There was pressure on New York Islanders head coach and Bangor resident Jack Capuano this season.
The Islanders missed the National Hockey League playoffs with just 79 points in 2013-14, and it was their final season in the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.
The Islanders, which have been in Uniondale since the team’s inception in 1972, will begin playing in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, next season.
But the 48-year-old former University of Maine All-American defenseman guided the Islanders to their first 100-point season (101) since 1983-84, which earned them a berth in the first round of the Stanley Cup’s Eastern Conference best-of-seven playoff series against the Washington Capitals beginning Wednesday night.
Their 22-point turnaround from last year to this season was the largest in the NHL.
Capuano’s boss is general manager and former Maine goalie Garth Snow, and his coaching staff includes assistants Bob Corkum, Greg Cronin and Mike Dunham.
Corkum was a player and associate head coach at Maine, Cronin was an assistant and interim head coach in Orono and Dunham was an All-American goalie for the Black Bears.
Snow and Dunham backstopped Maine to its first NCAA championship in 1992-93.
There are three former Black Bears involved in the first round series between Detroit and Tampa Bay.
Red Wings right winger Gustav Nyquist (27 goals, 27 assists) and goalie Jimmy Howard (23-13-11, 2.44 goals-against average and .910 save percentage) will square off against Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop (40-13-5, 2.32, .916). Their series will start on Thursday.
Center Brian Flynn, who was traded to Montreal by Buffalo in March, will make his NHL playoff debut against Ottawa on Wednesday. Flynn had five goals and 12 assists in 54 games for Buffalo before going pointless in nine games for Montreal. He centered a checking line and killed penalties.
Former Maine goalie Scott Darling (9-4, 1.94, .936) will back up Corey Crawford for the Chicago Blackhawks when they open their Western Conference series at Nashville on Wednesday night.
“There is always pressure on the coach,” said Capuano. “But pressure drives me.
“Not a lot of media outlets gave us a chance,” he added. “But we focused on things like believability, trust, accountability, reliability and leadership. We have some tremendous character guys.
“It is one thing for a coach to hold players accountable, but our players held each other accountable. We have a bunch of young guys who have faith and trust in each other,” said Capuano. “At the end of the day, it is all about the players. We just gave them some structure and detail. They’re the ones sacrificing their bodies night in and night out.”
Capuano said Snow made some important roster moves to upgrade the team, and Corkum, Cronin and Dunham also have played integral roles in the team’s success.
The Islanders have a definite college influence after star and leading scorer John Tavares, as four of their next seven top point-getters are former U.S. college players: Kyle Okposo (Minnesota), Brock Nelson (North Dakota), Anders Lee (Notre Dame) and defenseman Nick Leddy (Minnesota).
Capuano said several former Islander greats were on hand throughout the season to celebrate the last season in the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
“There’s a lot of history and tradition in that building, and our players had the opportunity to share some memories with [the former greats],” said Capuano, who expects a tough series with Washington. They split their four regular season games.
“We’re going to have to be at our best in all three zones,” said Capuano, who is in his fourth full season behind the Islander bench.