HERSHEY, Pa. – The Hershey Bears are searching for a new coach after the Toronto Maple Leafs hired Spencer Carbery to be an assistant coach. The move leaves an important void to fill at an important time for the Bears, who are coming off of a league-best 24-7-2-0 regular season and a division championship in 2021. Like the past few coaching hires for Hershey, the applicants for one of the most prestigious coaching positions in the AHL will be many, and the Washington/Hershey organizations will have their work cut out to secure the correct candidate.
The question on everyone’s mind now is: who will replace Carbery behind the bench?
The answer is there’s no clear-cut candidate to replace Carbery, who left a massive impact during his three years in Hershey. While the Bears were not able to raise another Calder Cup banner during his time behind the bench, his selection as the AHL’s Coach of the Year at the end of the 2021 season spoke volumes about his outstanding job and growth over his three years in Hershey. When the Bears set out to fill the void in 2018, Carbery was selected for several reasons, most notably his work ethic and desire to win. It helped that he had spent time coaching many Hershey players as head coach of the South Carolina Stingrays in the past and is the winningest coach in Stingrays’ history, but had moved on at that point to become an assistant coach of the Providence Bruins. Despite his success as a player and coach, the job was his first AHL head coaching gig, and he proved himself in his first AHL season to be more than capable of both winning and player development, both of which are of paramount importance in Hershey.
In his final media availability on Tuesday, Carbery expressed a bit of sadness that the Bears were unable to compete for the Calder Cup in the past two seasons due to the global pandemic.
“I feel really bad about it,” Carbery said. “I’m sad because, I know it’s a business and there’s no turning back, but you feel like you’ve got some unfinished business and maybe let some players down by not seeing their first NHL game or going on a playoff run and winning the Calder Cup. I’m so ecstatic and thrilled to join the Maple Leafs but it’s tough to leave such a great place but I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
When asked what he hoped he would be remembered for in Hershey, Carbery said:
“I just hope people remember that I put everything I had into the Hershey Bears organization every single day. I can live with that, but that component is the most important that I put everything I had into this organization and treated people in the right way, and the wins and the stuff we were able to accomplish were great. I’ll never forget the players, the call-ups, the first NHL games, and all that stuff, but I hope the fans and players think ‘Carbs put everything he had into the organization for the three years he was here.’”
In Carbery’s first season, the Bears were in transition, becoming a younger, less experienced group that was hungry to win. Over time and heading into the 2021-22 season, those young kids are now the core group and are all competing to be the next mainstay on the Washington Capitals, and the competition is a good thing for Bears fans. Losing Carbery ahead of what is sure to be a major season for the Bears adds another layer of sadness to not being able to see playoff runs in 2019-20 and in 2020-21 that should have resulted in more recognition for Carbery and the Bears. For now, Bears fans will have another reason to hope for his success in Toronto and trust that the next man behind the bench will have so many of the traits that made Carbery so successful.
There’s a number of available candidates in coaching positions who will likely be on the applicants’ list, including a few with Hershey ties. The first and most obvious candidates are those currently on Hershey’s coaching staff, including former Bears Patrick Wellar and Scott Allen. Both bring their own wealth of playing and coaching experience similar to that of Carbery, and both understand the winning tradition Hershey has more than most. Wellar stands out a bit for his past experience in Hershey, winning a Calder Cup with the team in 2009-10 along with the team’s Vice President of Hockey Operations, Bryan Helmer, but Allen brings a host of coaching experience in the NHL and AHL as an assistant coach and some experience as a head coach, particularly with the Portland Pirates in the 2015-16 season.
If the Bears were to find a solution outside of their own walls, a couple of noteworthy candidates with ties to Hershey were worth considering, including a pair of Calder Cup winners. Eric Veilleux is currently an assistant coach with the Syracuse Crunch and previously won the Calder Cup as a member of the 1996-97 Bears group, and Louis Robitaille, who won it in 2005-06. Robitaille is currently coaching in the QMJHL for the Victoriaville Tigres, where he’s coached for the past four seasons.
Hershey’s previous hires of Carbery and Troy Mann have both had experience within the organization as well as a strong dedication to both winning and player development. The competitive aspect of Carbery’s approach factored in majorly in Hershey’s successful 2021 campaign and helped give him the leap to the NHL level, and it’s a blueprint for those following in his footsteps to model themselves after to find similar success.
Hershey is a prestigious place to coach in, but it’s not simply enough to be the head coach of the Hershey Bears but to want to lift the Calder Cup every season and put in the work that will get the team to the next level. Spencer Carbery gave everything to the Hershey Bears, and now it’s up to the next person who will do the very same to get the team back to glory.
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