Once he was named head coach of the Capitals, Adam Oates began familiarizing himself with the team’s NHL roster. He watched hours of tape, made introductory phone calls and took notes on each player’s style of game. He didn’t necessarily focus on the organization’s overall depth, though.
So in addition to offering a chance for him to work behind a bench during the lockout, Oates’s role as co-coach of the Hershey Bears provides him with a crash course in personnel.
“I’m still learning the guys’ names, that’s the tough part,” Oates said after the second day of Hershey training camp. “You want to explain something and I’ve got to think for a second, ‘Who is it?’ That frustrates me because I’m not insulting them; I want to be able to talk to them right away.”
Oates’s presence in Hershey gives the Bears a chance to make an impression on the NHL head coach — perhaps a greater opportunity than some might have had during a regular training camp process.
“It’s fun to have the coach of the Capitals around, especially for some young guys who might have been caught in the shuffle if there was an NHL camp,” Bears forward Ryan Potulny said. “Now it opens his eyes a bit to them. So I think it’s exciting for some of the younger guys coming in, the prospects and even us older guys who have been around, just to play hockey and see what happens.”
Under normal circumstances, players taking part in Hershey’s training camp would have spent at least the past two weeks on the ice in Washington trying to make their mark in the early stages of NHL camps and preseason games. It’s a limited window for prospects to stand out when working under the direct guidance of the Capitals’ top coaches.
So for those who knew they would likely be spending the bulk of the 2012-13 season in the AHL regardless of the lockout, the ability to work with Oates as well as the Capitals’ assistant coaches on a consistent basis and in game situations will be valuable experience.
“There wasn’t that opportunity to show the coaching staff and the organization where you’ve grown and improved over summer,” said Garrett Mitchell, who trains in Saskatchewan during the offseason with Capitals veteran Brooks Laich. “Any time you have that opportunity to showcase yourself it’s important and definitely having both of them down on the ice with us every day is beneficial for us.
“For us to come in and be able to be around him while he’s implementing a new system throughout our organization is great,” Mitchell added. “It’s nice to have it come right from the top and obviously it’s his system so you know where you’ve got to change and the things you have to do better.”