He’s been everywhere, man

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HERSHEY, Pa. -- Having not met during the regular season, it would be easy to write off the Calder Cup final between the Manitoba Moose and Hershey Bears as just two strangers passing in the night.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/06/2009 (4815 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

HERSHEY, Pa. — Having not met during the regular season, it would be easy to write off the Calder Cup final between the Manitoba Moose and Hershey Bears as just two strangers passing in the night.

The connections are few — Bears defenceman Bryan Helmer previously played two seasons for the Moose, and Moose assistant coach Jay Wells also worked for the Bears for three seasons — but the fabric of hockey almost always ensures there are other intertwining threads.

Follow two of them and you arrive at the 1987-88 Brandon Wheat Kings official team picture, where only Cam Brown separates two men on either side of this AHL championship series that continues tonight at Giant Center.

Men who by every account have paid their dues and are deserving contenders.

One is Moose GM Craig Heisinger, the former Brandon trainer, and the other is Bears head coach Bob Woods, once a star defenceman for the Wheaties.

Turns out Woods was on that team — and in that picture — almost by accident. The Wheat Kings were actually far more interested in his younger brother Brad and as further incentive threw in a training camp invitation for Bob, a defenceman who turned out to give them 153 points in two seasons.

“It was a great experience for me,” Woods said after his Bears, in a 1-1 series deadlock with the Moose, finished Friday’s practice at Hersheypark Arena. “I put up great numbers, got drafted (by the Devils), played with some very good hockey players, lived with some great people, made a lot of friends. My experience there is probably a big reason why I’m here today.”

The articulate native of LeRoy, Sask., now 41, visited a lot of places before Hershey’s plum AHL job.

As a player, he skated in the AHL and IHL and was much decorated as an all-star in the ECHL in 13 pro seasons. Even had his sweater retired in Mississippi.

His best stop?

“Probably this would shock a lot of people — and I was in Mississippi for seven years and loved it there, a great experience — but a lot of fun as a player was in Johnstown,” he said of parts of four seasons there. “There, everybody was in a similar situation, nobody was making a lot of money and all you really had was your teammates.

“It was a good hockey town, a lot of history and I played for one of the Carlson brothers, Steve, and that was a lot of fun. I’ve played in a lot of great spots and people look at me kind of cross-eyed when I tell them that.”

The end of Woods’ playing days marked the beginning of his coaching career.

First he was a playing assistant for Bruce Boudreau in Mississippi, winning a Kelly Cup in 1999. Later promoted to the head job, he stayed in Biloxi for four seasons before joining Boudreau as his assistant in Hershey, five days before Hurricane Katrina hit.

It was a good decision — hockey- and health-wise — but not an easy one.

“When Bruce came here, he recommended Bob and we thought he’d be outstanding,” Bears GM Doug Yingst said. “He was in a really good situation in Mississippi and I think his wife was teaching there and to make a long story short, he first turned down our offer.

“But we had been good friends over time, so I called him back a half-hour later and told him I thought he was making a mistake and explained to him why, that it had a lot to do with the Hershey tradition and the power of play in the AHL, so he changed his mind.”

Woods said in the end, geography had much to do with it.

“I loved Mississippi, it was a big part of our life but it was a little far from the hockey world,” he said. “You felt like you’re in the fringes even though it was a good hockey town.

“But I wanted to get back. I have a son, Brendan, who played on the U.S. under-17 team last year and I have a younger one, too (Colin) so I had to get them closer to hockey. I want my kids to have the same opportunity I had.”

His own opportunities have blossomed, today tied 1-1 in a Calder Cup championship series as a head coach and still in synchronicity with his old boss Boudreau, now the parent Washington Capitals coach.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Woods said. “I believe in a lot of his philosophies and how he does things and he’s a winner. He breathes that into guys, he makes them believe in themselves and he brings the most out of them and that’s so important today in coaching.

“The iron-fist days are gone and you’ve got to know what buttons to push. He’s a great motivator. I’ve learned a lot being with him.”

His own wealth of experiences have enhanced the package.

“Paying your dues? Extremely important,” Yingst said. “Bob possesses disposition, personality and durability because of those experiences. They are so important to success. And he’s a patient man, willing to wait, wait his turn and for success.”

All attached with a time-strengthened thread to that Wheat Kings picture.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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