The text message lit up Troy Mann’s phone the morning after the Capitals eliminated the Penguins with a patchwork lineup featuring five rookies. It came from Barry Trotz.
”Thanks Manner for having all those rookie Caps ready Marshall Newhouse Jersey ,” Trotz wrote. ”They all played well – you own a piece of this win last night.”
Mann beamed with pride when more than a half-dozen players he coached with the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears contributed to the victory that got the Capitals into the Eastern Conference final. Many of those players are still playing key roles for Washington in the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights – more than a month after Mann was fired from his job as Hershey’s head coach.
This is a bittersweet time for Mann, who had a hand in the development of Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson and Christian Djoos as coach and was an assistant when Braden Holtby, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Andre Burakovsky, Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson went through Hershey on their way to the NHL. Considering the success of those players and Hershey products Nate Schmidt and Cody Eakin contributing for Vegas, the Cup Final is a validation of Mann’s methods of getting prospects ready for the next level.
”I called Troy Mann the other day and thanked him for producing a lot of good players,” Trotz said. ”All the players he had the last couple of years are all playing in the Stanley Cup Finals. Guys who haven’t played a (playoff) game before. They’ve brought some of that winning tradition that they had in Hershey. It’s important for those guys to be a part of it.”
Mann has remained connected to the Capitals’ playoff run by talking to Trotz and Hershey video coach Mike King, who’s in Washington. Amid interviews with other organizations for another AHL job or work as an NHL assistant, he has watched about 80 percent of the Capitals’ games this postseason and can see the elements in players’ games he and assistant Ryan Murphy harped on improving during their four-year tenure.
After giving Vrana some tough love by scratching him in the playoffs a year ago, Mann notices the 22-year-old winger getting between the faceoff dots to create offense like he asked. He watches Stephenson playing with the consistency that was sometimes lacking in Hershey, which was all part of the plan.
”We talked a lot during our time here about what they needed to do at the NHL level to be successful,” Mann said by phone this week. ”The thing we’ve seen the most with our guys is just the improvement level from year to year and month to month.”
As much as Mann notices the improvement from afar, the players feel it, too, and credit him for giving them the playing time to grow their games in Hershey, a market that expects championships as much as development.
”He just gave us a chance,” said Stephenson Denzel Perryman Jersey , who has seven points in his first Stanley Cup playoffs. ”The type of franchise that Hershey’s been and having so many Calder Cups and things like that, he put a lot of faith in the younger guys and just trusted us. He wanted us to get to the next level more so than you wanted yourself. I really respected him as a coach and liked him as a coach and to have that faith and trust (from) him, it’s helped me a lot.”
His support several years ago helped Eakin become a full-time NHL player who said Mann ”knows how to get the most out of his players.” Schmidt, who had Mann as an assistant and a head coach, appreciated pre-practice skills sessions to work on his hands and stick work and the honesty with which he deals with players.
”I thought he was great,” Schmidt said Saturday. ”You always knew where you stood with him. That’s something that I really respect.”
But after three playoff appearances including a trip to the Calder Cup Final in 2016, missing the postseason this year led to the Capitals not renewing Mann’s contract.
”Troy is a dedicated and hard-working coach, and we appreciate all he has done for the Hershey Bears,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said in a statement. ”At this point, we feel a fresh approach and a change in leadership is needed in order for us to continue to develop our young players towards the next level and for success at the AHL level.”
That stung for Mann, who worked eight of the past nine years in the Capitals’ system, made Hershey his home in that time and believed he did his job.
”I think it’s very difficult for anybody to tell me that I haven’t done my job here,” Mann said. ”I’m very grateful they gave me my first opportunity. As much as I’d love to be the head coach of Hershey next year, the only thing I can hope for now is that other NHL teams are recognizing the work that we did here and that’ll help pay off in the next few weeks here of securing another opportunity.”
Mann was a finalist for one job already and is in demand as Ottawa, Arizona and Colorado all look to fill AHL head-coaching vacancies. He has a big supporter in Trotz, who said recently the Capitals wouldn’t be Eastern Conference champions without Mann and Murphy helping develop Stephenson, Vrana, Djoos, Nathan Walker Patrick Onwuasor Jersey , Travis Boyd and Madison Bowey.
”They did a really good job,” Trotz said. ”They’ve developed well, and they’ve been a big part of it.”
More Stanley Cup coverage: Less than three weeks ago, Ty Lawson was playing professional basketball in China.
Nowadays, he’s one of the first subs off the bench for the Washington Wizards in their Eastern Conference first-round series against the Toronto Raptors.
Lawson is hardly the only player who went from not having a spot on an NBA roster to getting some run, and maybe even filling a key role, during these playoffs. As much as teams develop plans for acquiring talent via the draft, free agency or trades, sometimes a late pickup can become a piece that completes the puzzle.
”It’s not ideal,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said about adding someone on short notice. ”It (requires) a lot of work that has to be done in trying to figure it out and try to incorporate him and integrate him into our offense and defensive schemes.”
With Lawson, though, Brooks added, ”It probably is not as much of a disadvantage because he’s been in the league, understands the NBA and understands the schemes. A lot of the schemes are the same. It’s just different names and a lot of the plays are the same but different names. He picks up things pretty quick. His IQ level is extremely high.”
The series, which the Raptors lead 3-2 heading into Game 6 on Friday, has been Lawson’s first NBA action in about a year. He was with the Sacramento Kings last season and spent time with three other clubs before that; Lawson was always a success on the court, although a couple of arrests in 2015 on drunken driving charges drew unwanted attention.
His sudden return to the league’s hardwoods came in Game 2 against Toronto, when Brooks turned to his 30-year-old backup and told him to replace All-Star John Wall.
”It was a little bit of a shock. … I was like, `Who?'” Lawson said. ”Once I got my feet wet Morten Andersen Jersey , hit my first shot, I felt like I was back at home.”
Sure looks that way.
The guard, a 2009 first-round draft pick, is averaging 5.8 points, 3.8 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 19 minutes per game, and he’s made a total of only three turnovers for the Wizards.
”That’s a smaller version of John Wall. He’s so quick. … Push the pace. Get out in transition,” Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. said. ”Someone you can’t sleep on. He might be small, but he can create a lot of havoc in the paint. A lot of us know Ty, just from playing against him, so it wasn’t nothing to get him acquainted with everybody.”
There have been other such easy fits.
For all the talk about the Philadelphia 76ers‘ ”process” that landed cornerstone stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, for example, they moved into the East semifinals with notable contributions against the Miami Heat from two more impromptu arrivals, 3-point specialist Marco Belinelli and forward Ersan Ilyasova.
The team signed both in February after they were sent packing by worst-in-the-East Atlanta. Belinelli is averaging 16.6 points in the playoffs, while Ilyasova is putting up 10.8 points and 9.2 rebounds, including three of his five career 10-rebound games.
When the 76ers picked up Ilyasova, they waived Trevor Booker, who then went to the Indiana Pacers. Booker has added a physical presence for Indiana in its series against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
As Oklahoma City faces the Utah Jazz, the Thunder are starting Corey Brewer, who was brought in last month after he was bought out by the Los Angeles Lakers. Greg Monroe Deion Sanders Jersey , added by the Celtics after being bought out by Phoenix, entered Thursday night’s Game 6 of Boston’s series against the Milwaukee Bucks averaging 7.0 points and 5.2 rebounds.
Even former league MVP Derrick Rose became available out of nowhere, signing with the Timberwolves in March. As part of a reserve unit that had been quiet most of the season, he offered some instant offense in Minnesota’s first-round loss to the Houston Rockets.
For the Wizards, Lawson stepped in as a reliable and experienced backup to Wall.
”We need his scoring, we need his playmaking, we need his toughness, we need his ability to get into the paint,” Brooks said. ”And he plays with no fear.”
Lawson crammed for his debut by watching Washington’s main plays on an iPad, learning about 60 to 70 percent of the offense that way. In his first game, he’d ask a teammate to let the basketball bounce on an inbound pass so Lawson would have a moment to ask Brooks which play to run.
But Lawson also relied on a simple mindset.
”I was like, `Be aggressive,”’ he said, ”`and we’ll figure it out.”’
AP Sports Writers Cliff Brunt, Dave Campbell, Dan Gelston, Kyle Hightower and Michael Marot contributed to this report.
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