Things were a bit busier than expected here today at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Day one of the Capitals’ annual development camp dovetalied with the announcement of the Hershey Bears' next head coach and next assistant coach.
Mark French was promoted from assistant coach of the Bears to head coach beginning with the 2009-10 season. French becomes the 23rd head coach in the storied history of the Bears. Hershey has reached the Calder Cup finals in three of the last four seasons, and the Bears are coming off an AHL record 10th Calder Cup championship. He is the second straight Hershey coach to be promoted to the position from assistant coach. French follows in the footsteps of Bob Woods, who went from Bears assistant to Bears head coach before being promoted to an assistant coach position in Washington earlier in the summer.
“I think it was huge in getting the job,” says French, of his season and a half as the Bears’ assistant coach. “There is that continuity, especially with systems. I think we’ve seen over the last two years since Bruce [Boudreau] has been up here how well it has worked with Bob. There is that continuity whether it’s team play or personality or even an attitude of how the teams are going to play.
“There are a lot of good coaches out there, so I know that was a big part of my selling feature to everybody within this organization that that would probably be maintained, and in going forward a lot of those things we’ve learned over the past two years would be put in place. There’s no better guy to do it than me.”
French was named a Hershey assistant in Dec. 2007 after Woods was named Boudreau’s successor as the Bears’ head coach. Promotion from within has become the norm in the Washington organization; Woods was promoted to assistant coach with the Caps earlier this summer after leading the Bears to the Calder Cup championship. Like Woods, French’s ultimate goal is to reach the NHL.
“You always want to ascend to that level,” says French, “but I don’t think you would have though [it would happen] this quickly. The success that we had in Hershey – when the job became available obviously – was nice because you think, ‘Wow, we won, and that might help my chances a little bit more,’ but not when I first took over the job as an assistant there, no way would I have thought it would happen this quickly.”
The Bears are one of the most successful and storied franchises in all of minor league sports. The fans expect winning, and the Caps expect development.
“I think the organizational philosophy, Washington’s philosophy, is that winning is a big part of development,” declares French. “I think that plays to Hershey very well because the expectations in Hershey are that you are going to have to win. I think that as long as those things are in line, I think there is a balance. There is always that saw between development and winning, but the way we have shown it over the last three or four years, I think Hershey and Washington have got the right mix in that way so nothing will change.”
The promotion of Woods opened up the head job in Hershey for French, and the promotion of French led to an opening as a Hershey assistant. The Bears on Monday named Troy Mann as French’s assistant with the Bears.
“I’m pretty excited,” says Mann. “Anytime you can move up the ladder and take that next step, it’s great.”
Mann was hired on Boudreau’s recommendation; he played for Boudreau with the ECHL Mississippi Sea Wolves in the late 1990s. Woods and Mann were teammates on the Sea Wolves in those days, and Mann and Woods played for the Boudreau-coached ECHL championship team of 1999.
“I think we’d all agree that in hockey it’s a lot to do with relationships,” says Mann. “I’ve been friends with Bruce and Woody since the ’90s. Woody and I played together in Tallahassee and that was one of the reasons he ended up in Mississippi with Bruce and I, because I was the original Sea Wolf. Anytime you are able to win a championship with people it seems like you have that bond forever.
“I have been following Hershey for two or three years and had the opportunity mid-season in [Dec. of] ’07 to leave Columbia and join Hershey with Woody but it was one of those situations contractually and from a family standpoint it wasn’t a good decision to leave then. It’s come full circle for me in terms of being able to become part of the organization and I’m going to do my best to make the most of that opportunity.”
With Mann’s assistance, French plans to keep the level of continuity that currently runs through the Caps’ organization.
“I’ve known Troy through phone conversations for probably the last three years in talking about players in the Double-A leagues,” says French. “Personally, not really well. But he comes highly recommended by Bruce and Bob, and that’s good enough for me. There’s that continuity again in Bruce and Bob and Troy and myself that we have a lot of the same beliefs in how the game should be played.”
Mann’s playing career took him all over the map to several different cities, much as Boudreau’s own career did. Mann looked up to Boudreau when he was a player, and continued to follow him after his own coaching career got underway.
“He has certainly been my mentor since I have gotten into coaching,” says Mann, “and I am heading into my sixth season now. I’ve slowly been climbing the ladder and he’s been a guy I’ve focused on, how he has coached, the type of style he brings to the table and I have tried to follow suit.”