Mark French is the former coach of the Hershey Bears who is taking over coaching duties for one of the two new KHL teams, the Medvescak Zagreb (Croatia) Bears, this season. He has signed two veterans to the new squad from his time in Hershey: Boyd Kane and Brian Willsie. Each brings toughness, consistent play and experience to a roster chocked full of former NHL and AHL veterans—the most popular signing thus far is that of former Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy winner Jonathan Cheechoo. The success of the team will very much revolve around the leadership and play of these two veterans.
Boyd Kane is a Canadian left winger that originally joined the Capital organization during the 2005-2006 season. Though he scored 49 points with Hershey affiliate that year, he would not be re-signed and move into the Flyers system. He eventually rejoined with the Hershey Bears and Mark French in 2009-2010. Kane would only play with the Caps in three games over the next four seasons. However, Kane would wear the Captain’s sweater in Pennsylvania for two seasons and play a total of nearly 300 games under French. During that time, he would score 171 points for Hershey (82 goals, 89 assists).
Kane also is not afraid to mix it up, racking up an average of 93 penalty minutes over those same four seasons. The Bears would make it to the playoffs all three years with Kane aboard, including a Calder Cup championship win in 2009-2010.
Willsie is another Canadian forward, mostly a winger, who will bring good two-way play and toughness to Zagreb. Originally drafted into the Colorado Avalanche system in 1996, Willsie would play with the Hershey Bears before they became the Washington Capitals affiliate. He would eventually move into the Caps system for one season and play 76 games under Coach French. And what a season it was: Willsie would score 30 goals and provide 38 assists in 76 games.
Willsie and Kane have combined for a total of over 400 NHL games and nearly 1,500 AHL games between them. In later years, both have continued to score, but more as setup men. This could be great for Cheechoo, who performed his best with Joe Thornton feeding him the puck. Both men have a lot of playoff experience and could help Medvescak get to the playoffs in their inaugural seasons—the KHL is not a stranger to this with Lev Praha and Slovan Bratislava both making the playoffs in their first season last year.
Maybe most importantly, French is putting his stamp on the team by getting two big veterans who played under him. The success of French will depend on the performance of these two players. Even if French coaches well, he may have to deal with some repercussions if his guys do not live up to their previous performance standards.
If you are curious to see the current 25-man roster for KHL Medvescak, you can see it here. Their season opens September 6th at home against CSKA Moscow.
My name is Tim Bourcier and I am contributor for the Washington Capitals and hockey in Europe. Prior to working with The Hockey Writers, I worked with a professional hockey club in Budapest, Hungary. I also wrote articles for the MOL Liga and international hockey tournaments. I am near a PhD in Economics and I have eight years work experience as a statistician.
You can check out my previous work, new stuff and wonky analysis over at my blog: bourciertm.wordpress.com. Also, check out my blog for the KHL team in my home city at www.bearshockeyblog.com