With Scott Allen’s promotion to the Washington Capitals coaching staff, the Hershey Bears are in the market for a new head coach for the second straight offseason. This coaching switch comes later in the offseason than normal and that means that the potential candidate pool is a little thinner. Still, there are several ideal contenders to succeed Allen as the bench boss for the chocolate and white.
At this point of the offseason, Hershey assistant Patrick Wellar has to be considered one of favorites for the position. The former Bears defenseman has been an assistant with the organization for the past four seasons and was an assistant coach in the ECHL prior to joining Spencer Carbery’s staff for the 2018-19 American Hockey League (AHL) season.
Wellar has been in charge of the defense and the corps has played well under his guidance for much of his tenure. The time for Wellar to take the next step on the coaching ladder could be now and hiring him would make for a smooth transition as he already knows the Washington system.
Another potential hire has past ties to the Bears as well. Eric Veilleux was a center on Hershey’s 1997 Calder Cup championship team. Veilleux has a wealth of coaching experience, including head coach in the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL), the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), the ECHL and the AHL.
Veilleux won a Memorial Cup in 2012 with the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL. He coached the San Antonio Rampage, then the affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche, for two seasons, but was not given a lot of talent by the parent club and struggled in his first season with a 27-42-7 record. The team improved to 35 wins in his second season, but Veilleux returned to the QMJHL and guided the Halifax Mooseheads to the league finals. He has been an assistant coach with the Syracuse Crunch the past three seasons and knows the passion of the Hershey fan base.
Speaking of the 1997 Calder Cup championship team, a rising young coach with knowledge of that title team is a possible candidate for the vacancy with the Bears. Steve Hartley was 12 years old when his father Bob led Hershey to the 1997 Calder Cup championship.
Now, the younger Hartley is forging his own path as a hockey coach. He served as an assistant coach for five years for the Halifax Mooseheads and Drummondville Voltiguers of the QMJHL. Drummondville promoted him to head coach prior to the 2018-19 season and he promptly led the Voltiguers to a 52-13-2-1 record and a Central Division title with 107 points before Drummondville fell in the semifinals of the President Cup Playoffs.
Hartley’s charges were 11 games above .500 when the 2019-20 season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In three seasons in Drummondville (the QMJHL did not play in 2020-21), he has a record of 116-63-20. It is only matter of time until Hartley makes the jump to the AHL. Could his time be now with the Bears?
Similar to Hartley, Ben Boudreau has connections to not only the organization, but also to the city of Hershey. His father Bruce led the chocolate and white to the 2006 Calder Cup championship.
Bruce lives in Hershey when he is not coaching and owns the Hershey Cubs. Ben’s brother Brady is an associate coach with the Cubs. Ben has developed a coaching pedigree of his own. He steered the Fort Wayne Komets to the 2021 Kelly Cup championship and has a record of 100-65-20 in three seasons with the Comets. He was also an assistant coach in the ECHL for five seasons. Ben will be an AHL coach before too long and maybe he does it in a place he knows well.
Moving onto other candidates, a current AHL assistant who could be in line for the opening with the Bears is Mike Knuble. The former Capital has been an assistant with the Grand Rapids Griffins since the 2014-15 season and won a Calder Cup with the Griffins during the 2016-17 season as a member of Todd Nelson’s staff.
Knuble was a hard-working player and is well respected in the Washington organization. A veteran of 1068 National Hockey League (NHL) games, he would have instant credibility with his players and would command their respect.
Finally, Florida Everblades head coach Brad Ralph has been on the brink of a move to the AHL for a few years now. He led the Everblades to the 2022 Kelly Cup title and also took the team to the finals in 2018. The 41-year-old has never had a losing season in his coaching career. Ralph has won 276 games in six seasons with Florida.
Prior to taking over the Everblades, he ccoached the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL for a season and was the head coach for the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL for three seasons. The Richmond, Ontario native started his coaching career with the Augusta Riverhawks of the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL). Ralph has never missed the playoffs with his team. He is a good coach and is overdue for an opportunity to take the reins of an AHL team.
These are a few names to keep an eye on in the Hershey coaching search. One of them could be behind the bench for the chocolate and white when the season opens in October.
On the other hand, the Capitals and Bears have not been afraid to hire someone not on the radar. It worked with Carbery. It did not with Mike Haviland. Whoever it is, the hire needs to be made in a timely manner to get everything in order for the approaching season.
By Eric Lord