After a month of searching that featured a number of rumoured applicants for the vacant position, the University of Alberta hockey Golden Bears have a new head coach. As he returns to the U of A, Ian Herbers brings with him the attitude: “Once a Bear, always a Bear.”
After playing for the Bears from 1989-1992, Herbers now returns to the U of A with an impressive coaching background. He spent the last three seasons behind the bench of the American Hockey League’s Milwaukee Admirals in arguably the second best hockey league in the world. But when he got the opportunity to come back to the Golden Bears, he couldn’t pass it up.
“It’s like coming back home to family,” Herbers said. “I was very fortunate when I was there to have Clare Drake and Bill Moores as my coaches, and I want to keep building on that tradition that they established, and keep developing hockey players and making people better by the time they leave — not only at hockey, but as people.”
Herbers enters a situation that’s unique for any past Golden Bears head coach. With last year’s head coach Stan Marple promoted to General Manager at the end of last season, there will be someone in place to take care of most of the off-ice business, allowing Herbers to focus on on-ice issues more than any previous U of A hockey coach. Marple hopes this will make things easier for Herbers as he knows from his experience as head coach last year
“Last year it was very difficult for me because I didn’t have a full-time assistant coach,” Marple explained. “Running the day-to-day operations might have taken away a little bit of time from practice preparation, game preparation and player development.”
ball program before made a coach of Herbers’ calibre more available to the U of A, but according to Marple, the main reason Herbers was hired was his pedigree of success. Herbers won a national championship with the Bears and league championships as a player in both the International Hockey League and American Hockey League.
After the Golden Bears didn’t go to the national championship tournament last year for the first time since 2007, there is some pressure on Herbers to use his history of success to bring the team back to its former glory.
“Pressure is as much pressure as you put on yourself. I know that’s what expectations are, and that’s what I expect of myself. We want to come out challenging for a national title every year,” Herbers said.
“That doesn’t always happen. Some things have to go right for you; some things have to fall into place. You have to get some bounces, but it’s about doing all the groundwork, the work ethic and putting yourself in a position to succeed.”
Herbers last coached in the AHL, a feeder league for the National Hockey League where the majority of its players are groomed to play on a parent NHL team.
Marple touted Herbers’ ability in developing talent after his team in Milwaukee lost a number of their top players when they were called up to the NHL. Developing players’ skills to be able to play for Milwaukee’s NHL affiliate, the Nashville Predators, was a priority in Herbers’ job.
At the same time, Herbers wants to bring the level of commitment to developing players, both on the ice and off, that his U of A coaches stressed when he was a Golden Bear. When he played under Drake and Moores, the academic and personal development of students were considered equally important to on-ice development.
“It was more than just about hockey, it was the whole experience at the university. You’re a student — you’re a part of the university community, and that’s a big part of the program,” Herbers explained. “There’s guys that excelled at both, exceptional students at an elite university and an exceptional hockey player at an elite hockey program. It’s all about combining the two.”
In his experience, when these ideas are connected, players become more attached to the program, which has contributed to a Golden Bear and Panda alumni group that both Marple and Herbers see as being consistently strong and supportive.
“Looking for ways to improve every day as hockey players and as people is a big part of the program,” Herbers explained. “That should come back to the program, just the alumni and the family attitude or feeling of ‘once a Bear, always a Bear.’ ”
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