By Scott Stuccio | AHL On The Beat Archive
The working motto of every employee of Hershey Entertainment and Resorts is to carry on the legacy stapled down by its founder, Milton S. Hershey. Always the visionary, Milton Hershey was responsible for numerous icons of this central Pennsylvania town that continue to thrive and develop. The Milton Hershey School, Hersheypark and the Hotel Hershey are just three of them. Historic Hersheypark Arena is another. It was erected in the early 1930s, and up until the early 2000s – a span of nearly 70 years – the Hershey Bears Hockey Club called it their home until the Giant Center opened its doors in 2002.
In that time frame, four men served as the team’s general manager – Lloyd Blinco, Frank Mathers, Jay Feaster, and Doug Yingst.
It is difficult to fathom by fans, by central Pennsylvania residents and by the American Hockey League family alike that in the 2016-17 season, the Bears will have a new leader. That person will have a tough act to follow. Holding four Calder Cup rings as General Manager and a fifth in the 1987-88 season as the team’s publicity and marketing director, Yingst is hoping to garner a sixth this spring.
If one were to ask any Bears employee if he or she thought that Yingst would retire any time soon, one could almost guarantee an awkward look in return. So it was indeed surprising when the team’s President and General Manager revealed his first notions while reflecting on his own legacy of nearly 35 years.
“I started looking at retirement about four or five years ago, but not aggressively,” he related, “because I absolutely love what I do. As recently as last year when we were in the Calder Cup playoffs, as much as we wanted to beat Hartford, I was really enjoying myself. But I thought, ‘how long do I want to continue this?’ Over the summer months my wife retired, it got tedious again and while we were all looking forward to the season, I wasn’t looking forward to it as much as I used to. And I thought that it wasn’t fair to our fans and to the company, and it was time to step down. It was with serious mixed emotion that I made that decision.”
The teams that have taken to the ice under Yingst’s tenure have always been competitive. With the ingredients of seasoned veterans, top prospects, contracted newcomers and dedicated coaches, he always made sure that Hershey Bears fans were treated well with the teams he assembled. While affiliations have changed a few times since he took over, success on the ice boiled down to his decisions.
“We have always had lots of provided assistance with our NHL affiliates over the years, but you had to share in the philosophy of develop and win,” he explained. “And once you share that philosophy, you build success. If I found a player that fit that mold, then he was for Hershey and he was for the fans because it makes our team better. It moved us in the right direction even when the number of draft choices were down, which wasn’t too long ago. There was a lot of assistance provided but there are a lot of phone calls and character references too. In our community, it is about character and cohesion.”
The greatest gifts that people say they receive in their professional career often come down to good health and a loving family. Yingst gave everyone a few scares along the way, including a November 9, 2008 fall from the roof of his home; cancer surgery in 2013; and hip replacement surgery in 2014. But the unstoppable leader came back every time. Everyone tried their hardest to surprise him with visits, but he always managed to know something. So when it was planned to honor him prior to the recent March 26th game against the Albany Devils, many thought that keeping other secrets from him about that night would be the toughest task possible. A large number of Yingst’s closest family was in attendance, but other than that, he was humbled.
“I actually knew very little,” he related. “I never thought that Mike Emrick would open up the ceremony (on video). I just actually received the clips last week that apparently played all game long. It was truly second to none. The program that was put together – seeing Bob Hartley, Bruce Boudreau, (former radio voice) Dave Mishkin, the players that won the Calder Cup here, and the players that are in Washington – they were things that I never, ever expected. I was totally caught off guard and I couldn’t be more grateful.”
With that night now in the past, and with his hockey club needing just two more points to secure another regular-season division title, Yingst’s work isn’t slowing down. His days are in overdrive as he tries for one more shot at a Calder Cup. Players, staff and colleagues alike are rooting for him. But two burning questions remain. Life and hockey go on, but will they go on completely without Yingst, and is everything in good hands with the future boss? After all, Hershey has a milestone 80th season coming up in two short seasons.
“I guess it depends on if I’m asked,” he laughed. “I started working on an 80th anniversary celebration last year. So the answer is, if I’m asked, I would love to be around for it.
“Part of my decision was based on not wanting to leave dry because you certainly don’t want to leave dry,” Yingst continued. “Dry in terms of having enough players in the pipeline, enough depth. It appears, for the next two years for certain, as though the Hershey Bears are in really good hands. There should be a very good display of talent on the ice, and our coaching and office staffs here are outstanding. There are certain things that have to be addressed, but the timing of the retirement had a lot to do with this. I am pleased with what this team should look like for the foreseeable future.”
The faithful followers of this charismatic franchise should be pleased too, and proud. They had one of the winningest and most dedicated leaders at the helm – one that is sure to be considered for Hall of Fame status down the road.
“I felt that my time as President and General Manager of the Hershey Bears was indeed successful,” Yingst concluded. “But I owe that success to many, many people. It has been my pleasure to be in the position for a lengthy period of time, one that I certainly enjoyed, and I also owe my family, my friends and the fans a ton of credit.”