Haviland seeks to fill championship resume

by Scott Stuccio || AHL On The Beat Archive

He has a Stanley Cup ring from the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks.

He won Kelly Cups in the ECHL with Atlantic City and Trenton.

He won two collegiate championships while at Elmira College in the late 1990s.

And now, Mike Haviland is looking to win the Calder Cup and complete a championship “cycle” of sorts – while guiding the club that has captured more of them than any other team in the American Hockey League.

The Hershey Bears tabbed the 46-year-old Haviland to become the 24th head coach in franchise history on June 18. After being introduced to members of the media and Giant Center staff at a formal press conference – to which he wore his Blackhawks championship ring – Haviland made it evident that Derry Township was not just another stop along his way to get back to the National Hockey League. He announced it as one in which he hopes his staff and players, the Central Pennsylvania community, and he can enjoy an unprecedented 12th AHL title.

“I was looking forward to being a head coach again,” Haviland said in a recent conversation. “I certainly believe this is a great league and that I’m very, very fortunate to coach the Hershey Bears with the history and championships that they have. I’m proud to be representing them as a head coach and to be behind the bench running a team again.”

The run of success Haviland had as a head coach was no accident. Asking anyone who has played for him will always generate a consistent answer: he is demanding and thorough, and earns respect. At times fiery behind the bench, Haviland has put some of the best teams ever to play the game out for competition.

Right out of the gate of his head coaching tenure, Haviland guided the first-year Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies to the ECHL conference finals after a 42-22-8 regular season. The very next spring, with many of the same players and some new – including a 27-year-old winger named Ryan Mougenel, now Haviland’s assistant coach with the Bears – the Bullies defeated Columbia in five games for Haviland’s first professional head coaching title.

Staying in the state of New Jersey, Haviland went on to lead Trenton to a six-game Finals series victory over Florida just two years later.

Winning two championships in three seasons is no easy feat, and it doesn’t happen solely because of the players’ effort on the ice. It comes from the players having a coach who expects the best from them, but does so from something as simple as a hello to start the day.

“I think it’s good that the players see the human side of you as a coach, and I think that communication is a huge part of it,” Haviland said. “Sometimes for them to see the human side of you and just say ‘good morning’, talk to you a little bit, and have me ask them how their wife or family may be is something I’ve always done and always will do. I want to treat people the way I want to be treated, as a human first, and that’s always been my approach.”

Bears forwards John Mitchell and Josh Brittain were both teammates last year with the Norfolk Admirals – and were both under the watchful eye of Haviland, who returned to Norfolk to serve as associate coach after a four-year stint in the National Hockey League.

“He has been a winning coach everywhere he’s gone, and he’s been a well-respected coach by his players and by his staff,” Mitchell said. “Things haven’t changed here. Last year, I gained a really good relationship with him. He mentored me, pulled me aside to tell me what I was doing wrong and what I was doing right, and he was there for me when things were going tough.

“It’s a little bit different this year with him as a head coach but his principles are the same,” Mitchell continued. “He still wants that trust between players and coaches.”

“He’s a great man and a character man who holds everyone accountable,” Brittain said. “In turn, that creates a good atmosphere and a championship-winning team. That’s what I think we have in this room. Mike is a great communicator and allows the guys to feel comfortable and be able to do their jobs every night.”

Haviland made his AHL head coaching debut in the fall of 2005 with Norfolk, then the top affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks. Over two seasons, the Admirals did their job in racking up 93 wins, which helped earn Haviland the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the league’s outstanding coach in 2006-07.

After another successful season with the Blackhawks’ new AHL affiliate in Rockford during the 2007-08 campaign, Haviland got the call he was waiting for – to join Joel Quenneville’s coaching staff in the Windy City. He may not have been head coach when he found the ultimate glory of hoisting Lord Stanley in his third year with the Hawks, but he still achieved greatness and etched his name into NHL history forever.

After returning to his AHL roots in Hampton Roads last year, Haviland is back as a head coach. He follows the four-year reign of Mark French, who won one Calder Cup as an assistant coach in 2009 and another as head coach in 2010. He also knows how elusive adding that last professional championship on his resume really is.

“I don’t care what level you’re at, it’s such a tough thing to do, to win a championship,” he added. “You draw from those experiences, and you pass those experiences on to your players. The fire is definitely still burning. I want a Calder Cup for sure and I want it here.”