BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
In retrospect, the Bakersfield Condors should send a thank-you card to the Hershey Bears.
A year ago, Hershey was looking for a head coach, but the American Hockey League team passed on Troy Mann, an assistant coach for the team for the previous four years.
CONDORS SEASON AT A GLANCE
The 2013-14 Condors season was the first as a head coach for Troy Mann, 44, since 2007-08, when he coached the Columbia Inferno. In each of his last two seasons as a head coach, he has guided his ECHL clubs into the third round of the playoffs. He was the first Condors head coach to have played for the team, having spent part of the 2000-01 season with the team.
That opened the door for Mann, who had been there for four seasons, to become take the vacant head coaching job for the Bakersfield Condors.
On Wednesday, the Bears welcomed Mann back.
They announced he would be the new coach of the AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals.
Mann's success in Bakersfield did not go unnoticed by his former team.
After a horrendous start -- 1-10-1 in the first 12 games -- Mann helped lead a stellar comeback as the team rebounded to finish 36-30-2-4 and reach the ECHL Western Conference Finals for the first time in history.
When he was introduced by the Condors last July 17, Mann said he saw the job in Bakersfield as an opportunity to advance his coaching career.
But the quote of the year came back on Dec. 7 when, during a chalk talk with season ticket holders -- many disgruntled over the team's poor start -- he was blunt and to the point: "My goal is to be in the American Hockey League; 5-13-1 is not going to get me there," he said.
Mann said he interviewed for the Hershey job on Friday, flew back to Bakersfield the next day, and got a call on Sunday with a job offer.
"It feels real good to come back to a place I know and really didn't want to leave," Mann said by phone after arriving in Hershey late Wednesday.
That's not a knock on Bakersfield, Mann was quick to point out.
"You've got to give the Condors organization a lot of credit. Everything they told me came to fruition," he said. "If you do things right, surround yourself with good people, you can have success, and I think that's why we had success so quickly after those two poor years.
"I know the owners and (Condors president) Matt Riley will find the right guy. It's a good spot. Certainly after spending a year there it is a certainly an underrated spot. Leaving is a little bittersweet, but, to me, if you're not looking to advance, what are you in the game for?"
Mann said he felt his year as the head coach in Bakersfield would only help him with his new job.
"No doubt I'm a better coach than a year ago," he said. "It was kind of like an apprenticeship to coming back to the AHL, if you will."
The Condors are now looking for their third new coach in the span of four years, but circumstances are far different than a year ago.
"It's different," Riley said of looking for a new coach this time around. "Working through the Edmonton Oilers organization is a great situation for us."
After two seasons of not making the playoffs, then-Condors owner Jonathan Fleisig went all-in to try to turn the tide. He hired John Olver as general manager and put him in charge of getting a coach as the Condors adopted an AHL type of hockey operations structure.
That got the attention of the Edmonton Oilers, who purchased the team in January. Now, it is the Oilers who are looking for a head coach of their developmental team in the ECHL.
"I have to believe (the Condors) are one of the most attractive teams in the ECHL at this time because we're owned by the Edmonton Oilers and there's obviously room for growth, room for movement," said Oilers assistant general manager Bill Scott.
Scott said the Oilers would be making the hire and were already fielding inquiries.
"We've already had people contract us," Scott said. "We're not in a rush but well aware of the recruiting side of the ECHL.
"We're not going to take too long on this process, but we're not going to rush it. We'll do a good search, talk to some people both internally and externally. We've got a few options already based on people calling us."
And Scott knows the bar has been raised from an organization just wanting to get to the playoffs, to one seeking a championship.
"Its going to be a tough act to follow, but we will have some good returning players and new players," he said. "It's going to be a really good situation for the incoming coach."