Jack Capuano swore he didn’t know his milestone was approaching.
“I didn’t even know,” he said of his 400th game behind the Islanders bench on Thursday against the Caps at Barclays Center. “I haven’t thought about it to be honest with you. I hope there’s 400 more.”
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From some coaches — most coaches, really — this would seem to be a bit of polite nonsense. Coaches are paranoid, they are micro-managers; how could one not know such a big milestone were coming?
But it’s easier to believe coming from Capuano, the 49-year-old who is only the 86th head coach in NHL history to reach 400 games. “Unassuming” should be Capuano’s middle name. He rarely engages in the sort of Jedi mind tricks on his players that many modern coaches try, unless peppering his video sessions with expletives counts.
“When you get to the point we’re at, with high expectations, there’s a mutual respect between the players and the coaching staff having been through all those years together,” John Tavares said. “We’ve been through a lot and he’s always been a pretty open guy. Communication is key.”
Garth Snow met Capuano once prior to Capuano coming on as Steve Stirling’s assistant in the 2005-06 season, Snow’s last as an NHL goaltender. “I think at an alumni event at Maine,” Snow said of the school both men attended. Capuano left Maine in 1988, just before Snow arrived. Snow played two seasons at Maine with Dave Capuano, Jack’s younger brother, but that was the only connection.
But when Snow made Capuano interim Islanders coach on Nov. 15, 2010, replacing Scott Gordon, the GM wanted to see the same sort of development Capuano had brought in three seasons as Bridgeport’s head coach.
“Whether it’s a call-up player or one of our top guys, he respects them and tries to talk to them all the same way,” Snow said. “He was the right guy while we were still in our rebuild and he’s the right guy now that we’ve developed beyond that point. He’s a hard-working coach. When you have a team that plays as hard as ours does, you can see there’s a buy-in from everyone about what Cappy is doing.”
Tavares has plenty of high-profile friends around the league who are on their third or fourth coaches over the same six seasons that Tavares has had Capuano here. The captain understands that there are still lots of steps for his team to take, like winning a playoff round — only Al Arbour and Terry Simpson have done that as Islanders coaches — but he still prefers the continuity the Islanders have to some teams’ search for the one coach that will put all the pieces together.
“Sometimes you don’t realize how good you have it until things change and I’m sure there’s a lot of guys around the league who have been through that,” Tavares said. “Guys I’ve played with who’ve been through two, three, four coaches, and it’s not easy to deal with individually. It changes a lot. To have that familiarity, that respect, that open communication is key. He’s brought that here and it’s been beneficial to a lot of us.”