of Rolston to the Sabres. Rolston was called up to replace Lindy Ruff, the all-time winningest coach in Sabres history and longest tenured coach in the NHL, who was relieved of his duties after 16 years behind the Buffalo bench. Rolston became the 16th coach in franchise history after compiling a 63-56-5 regular-season record over 1 ½ seasons with the Amerks, who he led to the Calder Cup Playoffs in just his first season as an American Hockey League coach.
“My initial reaction, before I even honestly thought of myself, was how excited I was for Ron because I know how hard he’s worked for this opportunity and what a good coach he is and how great of a job he is going to do up there,” said Cassidy. “But, as a circumstance of that, I started thinking, ‘you’re now the head coach of the Rochester Americans’ and that kind of set me back a little bit.”
It was quite the emotional day for Cassidy, who not only lost his head coach to the Sabres, but also saw the departure of team captain Kevin Porter to the big club as well. With his emotions in check, Cassidy then had the daunting task of informing his players to get them in the right frame of mind to play before meeting with his coaching staff to ensure everything was covered from a logistical standpoint. The timing couldn’t be more impeccable for Cassidy, who had a mere four hours to make last-minute preparations before making his American Hockey League head coaching debut against the first-place Texas Stars.
“The whole process was just so surreal and I still don’t think it’s fully sunk in yet,” said Cassidy, whose team ended up dropping a 5-1 decision to the Stars in his first stint as Rochester’s bench boss. “Just to be put in the same category of all the past coaches that have come through the organization. All the Calder Cups, the history and tradition of the organization… it’s still has to set in a little bit for me, but I’m definitely excited for the opportunity.”
Cassidy becomes the 30th head coach in Amerks history after originally joining the team as an assistant coach on August 31, 2011 and is currently in his second season with the club. The 2011-12 season marked Cassidy’s first in professional hockey after spending the previous five seasons (2006-2011) working alongside Rolston in the same capacity with the U.S. National Under-18 Team. In 2011-12, Cassidy helped guide the Amerks to a 36-26-10-4 record and a berth in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
It’s a position he’s more than ready to embrace with open arms, but of course, with any promotion comes a certain degree of added responsibility, which he says will require a little adjustment on his part.
“Before Ron left, my responsibilities were somewhat limited in the sense that I had a certain role, but over the last week, I’ve been trying to make sure that everything is going to be covered, and that was probably the most difficult part for me,” said Cassidy. “The coaching part of it is really easy. I’m used to doing that and that wasn’t hard. It’s just making sure that everything is taken care of that needs to be taken care of, whether its addressing the media or making sure the scratched players are getting their skate. It’s all those little things that Ron did all the time that are now on my plate that I have to remember to take care of.”
Cassidy joined the Amerks organization following five seasons as an assistant coach at USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, culminating in a gold medal at the 2011 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Under-18 World Championships in Germany. During the 2009-10 campaign, Cassidy helped guide the U.S. National Under-17 Team to great international success. While serving as an assistant to Rolston, Cassidy helped lead Team USA to its first title at the 2010 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge since 2002. He also helped guide the squad to a first-place finish at the 2009 Under-17 Four Nations Cup in Slovakia. In 2008-09, Cassidy led the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team to its fourth gold medal at the 2009 IIHF Men’s Under-18 World Championship. He also served as an assistant coach for the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team that earned the silver medal at the 2007 IIHF World Men’s Under-18 Championship in Finland.
Although it’s a bittersweet feeling to see the direct partnership between him and Rolston be put on hold for the time being, Cassidy attributes the longstanding relationship with Rolston as an aid in his transition to his new role while also viewing it as an opportunity to continue the development of players – something he and Rolston were strongly committed to during their time together in Rochester.
“The situations that we coach in are very similar in the sense that we’re both coaching young players, so we really can’t measure our success in wins and losses,” said Cassidy. “One of the best things I’ve learned from him over the years is that you have to be patient with the process and you have to see growth. You have to always be working toward growth and making sure your players are getting better.”
So now with Cassidy at the helm, the only thing that changes for the Amerks is his title and everything he, and Rolston before him, have put in place continues to be the focal point moving forward as Rochester begins its playoff push heading into the last six weeks of the regular season.
“In terms of the team, everything pretty much stays the same,” said Cassidy. “Ron has put together an incredible structure here over the last year and a half, and as I told the guys, our game isn’t going to change, the way we play, the way we approach every game isn’t going to change. We just have to keep moving forward and make sure we’re preparing the same way every time we take the ice.”