You couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the season. Winning five straight games, including an overtime winner against their eventual playoff opponent, set the Bears up for a first round match-up against Lehigh Valley.

That final stretch had the Bears in a great mood at practice on Tuesday. A drill that ended with defenseman Colby Williams scoring had some of his teammates mob him in celebration, while other teammates on another squad skated away in disgust. While all in good fun, the Bears are ready to celebrate together fifteen times on the path to a Calder Cup Championship.

“This is the time of the year we all play for,” forward Ryan Bourque said. “You look forward to these moments especially with a team with as many returning guys as we have from last year. There is a definite buzz, and we can’t wait to get started.”

“I think anytime you get to playoff hockey there is always extra excitement around the room,” said Troy Mann. “It’s the best time of year. As I said to the players Saturday night, I truly believe we have earned this spot. Hopefully, we are playing for a long time here.”

Playing for a long time would be nothing new for 17 players who were on Hershey’s roster during last season’s playoffs. After beating rival Wilkes-Barre and regular season champions Toronto, Hershey fell to Lake Erie in four games during the Calder Cup finals.

The loss stung for the Bears, but six rookies that season gained valuable experience from such a long run. “It goes a long way,” said Madison Bowey, one of those rookies who played every game in the playoffs last season. “We have our work cut out for us. It will be tough to get out of our division.

“Having that experience from last year and making it that far, you know what it takes to win. If you do the little things right and stick to the fundamentals and stick with our game plan, we should be fine.”

The Bears only dressed 19 forwards during last season’s playoffs, due in part to a lack of depth both up front and on the blueline. This year, depth is not an issue for the Chocolate and White. “This year’s team is certainly deeper,” Mann said. “We stayed relatively healthy last year in the playoffs where we only used six defensemen and 13 forwards for four rounds which is incredible. This team, this year, seems to have more depth.

“In saying that I think that Wilkes-Barre and Lehigh Valley are better than last year, so the division is tougher, so we have our work cut out for us. Hopefully, the experience of last year will help us as we get into round one. I do believe that the experience that experience of last year with those two months of hockey, helped us down the stretch as well.”

Hershey will look to get that first win of the 15 they will need Friday night in Lehigh Valley. Puck drop at 7:05 PM.

Photos from Tuesday’s practice: