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.
Hershey head coach Troy Mann has repeatedly said he believes that 95 points will earn you a spot in the AHL playoffs. This year, Hershey got that 95, but the Bears win over Providence Saturday night pushed them past the Bruins in the standings with 97 points to head into the playoffs as the third seed in the Atlantic Division.
For a team that had a rocky road to playoffs after a tough January, the Bears fought back after many had written them off. “I think throughout every season you have your ups and downs,” said Chris Bourque. “January was definitely a month that we would like to forget about, but I think that made us stronger, made us want the playoffs more.”
When watching the video of Bears captain Garrett Mitchell being told he was getting his first NHL call-up, you could feel the emotion coming through whatever screen you were looking at, even though there might not have been much excitement on Mitchell’s face. “When I look at the video, even my wife goes ‘You don’t look that excited,'” said Mitchell. “Honestly, I could have started crying right there. I couldn’t have been more excited.
“I didn’t know it was coming. Once [Troy Mann] said Chandler [Stephenson’s] name, I was kind of like ‘Oh man.’ I was very happy for Chandler, but that’s always something you hope might be you. But then he goes ‘He’s been waiting for six years…’
It’s a week Madison Bowey would like to forget. After spending Christmas back home with his family in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the 21-year-old defenseman had issues getting back to Central Pennsylvania with flight issues preventing his return in time for a game against Lehigh Valley on December 26. “Definitely not the way I wanted to start my second half,” said Bowey after Bears practice Wednesday. “I was geared up and ready to go for the Syracuse game, but getting injured there on my third shift was pretty tough.”
Despite wearing kevlar socks and a bunga pad, Syracuse Crunch defenseman Luke Witkowski’s skate sliced the front tendon on Bowey’s left leg in a freak accident. While an injury like that could cause a player to focus more on skate blades, it’s not something Bowey is too worried about. “When I’m playing I’m not thinking about it. I know watching games – past games and games on TV – you notice more skates now and how close they can get to flesh and could cause an injury. But if you’re playing, you can’t really think about it.”
You know a hockey team is feeling good about themselves when they’re having fun. That’s exactly what happened Wednesday morning at Giant Center when the Bears held a team shootout at the end of practice. A very good sign for Hershey as they prepare for one of the most important months of the season.
Monday afternoon the 2015-16 Hershey Bears were together for the last time, cleaning out their lockers after a disappointing end to the season. Below the jump are thoughts and reaction from Bears head coach Troy Mann, captain Garrett Mitchell, alternate captain Zach Sill, and goalie Justin Peters.
It wasn’t difficult for Connor Carrick to walk past his old locker room on Thursday before the Toronto Marlies practiced at Giant Center. “I just kept going. Got the memo awhile ago.”
After spending parts of three seasons in a Chocolate and White sweater, the 22-year-old defenseman was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs right before the trade deadline in February. “A lot of confusion,” Carrick said about when he first learned of the trade. “A lot of trying to figure out the logistics of where am I going, when [I am going], where am I playing, who am I playing, and that kind of thing.
“You kind of going into a survival mode. You try and figure out ‘Alright, what time is my flight, what time should I eat, what can I eat at the airport?’ And try not to forget anything important in the move. You try and roll with the punches and just try and figure out one thing at a time.”
In Hershey’s historic 8-0 win last night over Lehigh Valley, the newest Hershey Bear Jonas Siegenthaler scored his first AHL point with an assist on Erik Burgdoerfer‘s second period goal.
“It was a good, high paced game,” the 18-year-old said after the win. “I really enjoyed to play with the Bears. It was a lot of fun.
“They’re great guys; they’re helping you all the time. I would not say [tonight] was easy, but since the team helps you a lot, it made [my first game] easier.”