by Jess Mikula || AHL On The Beat Archive
Thanksgiving is a day of family, food and football — and this year, promotions.
With head coach Bruce Boudreau given the chance to replace dismissed Washington Capitals coach Glen Hanlon, the Bears named assistant coach Bob Woods the interim head coach in Hershey. The interim tag has since been removed from both coaches’ titles, and Woods has settled into his new office in Chocolatetown.
Prior to his coaching days, Woods was a 1988 draft selection for the New Jersey Devils and played 13 seasons, including 10 in the ECHL. He was a member of the Hershey Bears’ Calder Cup championship team in 1997, and he served as a player/assistant coach under Bruce Boudreau in Mississippi for three seasons, adding a Kelly Cup to his resume in 1999. Woods went behind the bench as the head coach of the Mississippi Sea Wolves of the ECHL in 2001, and it wasn’t until 2005 that he came back to Hershey.
“Actually, how it worked out was when Hershey called Bruce [Boudreau] to interview for the job here, he was visiting us down in Mississippi. He actually was at our house when he got the phone call, and it was a ‘maybe you should come coach with me in Hershey’ kind of thing,” Woods said.
“And then you know we didn’t really think too much of it. And then he got the job, he called me and we talked about it. And actually I turned it down off the start because I didn’t know if I could leave the team down there. But right away the next day, I called and said I wanted to come and do it, and I’m glad I made that choice.”
After playing under Boudreau in Mississippi, Woods was familiar with his coaching style and philosophies.
“I was the player/assistant coach, so I was his helper. We were able to work that way and always worked well together. I was excited about the opportunity and I had a lot of respect for Bruce as a coach and I knew over the years that we were separated there that he would’ve gotten even better as a coach,” he said.
Named Hershey’s assistant coach on July 27, 2005, Woods left Mississippi just a month before Hurricane Katrina barraged the Southeast and his former team.
“It was a tough situation because we had so many friends down there. You know, that was home to us. We lived there seven years,” Woods said. “It was frustrating because we couldn’t do anything about it, and we felt bad and we felt kind of guilty in ways that we weren’t there to help everybody. And on the other hand we felt blessed that we got out of there when we did.”
Despite leaving the Sea Wolves just before Katrina, Woods arrived in Hershey just in time to help lead the Bears to the franchise’s ninth Calder Cup championship. On June 15, 2006, Woods hoisted his second Cup with the Bears — this time, from behind the bench.
“When you win it as a player, I think that’s pretty tough to beat. There’s nothing better than competing and being on the ice and winning with your guys. But to win it as a coach, it was kind of like watching your kids at Christmas,” he said.
After another trip to the Calder Cup finals last year, Woods was coming into his third season as the Bears’ assistant coach. And then Boudreau got the call up.
“Things weren’t going well in Washington, and you had a feeling that something was going to happen, but I don’t think anybody expected it to happen the day it did. Everything happened so quick,” Woods said. “We had the games — three games in three nights — so we didn’t really have a lot of time to think about it. It was kind of exciting, scary, and it was great.”
Since taking over the reins, Woods has implemented few changes to the Boudreau system.
“I guess I may do things a little bit differently than Bruce does, but you know, the whole concept stays the same. We believe in a lot of the same things, and I think there’s no reason to change much,” Woods said.
What has changed for Bob Woods is the work load. With general manager Doug Yingst standing in as his assistant coach, Woods took on responsibilities formerly handled by both Boudreau and himself.
“It’s tough right now because you have all the injuries and call-ups. Every time you turn around, there’s somebody getting hurt or somebody getting called up or somebody getting sick. And I’m trying to piece the lineup together every night. Doug’s been helping me, but he has a lot to do up there,” he said.
Even with the tremendous amount of work, Bob Woods is passionate about his job.
“I just love working with young players to see guys go out there and compete and see them being rewarded. Just to see a lot of these young players that maybe haven’t had opportunities in the past get them and succeed. I think that’s the most rewarding part of winning. We all want to win every night. The guys have been working hard just to see it all come together,” he said.
Like many coaches, Woods, too, aspires to coach at the NHL level one day.
“Hershey’s a great place to be, and it’s always nice to be the head guy,” he said. “I love working with Bruce. My goal is to get to the NHL. Someway, somehow.
“They’re doing a good job up there. I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I’m not really worried about it right now. I’m worried about what’s going on here right now. I’m going to see how things work out. I’m quite comfortable where I am. And again, if you can be at this level, there’s not a better place to be than working for the Hershey Bears, at my position right now, so I’m very fortunate to be here.”