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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

P-Bruins Commentary

Gordon set extraordinary coaching standards

Generally speaking, minor leaguers are anonymous aspirants submissively allowing teams of all organizations and levels to pass them around the continent during the course of a season. Those who hang about for a full season are thinking more wishfully than Columbus Blue Jackets fans if they’re planning to stay in that city for two or three uninterrupted seasons. (And they’re not. They’ll eventually get a crack at The Show if they have it their way).

Only 71 of the 448 players listed on the P-Bruins all-time roster have been credited for more than two seasons with the spoked Ps, a majority of those cases saw multiple stints or a quick rehab return trip after the player had cemented his role in Boston (or, in Bob Beers’ former case, a broadcast position with WBZ). Some players can do enough –usually with their radiant sticks or bloodthirsty fists- to become a fan favorite, but they will have taken off elsewhere before long.

The Baby Bs, most conventionally, are a mere conglomeration of black-and-gold uniforms who have been slaking sport-hungry Rhode Islanders for the last 16 winters. But over a whopping five years, they’ve also established an identity as the students of Scott Gordon –that is, until Gordon accepted the head coaching job for the New York Islanders Tuesday.

Gordon, who will now be overseen by Mount St. Charles alumnus Garth Snow, has thus cut off a tenure that more than doubled the length of any of his seven predecessors. If you count the three years he spent as an assistant, that’s an unthinkable eight seasons in one AHL venue. In that same stretch, Boston has gone through five different coaching cabinets.

Five previous P-Bruin skippers –Mike O’Connell, Steve Kasper, Bob Francis, Peter Laviolette, and Mike Sullivan- were invited to a position behind the Boston bench after no more than two years here. The other two –Tom McVie and Bill Armstrong- were half-gently/half-firmly ushered to the exit after one and two unsatisfactory campaigns respectively.

That’s the AHL way, with a few gratifying exceptions. Already this summer, 11-year coach John Anderson of the Chicago Wolves –who has been with that team since the dying days of the IHL- followed up on his second Calder Cup Championship with a promotion to the parent Atlanta Thrashers. His time had more than come, most every puckhead agrees. And the same appears true for the man who just guided the Bruins to their second regular season championship in franchise history.

The most focused amongst Dunk-going hockey nuts had to have had this apprehension brewing in the back of their minds even before the 2007-08 Bruins came within three points of their own record (120) for most points in a season, which was set during the peerless banner campaign in 1998-99. Gordon’s exponentially improving track record didn’t lie.

Gordon got his first slurp of the top bench post at the tail-end of the 2002-03 regular season when Sullivan was summoned to finish Boston’s run in the wake of Robbie Ftorek’s dismissal. In that stretch, the younger Bruins went 3-3-2-1.

From his second full-length season and beyond, Gordon never won less than half of his regular season games, heightening the victory output year-by-year (40 in 2004-05, 43 in 05-06, 44 in 06-07, 55 this past year).

One could point to a touch of murky mist, though, in citing the fact that Providence only went beyond the first round of the playoffs thrice in Gordon’s five years and only once went as far as the conference finals. And few letdowns hit harder than evoking unspeakable memories of 1998-99 all through the regular season only to be zapped in four straight by the Portland Pirates.

But in the end, Gordon insulated his trustworthy consistency with just a shortage of puck luck after the Vernal Equinox. It was enough to hook him into the mix of replacement candidates the moment the Islanders discharged Ted Nolan last month. And it was enough for him to beat out fellow finalists Bob Hartley and Paul Maurice –each with a decade’s worth of NHL experience.

So where does Providence go from here? The case should be closed after one glance at the resume of Gordon’s tenure-long assistant, Rob Murray. Five years of pitching in for this organization and inevitably letting Gordon’s tutelage rub off on him should leave no doubt that Murray can be a comfortable extension of the Gordon era.

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