Hershey is a special place and right now they are doing special things down there. The Bears have won a club-record 12 straight games and show no sign of slowing down. For the last four years, they have been at the top of the heap. I think our success in Washington goes hand-in-hand with Hershey’s right now. We know they have guys we can rely on and call up. When we do have that situation, we do not miss a beat and have not missed a beat in the years I have been here.
It is so important for our organization to make sure that Hershey does well. We want players to learn how to win in Hershey, so when a player comes up here we know he is ready to win and will not just be excited to be in the NHL. It is an ideal situation for us right now. There are so many good young players there who are going to play in the NHL. We know calling up a player creates a hole in the lineup for Hershey. I have been the AHL coach who has had to fill those holes, but I never feel bad calling up a guy and I never felt bad having a guy called up. I always looked at having a call up as a reward to an AHL coach for doing a great job of sending up a guy who is NHL ready. When Glen Hanlon was coaching Washington and would call up a player, to me it just made it a fun challenge and that is what we used it as. Sometimes it meant that we had to bring guys in from outside the organization. That is a good thing because then we could look at him and wonder if we could sign him for the following season. A perfect example is Tyler Sloan, who we called up from Las Vegas, and now he is an NHL player with us. Calling guys up to Washington allows Hershey to look at players and decide if they will be with them for a longer term. I think Mark French has done a tremendous job in Hershey. He learned from Bob Woods last year and Bob and I have shared a lot over the years. We are all on the same page all the time, which is really important. Hershey is teaching the same thing we teach and in the same way. The formula has proven successful in a regular-season way up here in wins and loses and in championships down there. The system works, and Mark has done a great job at implementing it. His assistant, Troy Mann, has been a huge part of their success as well. I coached Troy in Mississippi and continued to talk to him through the years and now he is doing a great job in Hershey. When I got hired for the job in Hershey, they asked me if I was an offensive coach or a defensive coach. I said, “Why can’t we be both?” There is no reason you cannot win and develop players in the same AHL organization. You develop a lot more character by winning and you create that never-say-die attitude more by winning then you do by losing. The guys who have been in the Hershey organization, when they go to other teams, they become captains because they know what it is to win. I think Hershey is the best minor league sports town there is. I don’t think you will find another team that averages more than 9,000 fans a game in a city of 23,000. I know they draw fans from outlying areas as well, but the Bears are the talk of the town. When you are walking around town, people are talking hockey and talking about the upcoming game. Bears players are treated like NHL players. It is the perfect place to play. When I took the job there, I wanted to make the NHL, but I never knew if I would. I did know that Hershey was a perfect place to raise a family and a place where I wanted to be. I can only think of one bad thing about Hershey: it is bad for people on a diet.