Mark French in 2002.
The German philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, famously said, “that which does not destroy us makes us stronger” and for new Hershey Bears head coach, Mark French, that statement could not ring any truer.
After being fired in his only previous professional head coaching job by the Wichita Thunder of the Central Hockey League in December of 2007, and then serving a short stint as a volunteer coach with the Reading Royals of the East Coast Hockey League, French arrived as in Hershey in January of 2008 to begin his job as Bob Woods’ assistant coach.
“You find out a lot about yourself in adverse situations. Everybody’s a good coach when things are going well and you have great players, but you truly find out a lot about your character and intestinal fortitude when things don’t go well,” said French.
“I know I’ve become stronger as a person, and I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve taken from that experience, no matter what the circumstances are, I’ve been able to overcome it and land on my feet.”
French, who played four years of college hockey and graduated with a Bachelor Degree in Psychology from Brock University in Canada, receiving the highly regarded “212 Degrees” award each year, presented to the athlete who demonstrates leadership, commitment and excellence on the ice, still benefits from the lessons learned at that institute.
“I think the one thing that going to university and getting a degree, the biggest thing it taught me was how to learn; and the thirst for knowledge, and that’s how I’ve always been as a coach,” he reflected. “So, I think that’s what it’s provided me, always striving to learn a little more.”
While it might seem that his degree would benefit him in his dealings with the multiple personalities that comprise a hockey club, French is not so sold on that line of thinking.
“I don’t know if there’s a direct correlation with the psychology, but I’ve got a hunger for knowledge and I love the game of hockey and all of the nuances of the game of hockey and I always want to be learning.”
After the recently concluded Washington Capitals prospect camp, French said the experience was like his previous ones, with one notable exception.
“I don’t think it was much different, but certainly when I got a chance to introduce myself, it’s nice to put the head coach title beside it,” French said. “That was the only thing that was different, it was just nice to be here for a second year and get comfortable with the players and staff.”
Unlike recent affiliations that Hershey has had, which saw them not always reading from the same book, their most recent union with the Capitals has saw the partners not only reading from the same book, but being on the same page. With that happy unison spurning two Calder Cups, French had a simple one word answer, “no”, when I asked him if fans should expect a discernable difference in the Bears’ style of play now that he has switched roles.
“I think the one nice thing that has been done with Washington and Hershey is that we basically play the same style, and that’s dictated by the Caps. So, if there was a change in their philosophy, that would be mirrored in Hershey. Bruce’s system has proven to be very successful; we employed it last year in Hershey and were also very successful, so, there’s certainly no need to change our style.”
French’s promotion opened up a spot for an assistant coach; and that position has been filled by Troy Mann, who previously turned down the position in the midst of the 2007-08 season, opening the door for French to join the organization.
“Even prior to me getting the head-coaching job, the whole organization talked about getting him,” said French. “Bruce (Boudreau) has a very good relationship with him, Bob (Woods) played with him and I’ve known him for many years, as has Doug (Yingst, Hershey’s General Manager). Bruce probably knows him best, but at the same time everybody knows what values and type of work ethic he brings to the table.”
When asked what was his most cherished memory of last year’s title run, French, who had answered all of my previous questions with certainty and swiftness, pondered the question for a few seconds before offering up his response.
“After Keith Aucoin scored that empty net goal late in game six. We had scored the three quick (first period) goals and then it was a long wait, where every second seemed like an eternity; and the game still seemed to be very much on the line up until that point, especially when Manitoba made it 3-1. When he scored that goal with just over a minute left, you could really start to bring yourself to enjoy it and reflect.”
In French’s upcoming first season leading the boys from Chololatetown, Bears fans are hoping that the results will be a mirror image of last year’s successful campaign.