WASHINGTON, D.C. – There’s a familiar face behind the bench for the Washington Capitals, the parent club to the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears. Tuesday, the Capitals announced that the team has tapped Spencer Carbery to take over the head coaching role, bringing him back to a familiar organization where he’s spent a lot of time over the years.
Carbery is the fourth coach to make the leap to Washington after manning the helm in Hershey. He won the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL’s Outstanding Coach during the 2020-21 campaign — his last in Hershey — and spent time with their ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays.
Carbery is returning to a familiar organization and a familiar staff as he reunites with Scott Allen and Emily Engel-Natzke. Allen was Carbery’s assistant coach from 2019-21, while Engle-Natzke joined Hershey’s staff for 2020-21, and it’s no secret that the Bears finished as the league’s top team in the regular season during that shortened season. There’s plenty of overlap regarding players who played for the Bears during Carbery’s tenure or graduated to the Capitals during that time, including Martin Fehervary, Alexander Alexeyev, and Aliaksei Protas. Other players in the system like Joe Snively, Beck Malenstyn, Garrett Pilon, Connor McMichael, and Lucas Johansen (just to name a few) all played under Carbery, giving him extensive knowledge of the team’s depth as the Capitals look to become a contender for the Stanley Cup again next season.
“It’s a tremendous honor and privilege to be named the head coach of the Washington Capitals,” Carbery said via the team’s press release. “I would like to thank the Capitals organization for affording me the opportunity to lead this team. I look forward to working with this group of talented players and building upon the winning culture in place. I would also like to thank the Toronto Maple Leafs organization for all their support over the past two years and wish them all the best in the future.”
The journey for Carbery to get to this point dates all the way back to late 2008 when the team he played for, the Fresno Falcons, folded days before Christmas. He joined the Stingrays for the remainder of the season and played a factor in the team’s Kelly Cup Championship that year with 13 points (5 G, 8 A) in 23 playoff games. Carbery traded his skates for a coaching role in 2010-11 and moved on to the head coaching role and director of hockey operations the following year. Carbery then took the reins as the Stingrays’ head coach through the 2015-16 season. He led South Carolina to the postseason each year in addition to an appearance in the Kelly Cup Finals in 2015 and won the John Brophy Coach of the Year Award in 2014.
When the Bears had a coaching vacancy in 2018, Carbery was tapped for the position after jumping to the AHL ranks as an assistant coach with the Providence Bruins. The Bears were in a tough position going into the 2018-19 season, having missed the playoffs for just one of two times under their current affiliation with the Capitals. He was tasked with overseeing a transitionary period for Hershey. Much of the team’s previous veteran core departed in favor of many young prospects during the 2018-19 campaign. His leadership that year brought the team back to the postseason. Carbery’s next two teams finished well but did not have the opportunity to compete for the Calder Cup before his promotion to assistant coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the summer of 2021.
Carbery is an honest coach who isn’t afraid to be blunt to get more from his players. He’d be honest about his team’s play if it weren’t up to the organization’s expected standard, which eventually became a slogan of sorts for the team during his tenure. He was not one for excuses, either; his last season behind the bench was the heavily impacted 2020-21 season, where it was easier than ever to find reasons to excuse poor play. One such instance was after the game on April 3, 2021, where Carbery wanted more from his players despite walking away from that game with a win.
“There has to be a level of energy and enthusiasm and excitement to be able to compete and play in a game, and it shouldn’t fluctuate from game to game,” Carbery said at the time. “Because yeah, you might not have your legs or the puck might not be bouncing your way or you’re not playing as much as you want to be or whatever the case may be, your energy and engagement in the game shouldn’t change.”
It was a challenge the Bears responded to at that time, winning five in a row and 12 of their last 14 games overall to be crowned the league’s regular-season champions, the highest award possible that season. That season was, in a way, a catalyst for where the Bears are today — competing for the Calder Cup — as many of the players on Hershey’s team were in the room when that happened and were part of that response. It’s a refreshing perspective to have honesty, sometimes brutally so, from a position where balancing players and media expectations can be so difficult.
There’s a lot to like from the perspective of Washington Capitals fans. Carbery was in charge of the power play during his two-year stint in Toronto, where his team finished first in the National Hockey League during 2021-22 and second in the league this season with a 26 percent efficiency or better. Couple that with assistant coach Allen, who ran the team’s penalty kill to 11th overall in the league with an 81.9 percent success rate, and it should be an improved special teams group for the Capitals which has been a bit of a sore spot recently. The task that falls to Carbery is challenging, not unlike his first year in Hershey, to bring a proud franchise in Washington back to postseason glory. He may tap some familiar faces from his days in Chocolatetown to help accomplish this objective.
The Capitals will hold an introductory media availability with Carbery and general manager Brian MacLellan on Thursday, June 1, at 11:00 a.m. EDT. It’ll be the start of a new journey for the Capitals to assemble a winning team and return to the postseason in 2023-24.
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