The white T-shirts worn by each prospect at Capitals developmental camp this week come emblazoned with the phrase, “Earned … Never Given.” It’s a self-explanatory message about entitlement and work ethic, underscoring both the principles of Coach Barry Trotz and – perhaps unintentionally – the connection Washington wants to repair with its AHL squad in Hershey.
According to the folks at Sweetest Hockey on Earth, a Web site covering the Bears, the motto began in the mid-2000s, installed by Coach Paul Fixter. Today, it finds itself spread across the backs of future Bears and future Capitals inside the team’s practice facility, representative of what owner Ted Leonsis recently hoped would be a “big re-commitment” to Hershey.
“I think you’re sort of seeing that right here,” Trotz said Monday. “The recommitment to Hershey, it’s such a great franchise and the two work together. I think we’ve got some good prospects that are probably going to be in Hershey. We’re going to have some depth players that are going to be in Hershey. It’s a first-class organization. We want to be the best first-class organization in the National Hockey League, and we want them to be the class of the American League. If you can marry the two, I think the development process of our young guys has to be primary, but you surround those young guys with good, veteran players.”
To that end, Trotz implemented a “48-hour rule” with rookie Hershey Coach Troy Mann, who was also on hand at Kettler Capitals Iceplex for his first developmental camp leading the AHL affiliate. If two days go by without the two bench bosses talking, then something went awry.
Trotz’s early head coaching days were spent in the AHL, with Capitals teams in Baltimore and Portland, so he understands the awkward position Mann might sometimes face, balancing development for the NHL organization with a desire to bring Calder Cups to the passionate fan base, all while handling young players for whom the ultimate goal rests somewhere beyond Hershey.
“I think it’s really tough on a coach in the minor leagues,” Trotz said. “If you call up a player that doesn’t deserve to be called up or is entitled, the right message is the player that deserves to come up should come up. I think that’s why we want to have that communication so that doesn’t happen because when that does happen, the players, they look at that and they really, for a lack of a better word, it can really cut the legs off a coach in the minor leagues. That can be a little bit deflating.”
As the coaching carousel spun in Washington, the instability trickled down to Hershey. “Transitional periods,” according to Mann, who previously spent four seasons as a Bears assistant, which meant he was present for the shifts from Bruce Boudreau to Dale Hunter, from Hunter to Adam Oates, and finally from Oates to Trotz.
Mann and Trotz met Sunday night to swap philosophies, and found they had already plan to teach similar styles. Trotz had wanted this all along, so when prospects shuttle back and forth between Hershey and Washington, the on-ice adjustment will be negligible. Trotz planned to chat again with Mann once developmental camp ends to align their teaching methods and settle on alike terminology to teach their players.
“For the most part, I’d say majority of it’s going to be the same,” Mann said. “It’s an easy transition for the players. You think of when guys get called up to the NHL, they’ve got a lot going through their mind getting up to the NHL, their equipment and the game routine. The last thing they need to worry about is system play.
“He wants to push the pace, he wants to play an up-tempo style, he wants to go after the puck. When you don’t have the puck, you want to make sure you’re getting back as fast as possible. I think that’s my philosophy as well. Just meeting Barry for the first day, I think we’re on the same page when it comes to how we feel the game should be played to be successful.”
Over 15 seasons with Nashville in the Western Conference, Trotz regularly paired trips to Chicago with a short visit to his AHL affiliate in Milwaukee. With Hershey a short drive away — broadcaster John Walton shuttled Mann and assistant Bryan Helmer to developmental camp in his car — Trotz plans to keep even greater tabs.
“I know I’m going to see Hershey a lot this year based on being in the East,” Trotz said. “Those are easy trips. Two hours is nothing.”