Former University of Maine All-American defenseman Jack Capuano will return to his Bangor home this weekend with a new title.
After being named the head coach of the New York Islanders on Tuesday following his 65-game stint as the team’s interim head coach, he will spend some time at the end of this whirlwind week with wife Donna (Stevenson), daughter Adrianna and son Anthony.
“I am obviously grateful to Charles and Garth for giving me this opportunity,” said Capuano referring to Islanders owner Charles Wang and general manager and former Black Bear goalie Garth Snow. “The players responded to what we were trying to do and the fans were great.
“The players were very coachable,” added the 44-year-old Capuano. “They were all willing to compete and they all played within the team concept. We have a good nucleus of young players who are only going to get better year in and year out. I’m pretty excited about next year.”
The Islanders finished 26-29-10 under Capuano after he replaced the fired Scott Gordon on Nov. 15. They were 25-21-8 over the final 54 games.
“By finishing the year on the upside, that will give the players confidence going into the summer and into training camp,” said Capuano. “Our number one goal next season is to get into the playoffs and I feel we can do that.”
They missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
“We lost over 600 man-games due to injuries,” said Capuano, who had been the head coach of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League. “We had five defensemen who had been called up from Bridgeport playing at the same time. And they played extremely well for us.”
He said the high number of call-ups forced by the injuries “gave Garth and our coaching staff a good opportunity to see the progress of the players. And a lot of them aren’t too far away from where we need them to be.”
Capuano, who also had one of the youngest teams in the NHL, said he found the toughest aspect of being an NHL head coach was “dealing with the media” day in and day out.
But he adjusted and said his prior experience coaching in the AHL was a “great stepping stone for me.
“There are a lot of coaches in the NHL who were in the AHL at one time and those coaches make you a better coach,” said Capuano.
He will attend a rookie camp this summer as well as the NHL draft.
“We have a few missing pieces. But I’ll leave that up to Garth,” said Capuano, who joined the Islanders organization as an assistant coach in 2005-2006.
Capuano said he will have a “well-conditioned” team next season and he expects his injured players to follow the guidelines laid out by the Islanders training staff to ensure their full recovery.