Screen cap: Hershey Bears
Last season was a tale of two for Hershey Bears’ Head Coach Spencer Carbery and the top minor league affiliate of the Capitals. After a slow start to the season, the then first-year bench boss was able to turn the team around, with the Bears making a late-season run to the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs, where they lost in the second round to the Charlotte Checkers. Now entering his second year with the Chocolate and White, Carbery is raring to go, and recently talked with the media about his second season, roster turnover, and expectations for the 2019-20 season.
For Carbery, the initial angst of that first season is behind him. Despite the rocky start last year, the season was a moderate success. In a meeting with the media at Monday’s media day, one of the first questions Carbery was asked about was his expectation for the team to hit the ground running this season. During the summer the Bears lost a few key players from last season’s team in Riley Barber, Nathan Walker and Aaron Ness, all who signed with other organizations. Carbery admitted that he wasn’t entirely sure, as with a lot of new players, the team is going to have a whole new feel in a new year entirely. Carbery also addressed the importance of training camp, especially with the many new faces, saying:
“Sometimes it’s different for everybody. The old adage of everybody fighting for jobs, it’s not the case at this level and frankly at the NHL level either. There is a lot of internal competition, fighting for opportunity, ‘I’m a power play guy, I would like to play a Top 6 role, I want to be in the lineup every night’. So, whether you’re on the team or you’re fighting to get on the team there is still a ton of opportunity to be a decider which makes camp very valuable.”
An advantage that the entire Bears team will have moving forward with this season is comfort with their head coach and expectations. Players know Carbery better and the general chemistry among the coaching staff, which experienced some change during the offseason, is there. Carbery cited the familiarity as a “huge asset”, elaborating:
“Players know my expectations. Our staff, we had some turnovers with some new faces on the staff but for me and for Wellsy (Patrick Wellar) coming back and a lot of players that know how we want to play and what the expectations are on a daily basis make it much easier.”
When it came to the offseason, there were a few things that Carbery evaluated and processed, with the first being the initial sting of the loss to the Checkers in the playoffs. Once that feeling began to wear away, it became time to work through reflection and adjustments; reflecting on the past year, seeing what went right and what went wrong or what small or big changes needed to be made was a large part of Carbery’s offseason. During the long summer, there were chances to rework some things and determine if the team’s style of play needed to change. However, the Bears’ bench boss made clear the team’s style of play would not be drastically different from last season’s:
“The general idea of how we play is the same. The detail, some of the structure will change, some of the finer detail of things that we do on the ice that maybe you won’t be necessarily able to identify but the core beliefs of our team and how we’re going to play and how we’re going to practice and how we’re going to approach each day won’t change.”
Coming to a new team as a Head Coach can always be tough in the first season behind the bench, especially arriving in a passionate hockey town like Hershey. For Carbery, last season was a huge learning experience. “I learned a ton last year and I believe I’m a better coach for it. I don’t take anything from last year lightly. I reflect on them, think about them, how can I get better, what do I need to do a better job of?” Everything from player specifics to practices was running through Carbery’s mind as he took the long offseason to focus on improving on last season’s campaign.
The biggest quote taken from Carbery’s meeting with the media came when discussing last year’s slow start. When asked about stressing the importance of starting quicker this year, Carbery made it assured that it has already been discussed with the team. In a chat with the players, Carbery discussed the importance of the 12 days of training camp, focusing on getting 25 players on the same page and coming together. For the players, they need to make sure they are doing whatever they need to be ready to come out to the regular season flying. “Why not hit your mid-season form in October?” is the main quote that came from the interview. The coaching staff in Hershey is pushing the players during the 12 days of training camp to have them all feeling their absolute best to start hot right out of the gate, something Carbery discussed in-depth:
“So, I’ll tell you this. I talked to the guys about taking advantage of these 12 days to put yourself in a spot where you’re setting yourself up for success. And so that’s 25 guys coming together, ok what am I doing for these 12 days, whether its playing one exhibition game, two exhibition games, 10 practices, eight workouts with Mike [Hershey Strength and Conditioning Coach Mike Wagner] all the different stuff. What are you doing in these 12 days to try to get yourself ready to hit the ground running? Because the one thing that you can control as an individual player is your preparation, doesn’t always mean you will start right out of the gate red hot. But, why would you want to hit your mid-season form in December? Why not hit it in October? Why not come out of the gate as one of the greatest players in the American Hockey League, raise eyebrows, we need to get this guy to the NHL right now. Why wouldn’t you want to put yourself in that spot? So guys have an opportunity to prepare for that for the next 12 days.”
Both the Bears and Carbery are looking to start this season red hot. Last year’s slow start certainly was negative for morale, but it is being used as a learning experience for players and their Head Coach himself. With an exciting season ahead, the team is gelling more and setting themselves up for a successful season.
The Bears will play their first preseason game on September 27 in Wilkes-Barre against the Penguins before they come home the next day for a home-and-home. The regular season home opener will take place on October 5 at the Giant Center as the Bears take on the Penguins at 7 P.M. Fans in attendance will be able to take part in the Red Carpet Home Opener promotional event.
By Zac Herr