While the lockout has the NHL on hold indefinitely, the Capitals’ coaching staff won’t simply be waiting for a resolution to the labor stalemate. Instead, they’ll trade in their red gear for chocolate brown and ply their trade with the AHL’s Hershey Bears.
The Capitals announced Sunday that Adam Oates would serve as co-coach of the AHL club along with Hershey head coach Mark French during the lockout. It’s a move that will allow Oates, a first-time NHL head coach, time behind a bench while familiarizing himself with players throughout the organization.
“It was originally an idea from [Capitals General Manager] George [McPhee] that, to me, made a lot of sense,” Oates said Sunday after taking part in the first day of Bears training camp at Giant Center in Hershey, Pa. “To have an opportunity, given the collective bargaining agreement, to come down here and basically just continue the learning curve and be a co-coach with Frenchie here in Hershey and be a part of it. Obviously, some of our players are down here and to be a part of the organization that I just joined, I thought it made perfect sense.”
Oates and French, along with Hershey assistant coach Troy Mann, will be behind the bench during games, but the suddenly-expanded staff still have to work out most of the logistics. The decision to have Oates and French serve as co-coaches was only finalized Saturday afternoon, according to Bears General Manager Doug Yingst, who added that he’s not concerned about the two sharing responsibilities.
“With Adam and Mark we’ve got two really intelligent individuals,” Yingst said. “They know what this is all about and I think collectively two minds are better than one in this situation. I think they’ll work together well.”
Washington assistant coaches Calle Johansson, Tim Hunter, Blaine Forsythe, along with goaltending coaches Dave Prior and Olie Kolzig, will also be involved with Hershey to varying degrees while the NHL season is on hold. Some may assist with the organization’s ECHL affiliate, the Reading Royals, as well.
French, who has been the Bears’ head coach for the past three seasons, said he’s looking forward to working in conjunction with Oates. Throughout their affiliation, the Bears and Capitals have benefited from using the same systems and style of play in both levels of the organization.
Given that Oates plans to install a new system in Washington, having him on hand to help put it in place in Hershey is an advantage for all the coaches and players involved. French dismissed any notion that the organization might be looking over his shoulder by adding Oates as a co-coach.
“This organization and this team has been successful because people have been unselfish. I see this as a great opportunity to [work] with Adam,” French said. “I had a great learning experience at development camp to start to understand his ideas, felt a little bit cheated that I didn’t get to develop those ideas at main camp. Now I got that opportunity. So, I’m looking forward to developing a relationship with both him and Calle.”
French acknowledged that communication between the coaches and to the players will be key in ensuring that everyone is on the same page. But after the first day of Hershey’s training camp, which featured the addition of Oates, Johansson and Kolzig to the Bears’ usual staff, players gave positive reviews of the decision.
“I think we’re looking forward to it,” goaltender Braden Holtby said of the co-coaching system. With “new systems in play, Adam’s obviously the one that knows them the best. It’s good. I think everyone can learn from having more voices and more opinions and more experience.”
Said Ryan Potulny: “You listen to them both. They’re both our coaches, they work together good, from what I’ve seen here from Day 1, and I think it’s going to be an easy transition for the players. Frenchie’s obviously our coach, but they both are now…..They both have a lot of knowledge so it will be fun to be able to pick two brains, or three brains…the more the better, I think.”
This will be Oates’s first time back in the AHL since the 1985-86 season, when he played for the Adirondack Red Wings. He was asked, jokingly, if he’s ready for the long bus rides again. Oates laughed and said he just wants to find a way to be involved in the sport while the NHL lockout has everyone in limbo.
“I’m looking forward to coaching, being a part of hockey,” Oates said. “It’s a weird situation having a lockout, as you know. We’re all kind of spinning our wheels and waiting for it to end. Really, you want to be involved in the game. That’s the first thing on your mind all the time, you wake up every day, ‘I want to be a part of hockey.’ So it’s here and we’re looking forward to it.”