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AHL mourns loss of true legend

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The American Hockey League is mourning the loss of AHL legend and Hockey Hall of Famer Frank Mathers, who passed away on Wednesday evening in Hershey, Pa., at the age of 80.

A native of Winnipeg, Mathers is one of two men (Jack Butterfield) to earn enshrinement in the Hall based primarily on his American Hockey League accomplishments. Mathers was a stand-out defenseman for the Pittsburgh Hornets (1948-56) and Hershey Bears (1956-62), recording 67 goals and 340 assists for 407 points in 799 career games. He won four Calder Cup championships, played or coached in six AHL All-Star Games and earned five consecutive First Team AHL All-Star selections (1952-56) during his 12-year AHL playing career.

“The entire American Hockey League is deeply saddened by the loss of one of our true legends,” said David Andrews, AHL President and CEO. “Frank Mathers left an indelible mark on the Hershey Bears and our league as a whole, and he will be truly missed.”

Mathers would become synonymous with the Hershey Bears during his 35 seasons in Chocolatetown. He arrived in Hershey as a player/coach for the 1956-57 season and immediately changed the fortunes of the franchise. Coming off consecutive fifth-place finishes, the Bears made the playoffs in 1957 and won back-to-back Calder Cup championships in 1958 and 1959.

Mathers retired from playing during the 1961-62 season, but continued as the Bears’ head coach through 1973, capturing another Calder Cup title in 1969 – the fifth of his career. He became the team’s president and general manager in 1973 and raised his championship total to eight, overseeing Hershey’s Calder Cup wins in 1974, 1980 and 1988. The 1987-88 Bears are widely regarded as one of the best AHL teams of all time, winning 50 games during the regular season and posting a perfect 12-0 record during the 1988 Calder Cup Playoffs.

Mathers compiled a career record of 610-512-134 in 1,256 games as a head coach, leading the Bears to the Calder Cup Playoffs in 16 of his 17 seasons behind the bench, including six Finals appearances. He is the AHL’s all-time leader in games coached, and ranks second all-time in coaching victories.

Mathers was named the winner of the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s outstanding coach in 1968-69, and won the league’s James C. Hendy Award as the executive of the year in 1976-77. He was honored with the Lester Patrick Award in 1987 for outstanding service to hockey in the United States, and earned the ultimate honor in 1992 when he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Mathers was named an honorary life member of the AHL’s Board of Governors in 1994. In 1996, the AHL instituted the Frank Mathers Trophy, which is presently awarded to the Eastern Conference’s regular season champions.

A private family memorial service will be held on Friday. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Mathers’ name to Hospice of Central Pennsylvania.