Former University of Maine All-American defenseman Jack Capuano was a finalist for the American Hockey League’s Coach of the Year in just his second season behind the bench for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the New York Islanders’ top minor league affiliate.
The Manitoba Moose’s Scott Arniel won the award.
The 41-year-old Capuano led Bridgeport to a 49-23-3-5 record that tied them with Hershey atop the league’s Eastern Division standings with 106 points.
It was the best record in the eight-year history of the Sound Tigers and their 29-7-1-3 home record was the league’s best and a franchise-best.
Bridgeport and Hershey tied for the third highest number of points in the 29-team league.
Bridgeport met Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the opener of their best-of-seven series last night.
Capuano credited his players for his nomination.
“The guys worked extremely hard and they brought it every night. You knew win, lose or draw, the work ethic would be there. The Islanders lost something like 580-man games to injury and 10 guys played in their first NHL games this year,” said Capuano, who has a home in Bangor with his wife, Donna, and children Adrianna and Anthony.
“We had a lot of guys going up and down but they played within the team concept. No matter who we put in the lineup, they got the job done,” he added.
He is proud of the fact his team won 49 games without having a player named to the AHL All-Star team.
“They played together and had a lot of camaraderie. They cared for one another. The coaching staff believed in them and they believed in themselves and when that happens, you can go a long way,” said Capuano. “We liked being in the underdog role.”
Capuano said he continues to “learn something every day” and he stresses having the proper work ethic.
“I tell the players I want us to be the hardest working team in the league. I don’t worry about the score. The score is dictated by work ethic. We want to get better every day and I try to give every player a chance to succeed here,” said Capuano.
“We’re in attack mode all the time. We don’t want to sit back. We want to take away the opponents’ time and space. We use our speed but if we don’t have a lot of speed in our lineup, we still try to play fast,” said Capuano who feels his team has as “good a chance as any” to win the Calder Cup even though they are missing some key players due to injury.
Capuano, who had been an assistant with the Islanders and Sound Tigers after serving as the head coach and general manager of the ECHL’s Pee Dee Pride (S.C.) would like to land an NHL job some day.
“Coaching in the American League is no different than playing in the American League: your goal is to get to the NHL,” said Capuano. “Nobody at this level is any different. If you look at the American Hockey League, with the CBA [collective bargaining agreement], the coaches have very important jobs to develop players. Winning is important but the bottom line is you want to develop as many players as you can for the big club.”
Capuano had high praise for Islanders general manager Garth Snow, calling the former Black Bear and NHL goaltender a “great communicator.
“I talk to Garth three or four times a week,” said Capuano. “With the new collective bargaining agreement, you have to make sure you’re developing the players you have in your minor league system.
“Garth is doing a great job building through the draft,” added Capuano.
He admits that he wishes he could spend more time with his family and credited wife Donna with holding everything together.
“It’s great to have someone in your corner who understands that this is what I love to do,” said Capuano who still shares the school record for most career goals and single-season goals for a defenseman.
He had 32 career goals, tying him with the late Andre Aubut, and 13 during the 1987-88 season to tie him with Dwight Montgomery and Jeff Tory.