05/28/2009 - As seen in the game program
Jim Starr, BEARS Staff Writer
Behind every good coach stands a good assistant coach. Actually they stand side by side, behind the Bench. So let's try this again.
Behind every good Bench stands two good coaches side by side. The guy behind the Forwards is the Coach, and the guy behind the Defensemen is the Assistant Coach, in this case, Mark French.
HERSHEY BEARS Assistant Coach Mark French runs the defense and keeps everyone pumped for their next shift on "D" or Special Teams. He works closely with Coach Bob Woods during the game as they make decisions together and execute the game plan.
French joined the club in January of 2008 and he's back as an intricate part of the whole picture ... Winning the Calder Cup! He brings a lot of experience to the team and has had success wearing more than one lid at a time leading teams to the top.
Before coming to Hershey, French was Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations for the Wichita Thunder in the Central Hockey League (CHL) from 2005 to 2007. There he was also responsible for player recruitment and even the team budget. (Let's get this guy in the White House).
Prior to that, Mark French was in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) as Assistant Coach of the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies. In 2004-05, he helped the Bullies post a season record of 42-21-9.
(If you speak Hockey...) Frenchie and I sat down and talked about everything. He's a likeable guy, calm mannered and a great family man. (You really have to wear more than one lid at a time to pull all that off). lol
Jim Starr: You have a lot of experience at many different levels of hockey, even college hockey. You're a young guy, how did you cram all of this in?
Mark French: Well, my wife tells me that we've been in seven cities in the past ten years.
Starr: You've been on the move for 10 years building your career, do you own a home?
French: Nope. We own a cottage back home in Canada and we go there for about two months over the summer and see everybody, and then we come back as renters in the U.S.
Starr: A Cottage sounds nice, I'm sure that feels like a home.
French: Yes. My wife and I like it, and we have a 2 ½ year old daughter, Ellie, and we are expecting a boy in February, so the Cottage will be full this summer.
Starr: Another hockey player?
French: Yes. (smile)
Starr: Do you have any pre-game routines or superstitions?
French: Filling out line up cards before the game, and doing that the same way, or if I do it differently and we're on a streak I'll continue with the new way. I was eating just hot dogs in the pressroom before each game during the 11 game winning streak.
Starr: Only hot dogs in the press room, how did that start?
French: One game I went in for a meal before the game and they weren't serving any of my favorites that night so I just grabbed a hot dog and we won that night. (laugh) So that's what I ate before the next game and we won again. So, 11 hot dogs later, there we were, 11-0-0.
Starr: What if the team would of mounted a 20 game winning streak, don't you think that might put about 20 pounds on you? (laugh)
French: I would of kept on eating those hot dogs and then I would probably start joining the boys on the treadmill.
Starr: How is Hershey and GIANT Center different from the smaller markets and minor leagues that you used to Coach in?
French: We averaged 7,000 fans a game in Wichita, but over 10,000 fans here in Hershey does make a difference. Also the caliber of play in the AHL is very impressive. And you are working with players that are only a step away from the Capitals and the NHL. There's a lot of passion on this team and I'm very happy here in Chocolate Town.
Starr: Chemistry in the locker room, and whether or not each player is willing to take a punch for the other guy, is very important as far as the tightness of a team goes. Most times you're not going to win a cup without that chemistry and without becoming a team in the locker room before you even come out onto the ice. What creates that chemistry?
French: I think good people in general are needed first of all, good competitive people focus around a good and common goal. At this level it's a little interesting because they pour their heart out here at GIANT Center, while at the same time their heart is also striving to reach the NHL and play for the Washington Capitals.
Hershey is known worldwide as a hockey town, and when players come here, even though it may be a stepping-stone in their career, they know there's a standard in Hershey. I think the guys clearly understand that standard and they all want to be a positive part of the Hershey tradition.
The whole front office and organization is about quality, and when Doug Yingst goes looking for players he insists on quality people as well as talented players. When you get a room full of positive people and role models, everything falls into place. We have six players on the BEARS that have been Captains on other teams before coming here, and they have a lot of experience in leadership roles. Then we have a hand full of good quality rookie players who are willing to learn and benefit from the leadership.
Starr: So you're saying that when a new guy comes in he automatically steps it up a couple of notches because it's Hershey, and he looks at the nine "Cup Team Photos" that are on the wall in the locker room, and he says: I wanna be in one of those pictures.
French: Most definitely. And we were able to get the boys to buy into our system right from the start of this season, and we proved what the Capitals' system and the HERSHEY BEARS can do. We have had several great runs in the first half of the season.
Having key guys around, like Graham Mink helps a lot too. He was here when the BEARS won the Cup a few years ago and the younger guys are all ears when Mink and the other leaders talk, because they know this team can be just as successful.
Starr: Not taking anything away from Mr. "PING" Eric Fehr, but I think Mink's goal to tie game seven in the final minutes of the AHL semi-finals was the turning point of the playoffs for Hershey, when Mink scored, you just knew "it was to be" ... Calder Cup, here we come!
French: I was told by Bob and Doug how great it was to have Graham Mink in the locker room and now I know what they were talking about.
Starr: After practice the guys ride bikes, do more stretches and when all of that is over and it's shower time, I've noticed that Graham Mink would keep going and start up a new series of exercises in the hall way, and before you know it, about four or five other guys would join him. Mink even teaches them how to keep themselves physically fit off the ice to become a stronger player on the ice.
French: As a Coach you can only do so much, and having the same voices (coaches) teaching and motivating the players all the time can only go so far. You have to have a team buy in, and have additional voices selling the system. Graham working overtime is his idea, we don't say: Hey Graham, go grab some guys and work out some more. That's something that has to happen naturally and Mink wants to win the Cup again, and he knows he needs the rest of the guys to join him, and they do. It's extremely valuable to have guys like that.
Starr: You're in charge of defense. You have a defensive system that compliments the offensive system. Don't the other teams figure out our system, and if so, why can't they throw a monkey wrench into it, game after game?
French: We watch two or three games of a team before we play them, and they watch tapes of our games, so it's no secret to the other teams what we do. It goes back to what Vince Lombardi once said: We only have five or ten plays, but we run them with 100% execution every time. Even though teams know it, when the BEARS execute it as a five-man unit, it's hard to stop it.
Starr: If the opponent has success messing up our system, then I guess you and Bob have counter systems to put into place.
French: Yes. Bob and I have had to make small adjustments to our system once in a while because the game does change as teams look to break up our system, but the over all basics of what we want to do stay the same. We like to play aggressive defense, whether it's in our zone, or we control their zone with great checks and applying pressure.
Starr: I always believed in five man lines, the same five players that went out as a line every time. That way all five players got to know each other on the ice and they could play better as a five man unit. Why don't we see more of that in hockey?
French: At this level it's hard to keep the same five guys as a line game after game because of call-ups and injuries. It can work well, that's what Detroit was doing back when they were winning their Cups. I think there are positives to that approach but not at this level with the turn over of personnel back and forth to Washington.
One thing our defensemen are taught to do is pressure the other team in their zone, and not back off when they try and break out. Our defensemen more times than not, will hold their positions and keep the puck in the opponent's zone. We want to see if our players can execute offense under that kind of pressure.
In order to do that, the two "D" have to work together in concert together, as well as getting help from some back checking forwards. I think where you might see more set units of the same five guys or the same four guys is on Power Plays and the Penalty Kill.