BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS COURTESY OF HERSHEY BEARS
The Hershey Bears Hockey Club has two major, yet conflicting objectives: To develop talent for the parent Washington Capitals, and to win. So exactly how does a team win when its roster is in an almost constant stage of flux?
For the past three decades, Doug Yingst has been masterfully juggling those two missions. So much so that the Bears have evolved into one of the top minor-league sports franchises in the entire country, and it is Yingst who has become the face of the organization.
Yingst, a native of Palmyra and a graduate of Lebanon Valley College, is the midst of his final season as Hershey’s president and general manager. Yingst announced his plans to retire at the start of the Bears’ 2015-16 campaign, and his tenure will reach a climax at the end of Hershey’s playoff run this spring.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish,” said Yingst, 64. “I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a part of the Hershey Bears hockey club. Our fan base has been exceptional. The support we get from the community, the corporation, the town has been overwhelming. But it’s their success, not my success.
“I look back with gratefulness daily,” continued Yingst. “I love what I’m doing. When I look back at the people I’ve met, I feel so fortunate. I’m not sure why I was given this opportunity.”
Yingst has been with the Bears for the past 34 seasons. He has been Hershey’s president and GM since 1997.
“I qualified for retirement four years ago, and I started thinking about it then,” said Yingst. “Over the past summer months, I started thinking about it more. Then in the early part of August I decided this would be my last season with the Hershey Bears.
“It’s extremely difficult,” Yingst continued. “I’ve been here for more than three decades. I love my job and I love the Hershey Bears. The corporation (Hershey Entertainment and Resorts) has always treated me great.”
“Doug Yingst has had an unparalleled career as an executive in the American Hockey League,” said David Andrews, president and chief executive officer of the American Hockey League, through a press release announcing Yingst’s retirement “I have been privileged to work with Doug Yingst at the league level for the past 21 years. I have the utmost respect and appreciation for his contributions to the Hershey Bears, the AHL, and the game of hockey. He is, and always will be, a valued friend.”
During Yingst’s tenure, Hershey has hoisted the Calder Cup an AHL-record five times. He has also been recognized by the league on several occasions for his career contributions to the AHL.
“I’m most proud of my opportunity to raise boys and have grandchildren, from a professional standpoint,” said Yingst. “Frank Mathers hired me, and I think the joy I’ve experienced is related to the people I’ve worked with and worked for. It’s given me a lot of excitement.
“The thing that stands out – and everyone is going to say the Calder Cups – and that’s true,” added Yingst. “But I will miss our fans, and I’ll miss the game. You get into it for the love of the sport.”
Before being named Hershey’s President and General Manager, Yingst held the position of Assistant General Manager/Director of Hockey Operations for five years in the early 1990s. From 1988-91, Yingst served the club in the role of Assistant General Manager under Mathers.
“The business side has changed dramatically over the years,” said Yingst. “When I first started, the (Hersheypark) Arena was white. There were no on-ice promotions. There were no wall panels. There was no center-ice scoreboard. All we had was a program. It (marketing) was very much in the infant stage. But it grew dramatically, and then all of a sudden we went into the computer age. It’s crazy fun being a part of it.
“If you did not grow, you weren’t going to make it,” added Yingst. “For anyone to forecast where the business model was going, it would’ve been impossible. We started slow, but it grew drastically. It was really neat to be a part of it. Who thought in the (19)80s there would be a Giant Center?”
Yingst began his career with the Bears in 1982, at the age of 30, as the club’s Sales and Promotion Director. At that time, he and Mathers represented two-thirds of the Bears’ three-person front office.
“There was a position available, and I was very active with youth coaching,” said Yingst. “I loved the game. I had a background in sales and promotion, I applied for the job and I was successful in getting it.
“My goal and objective was to be with the Hershey Bears and get better known,” Yingst continued. “My aspiration was to be a college coach, or coach prep school hockey. But I enjoyed this side of it. I enjoyed working with Frank Mathers. Probably five years in, I decided I wanted to stay.”
Within his immediate family, Yingst is a grandfather nine times over. His retirement will allow him to spend more time with his grandchildren, a practice that has sometimes been hindered by his duties with the Bears.
“It’s in tremendous shape,” said Yingst of the franchise. “It continues to grow. It is the envy of every franchise in the AHL. Everybody knows the Hershey Bears, no matter where you go in central Pennsylvania. Our fans are very demanding, and they challenge you. They want to win, just like we want to win.”
“Since 1982, Doug Yingst has been a dynamic and vital part of the Hershey Bears hockey club and the entire Hershey Entertainment & Resorts family,” said Bill Simpson, President & CEO, Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company, through a press release announcing Yingst’s retirement. “With his passion for this historic franchise, the American Hockey League and the sport, all the way through to the youth hockey level, it’s no wonder Doug has achieved the level of success he has throughout his career. I am proud of his accomplishments and thank him for his dedication to our winning legacy and devotion to sportsmanship, which have been synonymous with the Hershey Bears Hockey Club since its founding. On behalf of our dedicated fans, players, coaches, administration and all HE&R employees, I thank Doug for his service and loyalty to this storied club.”
And one of Hershey’s most rewarding parting gifts to Yingst has been the privilege and honor to help choose his successor.
“We expect to make an announcement at the conclusion of our season,” said Yingst. “The process started after we made the announcement. The succession plan is moving forward. There are many people interested in the position, but they all work in hockey and currently have other jobs.”