Last season the Capitals had the best minor league system in all of hockey. Their AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, won their 10th Calder Cup title, while their ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays, won their third Kelly Cup title. However, since the end of the season, both teams have had to replace their head coaches; a price that comes with success at the minor league level.
The search for the next head coach of the Hershey Bears finally came to an end Monday as the team promoted Assistant Coach Mark French. He had been an assistant in Chocolatetown since January of 2008, when he took the vacated position available after Bob Woods had been promoted to the top job.
Woods received his promotion after then Head Coach Bruce Boudreau was called up to the big club in Washington back on Thanksgiving in 2007. Now with Woods as his assistant with the Caps, Boudreau was able to reflect Monday on how things have come full circle for French and the organization.
"I think George (McPhee) is doing it the right way," said the Capitals head coach. "If you have success and within the system you can keep the continuity, than let's give guys opportunities. They gave me a chance and so far it's been okay. Mark probably would not have got this chance, Bob Woods might not have got this chance if George didn't think that these guys are capable of doing it just because they've been in other leagues. So I'm really happy for him."
"That's a big part of it," said Capitals General Manager George McPhee. "To bring someone in from outside the organization that doesn't know the players as he knows them, and what they're capable of and basically what we've been all about the last four years in Hershey, there was some risk in that."
"It's been a good few months," said French. "Winning the Calder Cup and now getting this. I guess the initial feeling was there was a lot of pride in the position. The American Hockey League is something. Hershey is an institution and with that, there was a lot of honor attached to it."
The team also announced Troy Mann had been hired as an assistant coach. Mann was the associate head coach of the Charlotte Checkers in the ECHL last season. Prior to his stint with the Checkers, Mann was the head coach of the Columbia Inferno in the ECHL for two seasons.
"Troy's a smart guy," said Boudreau, who coached Mann when he was at Mississippi Seawolves back in the '90s. "He's caught on really well and he's dedicated and determined. As an assistant coach in the ECHL and in the CHL, he stayed with it. We're really happy he came to Hershey just to watch our training camps and get ideas. Guys that are determined like that deserve chances."
French and Mann will have their work cut out for them as they prepare the Hershey Bears to make a run for an 11th Calder Cup championship this fall.