The 2019 offseason has been a busy one for the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate Hershey Bears. After the addition of a few veteran players to a returning core that lost some longtime team leaders, as well as the expected debuts of some new prospects in the the lineup, the Bears will have a number of new faces when they take the ice for the 2019-20 regular season. Aside from players, the Bears made some changes to their bench staff and coaching core, and an addition to the Capitals’ front office set to make what should be a noticeable difference.
Perhaps the most notable addition is the naming of two-time Stanley Cup Champion and recently-retired Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik to a role in the Capitals’ Player Development Department. During his five seasons with the Caps, Orpik was known as a leader in the locker room and his impact was seen in the play and development of a number of his younger teammates. The soon-to-be 39-year old (September 26) former blueliner was renowned for his hard work ethic, excellent physical conditioning, and mentor to younger players.
In his role, Orpik’s main focus will be on the defensive prospects in Hershey and he will work closely with Hershey Assistant Coach (and former Bears defenseman) Patrick Wellar. The hope is that Orpik’s work with the organization’s defensive prospects will have a positive impact on the players and team as a whole, especially given the Bears have a number of blueliners coming off down years: Colby Williams disappointed for a second consecutive season and finished with a team-worst minus-15, struggling with positioning and decision-making. Lucas Johansen is also coming off a season in which he finished with a minus-14 and struggled in his own end, consistently chasing the puck and finding himself out of position, In addition to Williams and Johansen, the Bears will likely have two rookie defensemen seeing a lot of ice time in Alexander Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary.
On August 30, the Bears added two new members to their coaching staff: Scott Allen joined the team as the new Assistant Coach and Jared Elenberger will return to the organization as the new video coach. Each brings a vast array of experience to a young Bears team.
Allen replaces Mike Eastwood and will bring 20 years of coaching experience to Head Coach Spencer Carbery’s staff. Half of his coaching experience has been in the AHL, including a stint as the interim head coach of the Portland Pirates in 2016. He has also served as an assistant coach for three NHL teams, most recently the Arizona Coyotes, with whom he spent the last two seasons.
While in Arizona, Allen specialized in working with the penalty kill and the defense, and the season prior saw the Coyotes tied for first in penalty kill percentage and fifth in the league in Goals Against. In Chocolatetown, Allen will try to help improve a penalty kill that finished in the middle of the pack in the league last season at 15th. Fortunately for Allen, he will top penalty killers in Beck Malenstyn, Tyler Lewington and returning defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer to build his unit around. While Wellar ran the Hershey defense last season, it is unknown if Allen takes some of that responsibility away.
Elenberger, a 25-year old video coach and an intern during the Capitals’ 2018 run to the Stanley Cup, returns to the organization to replace Mike King, who was hired as the video coach of the Ottawa Senators in July. Elenberger aided the Capitals by studying and pointing out the tendencies of the opposition and tracking in-game events. Along with his analyses, he is known for his statistical and analytical breakdowns. Elenberger’s experience during the Stanley Cup run will aid him as he looks to help the Bears in their hopes to compete for another Calder Cup championship.
With a vast array of experience added to the organization, the hope is that the Bears will take the next step forward in their development individually and as a team, all in the hope that they will remain a consistent contender for the Calder Cup
By Zac Herr