As far as the long history of the Hershey Bears goes, Bob Woods will always be a “special” guy. After capturing his first Calder Cup with the Bears as a player in 1997, he proceeded to pounce upon his second as an assistant under Bruce Boudreau in 2006, where his duties included running the special teams, and finished off the “triple treat” by notching his third this season as the head coach, putting him in special company.
“They’re all good and nice in their own way. I think the differences are, as a player it’s nice because you’re one of the guys, and as a coach, you’re kind of the leader of the guys.”
Woods, who replaced Boudreau last season after Boudreau received the call to run the Washington Capitals’ bench, was well aware of the scrutiny he would be facing following up Boudreau’s highly successful run at the Hershey helm.
“Those are big shoes to fill, and to be able to show that I could do it on my own, I was pretty proud of that; but I couldn’t have done it without the guidance from Bruce.”
Despite the fact that he was leading a talented club with a heavy veteran presence in his first full season in Chocolatetown, Woods, a native of LeRoy, Saskatchewan, was confident that he could handle the challenge that awaited him.
“This is my fourth championship now, so I think I’ve got a pretty good handle of what it takes to be a champion. I think I’m fair with the guys. As long as you’re talking to them and are fair with them, they’re going to play hard for you.”
Lauded by Boudreau as a big reason why the 2006 Bears ascended to the top, Woods feted his assistant coach, Mark French as a huge factor in the 2009 triumph.
“I’ve got a great assistant in Mark, he was a big bonus for me, and I don’t know what I’d do without him.”
Peering through his crystal ball as he eyed up the 2009 campaign, Woods, who definitely knows a winning squad when he sees it, liked what he saw from the start.
“Before anyone even got here, we saw the potential and knew that we had a team, if all would keep healthy, if we could keep them all together, we knew we had all the makings of a championship team.”
Although the Bears struggled slightly, but eventually mowed down the Manitoba Moose in the finals, Woods said his charges’ chances took a pivotal turn much earlier in their playoff journey.
“I think the turning point was when we beat Wilkes-Barre in game seven. We knew that was good, and that was what we were battling for, as much for the division championship because we knew home ice would be huge. Once we got through that and won that series, even though we knew Providence was going to be tough, we knew we had that chance.”
Heading into the playoffs, with Daren Machesney faltering a bit down the stretch, and Simeon Varlamov securing a spot between the pipes for the Capitals in the NHL playoffs, many thought that Hershey’s goaltending looked to be its most problematic position. However, Woods knew that rookie, Michal Neuvirth, was capable of steadying the ship.
“Once we really got to know Neuvy, I didn’t have any doubt because I just saw he was the type of kid that he is, and nothing really bothers him.
“You think about a kid 20 years old being in an environment like Hershey, where there’s a lot of pressure, and he handled it well, under the circumstances. He showed emotion and the guys were fired up that he was doing what he was doing, and they battled hard for him.”
Now that the 41-year-old Woods has accomplished everything one can accomplish in the AHL, the powers that be in Washington have decided to give him a chance to earn “one for the thumb” as Boudreau’s assistant coach after being named to that position yesterday.
With the Capitals, he will have the opportunity to coach the defenseman, many of whom he helped develop in Hershey.