The Washington Capitals’ AHL-affiliate Hershey Bears have a new-look coaching staff, headlined by a new bench boss. The team named Todd Nelson as the 28th head coach in franchise history on Thursday, replacing Scott Allen. Allen is now the new Capitals assistant coach, replacing Scott Arniel.
Along with Nelson, Hershey also hired new assistant coach Nick Bootland, associate goaltending coach Juha Lehtola and video coach Adam Purner. Assistant coach Patrick Wellar and strength and conditioning coach Mike Wagner are returning in 2022-23.
“Todd has had an accomplished coaching career featuring multiple championships. He’s a coach that is driven to win and has played a pivotal role in developing a long list of players who have advanced to the NHL,” Bears vice president of hockey operations Bryan Helmer said. “Having played for Todd myself, I know how detailed he is. And he’s truly a coach who gets the most out of his plays. We’re fortunate to have Todd at the helm, and we’re excited about rounding out his staff with an experienced and decorated group of coaches.”
Nelson was most recently an assistant coach with the Dallas Stars. He has years of playing and coaching experience spanning over 20 years in the UHL, AHL and NHL. He has won a total of six championships over the course of his career. In the AHL, he led the Grand Rapids Griffins to the Calder Cup in 2017. Nelson is the third person in AHL history to win the Calder Cup as a player, assistant coach and head coach. The 53-year-old also played with Hershey for one season in 1995-96.
“I am extremely excited about working with the Hershey Bears and Washington Capitals,” Nelson said. “Having played in Hershey, I’m aware of the organization’s rich history and I am thrilled to return to the club. Both the Bears and Capitals strive for excellence, and it’s an honor to be part of these first-class organizations. I’m looking forward to dropping the puck on the season soon, and I can’t wait to get started.”
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As an AHL head coach, Nelson has eight years of experience at the helm for two clubs: the Oklahoma City Barons and Griffins. Over that span, he went 309-189-16-47 (.607) in the regular season. In 73 career Calder Cup Playoff games, Nelson has a 42-31 record (.575). In all eight seasons in the AHL, his teams have never missed the postseason.
Nelson also has several ties to Washington and Hershey. He worked with both Nick Jensen and Anthony Mantha in Grand Rapids, as well as Hershey skaters Dylan McIlrath and Kale Kessy. Helmer also played for Nelson during his tenure in Oklahoma City.
In addition to his coaching career, Nelson also played professional hockey for 12 years. He played in a few NHL games as well, including two regular-season games and four playoff games for the Capitals. His lone NHL goal came with Washington in 1994. His 1995-96 campaign with the AHL’s Bears was also the best performance of his career, as he registered a career-high 50 points in 70 games.
“Todd brings a wealth of coaching experience to Hershey and has shown throughout his career the ability to develop young players and help them transition to the NHL,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are also pleased to welcome Nick, Juha and Adam to Hershey. We feel they each possess the necessary experience and knowledge to help our young players in the organization.”
Bootland, the new assistant, spent the last 13 seasons as head coach and director of hockey operations for the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings. In 929 career IHL and ECHL games with Kalamazoo, he helped the team qualify for the playoffs nine times and went 481-366-82 behind the bench.
Lehtola most recently worked back home in Finland, serving as a goaltending coach and video coach for Liiga’s HPK Hameenlinna from 2016 to 2022. He was instrumental in helping HPK win the league championship in 2018-19. He also served as Finland’s goaltending coach in the 2021 and 2022 World Junior Championships. And, from 2011-13, he worked with Washington goalie coach Scott Murray with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves.
Purner spent the last two seasons with the New Jersey Devils’ AHL-affiliate Binghamton Senators and Utica Comets as a video coach. He was also USA Hockey’s video coordinator for the Women’s National Team at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship. He has also worked with the St. Louis Blues and WHL’s Portland Winterhawks.
Hershey will open its 85th season against the Comets on Oct. 15 at Giant Center.