When longtime Boston Bruins defenseman Don Sweeney was hired as the club's Director of Player Development in June of 2006, a proverbial career road map was drawn, and one that has since seen him climb in five years to Assistant General Manager. But, not even the wackiest of GPS systems could have spun him off on the route he recently traveled in Providence.
On Friday and Saturday night, Sweeney took on the role of assistant coach.
With regular P-Bruins assistant Bruce Cassidy back home in Canada after the passing of his mother earlier in the week, Sweeney was pressed into action alongside head coach Rob Murray, and the former player was excited for the opportunity.
"This is as close as you get," said Sweeney, who expressed some of the same nervous excitement he experienced in his playing days. "Being in the locker room and seeing how kids prepare, and then going out on the ice trying to help them along, it's a lot of fun.
"Obviously the circumstances are pretty sad and our thoughts and prayers go out to Bruce Cassidy and his family in a tough time," he continued. "For me to have a chance to step in and help out in any way, shape or form, it was a lot of fun to be down at the ice level. It's a totally different perspective that, you know, is healthy to have and have that vantage point rather than being removed and realizing how much easier the game is from [the press box.]"
For two games, during which Providence went 1-1-0-0, Sweeney was responsible for running the defensemen, judging match-ups and essentially making sure the right guys were on the ice at the right time.
One of the more interesting things to watch, however, was Sweeney's demeanor. Just as he showed on the ice as a player, he regularly watches games from the press level with the passion and intensity you would hope anyone in management would exhibit. To the surprise of some, though, Sweeney concealed much of that passion on the bench and displayed a certain level of calm.
"You're so helpless to watch the game from up top," acknowledged Sweeney. "You're kind of rooting for your guys and, when things don't happen, you have no way of reaching back to them. At least down [on the bench], you can go and be positive, reinforce them and kind of correct those things, and I think that part of it is probably easier, having a more calming influence.
"It's like the guys from the Muppets upstairs," he laughed. "They were in the balcony — they just get to look down and point out people's mistakes."
Instead, in the midst of a game there's an opportunity to teach. Sweeney, who regularly frequents the Dunkin' Donuts Center ice for P-Bruins practices, recognizes that the game is fast and that no player is perfect, especially a young one often fresh out of juniors or college.
"When guys come back to the bench, it's a time to give reinforcement, but it's not a time to berate," Sweeney said. "That's when I played my best as a player, when the coaches know that you've made a mistake or you've been scored upon, and at that point in time you're hoping you've earned enough trust that they're going to put you back out there.
"You know it might not be the exact same situation because you might have to work your way back into that circle of trust, so to speak," he went on. "But, I think it's healthy to then come back and, whether it's me or Peter [Chiarelli] down there, or anyone else, to hear the fact that you're going back over the boards, you're gonna get another opportunity and learn from it."
As for how Sweeney enjoyed the experience, he said he was grateful he "didn't screw it up." More so, it was eye-opening as someone who admitted he once considered a career in coaching before taking the managerial track.
"You develop a huge appreciation for [coaches Murray and Cassidy] having a feel for the game and then the systems aspect of things. I think it's really hard for these guys to make adjustments during the game, during the period, and these guys do a great job. I mean, just coaching from a defensive standpoint, you lose sight of what the forwards may or may not be doing a little bit. From that standpoint, there's a huge learning curve in these guys and they're to be applauded for that."