BOSTON (AP) Mike Sullivan's month as a Boston Bruins assistant coach turned out to be an audition for the top job.
And he passed the test.
''I had a chance to work with Mike for a month or so,'' Bruins general manager Mike O'Connell said Monday after making Sullivan the team's fifth head coach in less than three years. ''It came very easily to him. It was remarkable for such a young coach to have that ability.''
Sullivan, 35, becomes the youngest coach in the NHL 13 months younger than Carolina's Paul Maurice. He is only a season removed from a 10-year career in which he played with some players still on the Bruins' roster.
''I feel very fortunate to have not only played for the team and worn the Bruins jersey, but also to stand behind the bench,'' he said at a news conference attended by dozens of family members, including his parents, in-laws, wife and children, brothers, sisters and uncles.
''I'm just a regular guy that grew up in the area that loved the Bruins and loves hockey,'' said Sullivan, a native of the Boston suburb of Marshfield. ''I can't tell you the emotions I feel right now.''
Sullivan was in charge of Boston's American Hockey League affiliate in Providence last season until O'Connell fired Bruins coach Robbie Ftorek with nine games left in the regular season and took over behind the bench.
His coaching skills a little rusty, O'Connell asked Sullivan to come up and help run practices and work on game strategy.
O'Connell stepped down as coach after the Bruins lost to the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the playoffs.
From then on, speculation focused on Sullivan for the job. The team even sent out a news release last week to announce a Wednesday news conference; it was canceled a half-hour later because of what O'Connell said was a problem getting everyone's schedules to mesh.
''Mike was the front-runner,'' O'Connell said Monday. ''But you want to make sure you touch all the bases.''
Sullivan spent 10 seasons in the NHL as a center, finishing with 53 goals and 80 assists in 667 games. He played 77 games for Boston in 1997-98, scoring five goals and adding 13 assists. He also played for San Jose, Calgary and Phoenix before retiring in 2002.
He coached Providence to a division title and a 47-17-9-4 record in his only season there.
''I know I'm still a little wet behind the ears when it comes to the coaching ranks,'' he said. ''I can't say enough about the experience I had in Providence. Hopefully it will prepare me for what lies ahead.''
Sullivan was captain of the Boston University hockey team in 1989-90, and becomes the second former BU player to become an NHL head coach since the regular season ended. Steve Stirling was hired by the New York Islanders on June 4.
''He (Sullivan) will get an awful lot of respect because of the way he treats people,'' said longtime BU coach Jack Parker, who first introduced Sullivan to O'Connell more than a decade ago. ''(O'Connell) saw he was a character guy. Once you know him, you know it's a guy you want to keep around.''
If Sullivan stays around, he'll be the first Bruins coach to do so in a while.
Pat Burns coached three full years in Boston before being fired eight games into the 2000-01 season. He was replaced by Mike Keenan, who finished the season but did not have his contract picked up after the Bruins missed the playoffs.
Keenan was replaced by Ftorek, who led the team to the playoffs in the 2001-02 season. However, the Bruins were knocked out in the first round.
Last season, O'Connell fired Ftorek after the Bruins dropped from an NHL-best 19-4-3-1 on Dec. 8 to 33-28-8-4. Sullivan was reluctant to leave Providence while his team was in a playoff race of its own.
''But when the boss asks you to help,'' he said, ''you want to do what you can.''
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