Jack Capuano has always enjoyed challenges.
The former University of Maine All-America defenseman and New York Islanders head coach will have one this season.
The Bangor resident was recently named the associate head coach of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators.
Capuano, 53, was let go from a similar position with the Florida Panthers, who fired head coach Bob Boughner. New coach Joel Quenneville brought in his own assistants.
The Senators not only were the worst team in the NHL last season, amassing only 64 points in 82 games (29-47-6), but they also allowed a league-high 3.46 goals per game.
First-year Ottawa coach D.J. Smith hand-picked Capuano, who will work with the team’s defensemen and run the penalty-killing units.
“They have some good young players. It’s similar to the situation I had in New York with the Islanders,” said Capuano, who signed a three-year deal.
“I love challenges. As a staff, we have a good chance to maximize the potential of these kids,” Capuano said.
Smith said Capuano had all the qualities he was looking for in an associate head coach.
“He has been a head coach in the NHL, while I’m a first-time head coach in the league,” Smith said. “He is a former defenseman, and he will run the defense, so it was imperative to have a guy with experience in that area. He had tons of good recommendations. It’s a perfect fit.”
Capuano is looking forward to working with Smith and said they have similar coaching philosophies.
“After talking to him when he called me about the job, I thought right away that it was going to be a good fit,” Capuano said.
Both share a passion for coaching, including motivating and communicating with their players to help them to maximize their potential.
“If you build a good relationship with the players, you can push them a little more,” Smith said. “Jack has always had a good rapport with his players.”
Capuano said the transformation of the Senators from a bottom-feeder to a playoff contender is not going to happen overnight, but he is confident the team will climb the standings over the next three years, and he is looking forward to playing a role in that progression.
Capuano stressed that there is a misconception that the number of goals allowed is a direct reflection on the play of the defensemen.
“It’s not that I’m trying to protect the defensemen and the goalies, but defense involves a unit of five in front of the goalie,” Capuano said.
“When I watch video of a goal, I like to play it back 15 or 20 seconds to see what led up to it,” Capuano said.
Capuano, who spent 6 1/2 seasons as the head coach of the Islanders and led them to three playoff berths while compiling a 227-192-64 record, said they “won’t be afraid to make [strategic] changes necessary to play to the strength of our team.”
“We want to play in attack mode,” he said.
Capuano is being inducted into the Rhode Island Hockey Hall of Fame in September, although he won’t be able to attend. His brother David, who played with him at UMaine, will accept on his behalf.
“It’s definitely humbling,” said Capuano, who is married to Bangor native Donna Stevenson.
Their son, Anthony, who played for Bangor’s Senior League World Series team that reached the championship game in 2010, graduated from the United States Naval Academy in May.
Their daughter, Adriana, is engaged to former UMaine defenseman Mark Nemec.
Capuano, who met with the Anaheim Ducks about their vacant head coaching position — which eventually went to Dallas Eakins — said he would like to be a head coach again if the right opportunity presents itself.
For now, he is excited about working with Smith and the Senators.