Bangor resident and former University of Maine All-American defenseman Jack Capuano is ready to begin his life as a head coach in the National Hockey League after he was named the interim head coach of the New York Islanders on Monday.
Scott Gordon was fired by Islanders general manager and former Black Bear goalie Garth Snow. The Islanders have lost 10 straight and are 4-10-3.
They are tied with the Edmonton Oilers for the worst record in the NHL.
Capuano played at Maine during the 1985-86, ’86-87 and ’87-88 seasons and notched 32 goals and 89 assists for 121 points in 124 games. He was a first team All-American in 1988 along with his younger brother and teammate David.
Capuano was in his fourth season as the head coach of the Islanders’ American Hockey League franchise, the Bridgeport (Conn.) Sound Tigers.
“Obviously, it’s not the circumstances you want [to land a job]. Scott is a good friend, and he did a good job,” said the 44-year-old Capuano. “But, fortunately, I have been given the opportunity and I’m hoping to make the best of it.”
Capuano has posted a 133-100-8-14 record (wins, losses, overtime losses, shootout losses) in Bridgeport after beginning his affiliation with the Islanders organization as an assistant with the parent club during 2005-06.
He posted the best record in the franchise’s eight-year history during the 2008-09 season (49-23-3-5) and was a finalist for AHL coach of the year.
Capuano joins the New York Rangers’ John Tortorella as a former Black Bear coaching an NHL team. Tortorella formerly coached the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Capuano began his coaching career as an assistant with the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks in the East Coast Hockey League (1996-97) and became the head coach with the Knoxville Cherokees in the ECHL that same year and guided them to a 7-8-1 record.
The Knoxville franchise moved to Florence, S.C., the next year and he served as the head coach of Pee Dee Pride for two full seasons and guided them to an 85-40-0 record. He later became the general manager of the Pride and served in that capacity until joining the Islanders organization.
“I’ve worked my way up. I’ve paid my dues,” said Capuano, a native of Cranston, R.I. “I’m a better coach for the time I’ve spent in the ECHL and the AHL. There are a lot of coaches in those leagues that I’ve coached against who have made me a better coach. It has been a great ride. I’ve learned a tremendous amount.”
He has already met with the team and said he told them, “There are things in life we can’t control and things we can control. We can control our belief and trust in one another, our attitude, our passion for the game and our work ethic.”
He also told them to put the 10-game losing streak in the past.
“Hopefully, they’ll be relaxed and loose. When you’ve lost that many in a row, you have to put it behind you.
“You’ve just got to go out and play and have fun,” said Capuano.
He said he will tweak and overhaul a few things but won’t make any drastic changes.
“There are a few things I’ve done in the past that have worked for me. I believe in those things so I will make some slight adjustments,” said Capuano.
Capuano inherits a young team that is without injured right wing Kyle Okposo and All-Star defenseman Mark Streit. He said Okposo will be out until at least January and Streit could be out for the year.
“Those are two pretty key guys,” said Capuano. “We’re a little dinged up right now. But we’ve got a good bunch of guys who care for one another and who work extremely hard. That’s all I can ask from them.”
He said he doesn’t anticipate being overly nervous when he makes his debut Wednesday night at home against Tampa Bay.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time now,” said Capuano, whose 32 goals in his career and 13 during the 1987-88 season tie him for the UMaine record in both categories. “I’m going to be myself. I’m not going to try to be somebody I’m not. I had a lot of these guys in Bridgeport and they know what I’m about. That will make the transition a little bit easier.”
He describes his coaching style as “firm but fair.”
Capuano is married to Bangor native Donna Stevenson and they have two children. Adrianna, who is a freshman at the University of Maine, compiled a successful career as a soccer fullback and tennis player at Bangor High School. Anthony, who is a sophomore tight end on the Eastern Maine Class A champion Bangor High School football team, is also a slugging first baseman in baseball.
Jack Capuano said he would give anything to see Saturday’s state title game between Bangor and Cheverus of Portland but won’t be able to make it.
In his first game behind the bench, he will be facing a Tampa Bay team with three former Black Bears: right wing Teddy Purcell and defensemen Mike Lundin and Brett Clark.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep them off the scoreboard,” said Capuano.
He said he looks forward to working directly with Snow.
“He’s good to work for,” said Capuano. “You always know where you stand with Garth. He’s honest and loyal and has integrity.”