There was an unsettling feeling from the Hershey Bears following an unsatisfactory 2013-14 season under Mike Haviland that resulted in a rare absence from the AHL playoffs. The organization made a quick change, bringing back former assistant coach Troy Mann to become their bench boss. Former Bears defenseman Bryan Helmer joined Mann along with Ryan Murphy to complete the coaching staff.
The new coaching staff, along with an improved roster, implemented by the Hershey Bears and Washington Capitals, resulted in a strong 2014-15 performance. Washington’s AHL affiliate made the Eastern Conference semi-finals before falling to the Hartford Wolf Pack, AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers, who beat the Capitals in the NHL playoffs, an organizational sweep.
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) June 19, 2015
Mann, Helmer and Murphy all received multi-year contract extensions on Friday, announced by Hershey Bears President and General Manager Doug Yingst.
“We are very excited to bring our coaches back to lead the Hershey Bears after such a successful first season,” Yingst said in a press release. “We look forward to watching our team grow even further under this staff next year.”
Mann is the 25th Bears head coach in team history, following recent departures Mike Haviland and Mark French. Mann served under French for four seasons as an assistant before departing to lead the Bakersfield Condors for the 2013-14 season. He then returned to the Capitals organization when he was offered the Bears coaching vacancy last fall when Haviland left to coach Colorado College after his lone year with the team.
“I am thrilled to be returning to Hershey along with our entire coaching staff,” Mann stated on the Bears website. “We look forward to working toward taking the next step, following our very successful first season with the Bears.”
Ryan Murphy also promoted to assistant coach, from his primary video coach role. #HBH
— Scott Stuccio (@ScottStuccio) June 19, 2015
The return of all three members of the coaching staff is no surprise after a strong first season in Hershey by the trio, with the team finishing as East Division champions after a 46-22-5-3 regular season performance. The Bears finished second in points (100) only behind the Manchester Monarchs (109) and were dominant once again at Giant Center, posting a 26-7-3-2. Only the Monarchs had more home wins (30) than Hershey in the entire AHL.
Mike Haviland vs. Troy Mann
|Season||2013-14 (Haviland)||2014-15 (Mann)|
|Points||88 (15th)||100 (3rd)|
|Goals For||2.91 (15th)||2.87 (13th)|
|Goals Against||2.80 (13th)||2.38 (4th)|
|PP%||15.2% (24th)||18.0% (9th)|
|PK%||83.6% (8th)||87.5% (1st)|
“The biggest thing is build on what we did this year in success and work that much harder and prepare the players a little better,” assistant coach Bryan Helmer told Tim Leone of the Patriot News. “Make ourselves better and make the players better for the upcoming season so that we can reach our ultimate goal. That’s bringing a Calder Cup back to Hershey.”
Both Mann and Helmer are well-respected within the organization and bring continuity and accountability to the team. Their skills include getting their players to play with maximum effort and developing younger players. Capitals 23-year-old forward prospect Stanislav Galiev was a prime example of Hershey’s player development abilities, where the Russian forward totaled 25 goals and 20 assists in 67 games after just seven points in 33 AHL games the previous two campaigns.
The 2014-15 season with Hershey was Helmer’s first year as an assistant coach in professional hockey, after coaching the OHL’s Peterborough Petes after he retired as a player. He played a key role improving the Bears penalty kill last season, with the club finishing first in the league at an 87.5% rate.
Since the trio was hired in early July last summer, the coaching staff didn’t have a huge say in the players brought in by the organization. This year, the coaching staff’s voice will be heard as free agency gets underway in just over a week.
“This year, we’re going to have more say in players that we’re bringing here,” Helmer told the Patriot News. “We didn’t really have any say with the veteran players we had this year, because when we got hired they were already here, right”
Washington also signed 32-year-old Ryan Murphy to a contract extension and promoted his to assistant coach after his first season as the Bears video/assistant coach last year. Like Helmer, the 2014-15 campaign was Murphy’s first year as a coach in pro hockey after he retired following five seasons in the AHL as a player. Murphy recorded 32 points in 138 AHL contests and was selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the sixth round of the 2002 draft.
Bears Have Room to Improve in 15-16
Hershey could pose an even more formidable roster next season, with several key Capitals’ prospects likely to receive significant minutes in the AHL. Pheonix Copley is the expected starter in-goal for the Bears, with Justin Peters likely falling in the Capitals goalie depth chart to back up Copley. Philipp Grubauer signed a two-year contract extension earlier this week and by all indications he will backup Braden Holtby in Washington during the 2015-16 campaign.
The Bears’ blue line could include rookies Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey, along with Connor Carrick, who finished eighth in the AHL in defensemen scoring last season, with 42 points in 73 games. Rookie Tyler Lewington is signed for the 2015-16 season on an entry-level contract as well and the organization will bring in a few veteran defensemen like they always do. Cameron Schilling and Patrick Wey are restricted free agents as well and could be signed before July 1st.
Washington’s forward prospects are certainly an exciting part of the organization and a few could suit up for Hershey in the upcoming season. Rookies Riley Barber and Jakub Vrana highlight Hershey’s potential young forwards and Caleb Herbert, Chandler Stephenson, Travis Boyd, Nathan Walker and Garrett Mitchell all could play a key role in producing offense for the Bears.
Kundratek Signs in KHL
Washington Capitals defenseman Tomas Kundratek, who was a restricted free agent, signed with Dinamo Riga in the KHL. Kundratek announced the move on his twitter account on Friday.
So excited to join my new team @hcDINAMORIGA !!! thanks to everyone for the kind words!
— Tomas Kundratek (@Kundrc84) June 19, 2015
He played in 30 NHL games for the Capitals, producing one goal and six assists. Kundratek was recognized as one of the top skaters as a defenseman in the AHL, but could never become solid enough in the defensive zone to become a legitimate prospect. He’ll bring a strong shot to his new club along with impressive offensive instincts in a league where there will be more time and space available.
Matthew Speck covers the Washington Capitals organization for The Hockey Writers. He provides coverage of both Washington at the NHL level and prospect related content. Matthew also covers local sports for the Lebanon Daily News in Central Pennsylvania. You can email him at email@example.com with any questions or comments.