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Bears Fill Out Coaching Staff, Name Todd Nelson Head Coach

Bears Fill Out Coaching Staff, Name Todd Nelson Head Coach

HERSHEY, Pa. – The Hershey Bears have filled their head coaching role, as the team announced that Todd Nelson has been hired to take over after Scott Allen was promoted to an assistant role with the Washington Capitals earlier this summer. Nelson brings a wide resume of success and skill as well as a ton of Hershey connections that make him an ideal candidate to take the reins with Hershey looking outside the organization. Nelson’s ties include a stint in Hershey during the 1995-96 season in his playing days, where he played a big role on the Bears’ blue line as a defender where he put up a career high 50 points.

Nelson has had success on the ice as a player and with ties to the Washington Capitals, winning the Calder Cup during the 1993-94 season with their AHL affiliate at the time, the Portland Pirates. He’s found success coaching at the AHL level, winning the Calder Cup as the head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins during the 2016-17 season alongside current Hershey defender Dylan McIlrath and as an assistant coach with the Chicago Wolves during the 2007-08 season. He twice took the Oklahoma City Barons to the Conference Finals, including two campaigns where he coached Bears’ vice president of hockey operations Bryan Helmer. Nelson most recently spent the last four seasons as an assistant coach with the Dallas Stars, where he was let go earlier this spring.

“I am extremely excited about working with the Hershey Bears and Washington Capitals,” Nelson said in the team’s official release. “Having played in Hershey, I’m aware of the organization’s rich history, and I am thrilled to return to the club. Both the Bears and Capitals strive for excellence, and it’s an honor to be part of these first-class organizations. I’m looking forward to dropping the puck on the season soon, and I can’t wait to get started.”

His coaching tour did have him spend the 2014-15 season as the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers. At that time, Helmer was embarking on his first season as Hershey’s assistant coach to Troy Mann at the time and both gave glowing reviews of Nelson. Mann had previously worked with Nelson during their time with the Bakersfield Condors, then playing in the ECHL. A slew of Hershey’s roster that season played for Nelson and described him as a player’s coach and has a strong track record of assisting players in their development. Nelson’s journey brings him back to Hershey to help a new group of young and experienced Bears to get back to Calder Cup glory, a balance he has achieved recently.

“We’re excited to welcome Todd Nelson to Hershey as our head coach,” Bears VP of hockey operations Bryan Helmer said in the release. “Todd has had an accomplished coaching career featuring multiple championships. He’s a coach that is driven to win, and he has played a pivotal role in developing a long list of players who have advanced to the National Hockey League. Having played for Todd myself, I know how detailed he is, and he’s truly a coach who gets the most out of his players. We’re fortunate to have Todd at the helm, and we’re excited about rounding out his staff with an experienced and decorated group of coaches.”

The Bears used the opportunity to add an assistant coach to the mix, hiring former Hershey forward Nick Bootland to the role after spending 13 seasons with the Kalamazoo Wings, where he amassed 481 career wins and was the longest tenured coach in professional hockey with a single team. Bootland, who served as the head coach and director of hockey operations in Kalamazoo, joins the Bears after skating with the team in two stints from 1998-2001 and during the 2002-03 season for a total of 208 games as well as 26 postseason games. Alongside Patrick Wellar and Nelson, Hershey’s entire bench staff will consist of former Bears players for the first time since 1990.

Hershey made moves to fill the vacancy left by Alex Westlund’s departure as the goaltending coach, tabbing Juha Lehtola for the job. A native of Finland, Lehtola is a former goaltender in Liiga, the country’s top professional league and won a championship during the 2018-19 season as a goaltending coach. The team filled the video coaching vacancy left by Emily Engel-Natzke’s promotion to Washington by hiring Adam Purner to the position after having previously served with the New Jersey Devils’ AHL affiliates in Utica and Binghamton alongside previous experience with the St. Louis Blues in 2020.

Coaching an organization like the Hershey Bears takes good records, but to be a quality person as well. Hershey has done an exceptional job at finding that balance over the years, and it seems the stars have aligned incredibly to bring Nelson back to the Sweetest Place on Earth. Nelson inherits a Bears group with a ton of potential and some incoming fresh faces, and it will be his job to develop that talent for the Capitals in the future as well as to give Hershey a chance to bring their 12th Calder Cup home. Hershey’s season starts on October 15.

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