The embodiment of its most storied franchise, Frank Mathers was one of the American Hockey League’s greatest players, coaches, executives and ambassadors during a 57-year association with the AHL.
A native of Winnipeg, Mathers was a gifted sportsman who played halfback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League. He also served as a pilot in the Canadian Air Force during World War II.
Mathers soon turned his attention to hockey, and beginning in 1948, after three years in the Quebec senior circuit, he spent eight seasons patrolling the blue line for the AHL’s Pittsburgh Hornets, establishing himself as one of the best defensemen in the league. He was named a First Team AHL All-Star five straight years, the only player in AHL history ever to accomplish that feat, and he helped the Hornets to Calder Cup championships in 1952 and 1955. Mathers would also participate in all six of the AHL All-Star Games held in the 1950’s, five as a player.
When the Hornets folded after the 1955-56 season, Mathers nearly retired to pursue a career in dentistry. But legend has it that Hershey Bears president and general manager John Sollenberger persuaded Mathers in unique Hershey fashion to join his team as a player/coach: by taking him on a few roller-coaster rides at Hersheypark.
Mathers’ arrival immediately changed the fortunes of the Bears franchise. Coming off consecutive fifth-place finishes, Hershey qualified for the playoffs in 1957 and won back-to-back Calder Cup titles in 1958 and 1959. Mathers retired from playing during the 1961-62 season, but continued as the Bears’ head coach through 1973, capturing another Calder Cup in 1969 – the fifth of his career.
Mathers became the Bears’ president and GM in 1973 and raised his career championship total to eight, overseeing Hershey’s Calder Cup wins in 1974, 1980 and 1988. The 1987-88 Bears are widely regarded as one of the best AHL teams of all time, winning 50 games during the regular season and posting a perfect 12-0 record during the 1988 Calder Cup Playoffs.
Mathers compiled a record of 610-513-134 in 1,257 games as Bears head coach, leading Hershey to the Calder Cup Playoffs in 16 of his 17 seasons behind the bench, including six Finals appearances. He is the AHL’s all-time leader in games coached, and ranks second in coaching victories.
Mathers was named the winner of the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s outstanding coach in 1969, and won the league’s James C. Hendy Award as outstanding executive in 1977. He was honored with the prestigious Lester Patrick Award in 1987 for service to hockey in the United States, and earned the ultimate honor in 1992 when he was enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
Mathers was named an honorary life member of the AHL’s Board of Governors in 1994, and in 1996, the AHL instituted the Frank Mathers Trophy, which is now awarded each year to the Eastern Conference’s regular-season champion.
Mathers passed away on Feb. 9, 2005, at the age of 80, but will forever be remembered as one of the truly legendary figures in the American Hockey League.
|Career AHL Statistics – Frank Mathers
|1956-57||Hershey Bears||64||32||28||4||68||.531||4th||7||3||4||.429||Lost semifinal|
|1957-58||Hershey Bears||70||39||24||7||85||.607||1st||11||8||3||.727||Won Calder Cup|
|1958-59||Hershey Bears||70||32||32||6||70||.500||4th||13||8||5||.615||Won Calder Cup|
|1960-61||Hershey Bears||72||36||32||4||76||.528||2nd||8||4||4||.500||Lost Final|
|1961-62||Hershey Bears||70||37||28||5||79||.564||2nd, East||7||3||4||.429||Lost semifinal|
|1962-63||Hershey Bears||72||36||28||8||80||.556||2nd, East||15||8||7||.533||Lost Final|
|1963-64||Hershey Bears||72||36||31||5||77||.535||2nd, East||6||2||4||.333||Lost semifinal|
|1964-65||Hershey Bears||72||36||32||4||76||.528||2nd, East||15||7||8||.467||Lost Final|
|1965-66||Hershey Bears||72||37||30||5||79||.549||2nd, East||3||0||3||.000||Lost quarterfinal|
|1966-67||Hershey Bears||72||38||24||10||86||.597||1st, East||5||1||4||.200||Lost semifinal|
|1967-68||Hershey Bears||72||34||30||8||76||.528||1st, East||5||1||4||.200||Lost semifinal|
|1968-69||Hershey Bears||74||41||27||6||88||.595||1st, East||11||8||3||.727||Won Calder Cup|
|1969-70||Hershey Bears||72||28||28||16||72||.500||2nd, West||7||3||4||.429||Lost quarterfinal|
|1970-71||Hershey Bears||72||31||31||10||72||.500||3rd, West||4||1||3||.250||Lost quarterfinal|
|1971-72||Hershey Bears||76||33||30||13||79||.520||2nd, West||4||0||4||.000||Lost quarterfinal|
|1972-73||Hershey Bears||76||42||23||11||95||.625||2nd, West||7||3||4||.429||Lost quarterfinal|
|Head Coaching Totals||1257||610||513||134||1354||.539||128||60||68||.469|