By Fluto Shinzawa (The Athletic)

On the morning of Oct. 22, I asked Bruce Cassidy how it would feel to vote for the first time as an American citizen.

“That’ll be something I’ll remember — your first voting in the United States,” Cassidy predicted. “That, of this whole process, will probably be the biggest part if I look back five years from now.”

By then, Cassidy had decided he would participate in early voting. But he hadn’t figured out when he’d go to his local town hall and fill out his ballot.

After our conversation, I told Cassidy I had gone through the same thing. In January 2005, I became a naturalized U.S. citizen, 25 years after I first emigrated to America from Japan at the age of 2. I shared with Cassidy how it has felt like a privilege and a pleasure to check in each time at my voting precinct.

Later that day, I received a message. It was a picture of Cassidy’s ballot envelope about to drop into a box.

“It’s official!” Cassidy wrote. “Empowering feeling.”

Becoming American

Cassidy, 55, was born in Ottawa. His mother, Louise, was at home to raise Bruce and his older brother, Steve. His father, Leonard, was a foreman at a paper plant.

Cassidy played for Team Canada in the 1984 World Junior Championship and on the 1987 national team. Cassidy lived in Ontario in 2007, when he coached Kingston of the OHL. Former Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, a fellow Ottawa native, hired him as an assistant in Providence.

“I loved it,” Cassidy said of pulling on Canada’s maple leaf. “That’s why I’ve always said I’d love the opportunity to do it as a coach now. It’s just a little different feel.”

Professionally, though, most of Cassidy’s opportunities took place outside of Canada. He was drafted by Chicago. Cassidy played in Italy. He concluded his playing career in Indianapolis.

As a coach, Cassidy’s first NHL job was in Washington. It was a 107-game run that ended with his ouster. Cassidy regularly jokes that the best thing that happened to him in Washington was meeting his wife, Julie, a New Jersey native. His daughter, Shannon, and son, Cole, are American, too.

So when it came to his family, residence and the taxes he’s paid to the Treasury Department, Cassidy has flown the Stars and Stripes for a long time. He first worked in the U.S. under a visa. He applied for his green card when he coached in Washington. But it wasn’t until years later, when Cassidy settled in Providence, that his application for permanent residence was approved.

“It got caught up in the system,” Cassidy said. “They mistyped a number. I think the last letter in my application was a C. They made it a zero or something. So finally, in Providence, the green card came in. I said, ‘Why’d it take so long? I’ve been told it takes a year or two. I did the interview.’ There was a clerical error.”

Cassidy later saw more signals that ownership of an American green card did not guarantee smooth sailing. Once he was promoted to Boston, Cassidy learned through an attorney that a change in employment could affect his residency. For an NHL coach, there is no such thing as job security.

“So you’re a Canadian and you’re working for Boston,” Cassidy said, recalling the scenario the attorney sketched out. “Let’s say you get let go by Boston. Your next job is with the Winnipeg Jets. So you go back to Canada. Well, depending on the length of your time there, you may have to surrender your green card at some point. Then, if you get let go by Winnipeg and your next job is in Minnesota, now you’re starting the process over.”

Cassidy had applied for his green card through his American employment, specifically because of what the Department of Homeland Security classifies as extraordinary ability in athletics. He had the backup option of reapplying through his marriage to an American citizen.

Even so, Cassidy would have had to deal with bureaucracy. These days, immigration is a flashpoint. Laws are always subject to change.

So, in fall 2019, Cassidy applied for citizenship. Cassidy’s attorney believed his application would sail through.

Then the pandemic happened.

A vote in question

Of all the privileges of American citizenship, the one that appealed to Cassidy the most was the right to vote. Through his years of stateside immersion, Cassidy has become learned in American history. He can name more presidents, vice presidents and speakers chronologically than their Canadian equivalents.

Cassidy wanted to participate in the process.

“I think it’s every citizen’s obligation to take an interest and vote, whatever your party affiliation is,” Cassidy said. “I think that’s one of the greatest rights a person can have. There’s people in a lot of other countries that say it’s a privilege. People have fought through different voting laws for years.”

The monkey wrench of the pandemic put Cassidy’s pre-election approval in doubt. Cassidy’s lawyer noted that it could be 2021 until his application was approved. If so, Cassidy would have been ineligible to vote in the presidential election. It would have been a major disappointment.

That concern was addressed earlier in October, when he was approved for citizenship. With Julie, Shannon and Cole in attendance, Cassidy was sworn in as an American citizen in a judge’s backyard in Weston. The Cassidys hustled their kids back to school and went out for lunch. The next day, Cassidy reported to Warrior Ice Arena for the draft.

“Maybe you look at a person who comes from a country of oppression where life isn’t very good. Then I could see where they are looking at it as a completely life-changing event,” Cassidy said of the naturalization ceremony. “Whereas I’ve been here so long. I don’t want to downplay it, but I’m not in the position of those people. I’ve been fortunate to be here a long time and live this way of life. But still, it’s a day you’re always going to remember.”

Power of the vote

Cassidy felt the country’s political and social turbulence well before he became an American. He pledged to initiate awareness and education with his family when it comes to racial inequality. Cassidy cannot understand why the Emmett Till Antilynching Act has yet to become law.

In that way, Cassidy knows his new country is blemished. Acquaintances, in fact, have jokingly inquired if he’d be willing to sell them his Canadian passport.

America’s shortcomings, however, do not blur Cassidy’s vision about its opportunities for accomplishment.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to make a living here. A good living,” Cassidy said. “Met Julie. The kids are raised in a great environment in terms of the schooling here and what they’ve been given here compared to other countries. As bad as the divisions are that need to be corrected, it’s still the greatest country in the world when it comes to opportunity and different cultures.”

Cassidy is an optimist. Perhaps, he thinks, the visibility of the country’s bruises will encourage its citizens to take corrective measures. Change begins by voting.

“There’s a lot of different ways you can participate,” Cassidy said. “The most important one to me is to have a voice. Vote if you’re of age. You never want that taken away. The more people that vote, then maybe 90 percent of the country has taken advantage of this right you’ve got as a citizen. I think that’s important. The most important thing is the fact that you’re participating in a process that a lot of other countries don’t have. That’s the first thing. Step one is to get out there and say your piece no matter where you are.”