At only 21-years-old, Vitek Vanecek had one of the best seasons a goalie could have at his age in the AHL. The young netminder went 18-10-7 in the regular season with five shutouts, despite a very rough month at the end of December through the end of January, where he went 0-5-2.

“I’ve said this to a number of people, you take out four weeks of his season, his numbers are excellent,” said head coach Troy Mann after the Bears game seven loss. “It’s unfortunate we played Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre for that stretch of hockey late-December and early-January.”

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If you were to ask a person from Central Pennsylvania to name a Hershey Bear, even if they had only been to a few games over the last 10 years, you will likely hear one of two names: Garrett Mitchell or Chris Bourque.

Mitchell, 25, and Bourque, 31, are both set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1 after each signing two-year contracts before the 2015-16 season. The two were leaders within Hershey’s locker room that set the standard for how you should hold yourself as a member of the Bears and brought stability to the club.

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It was a familiar scene for Jakub Vrana Friday morning at Giant Center. For the third year in a row, he was packing his hockey equipment in a large red Washington Capitals bag before heading home for the summer. At only 21, Vrana is viewed as the Capitals top prospect, but a tumultuous finish to his second full season as a professional, he finds himself in a tough situation.

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Stan Galiev celebrates with Travis Boyd and teammates after Boyd’s overtime winning goal against Providence Sunday night at Giant Center. (All photos: Kyle Mace / Chocolate Hockey)

Troy Mann said in his postgame interview following the Hershey Bears’ 3-1 loss in Game 1 that it wasn’t how much your power play scores, but when they score. That turned out to be the turning point of Game 2, as Christian Djoos scored in the late moments of a power play with 2:30 on the clock in the third period to tie the game at two apiece. Travis Boyd completed the comeback less than six minutes into overtime, and the Bears took the second game of their series with the Providence Bruins by a final score of 3-2.

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Bourque Brothers Dye Hair Blond for Playoffs

On May 3, 2017, in News, by Kyle Mace


Photo: Christian Thomas/@cpt27 on Twitter

It all started with a Twitter poll. Bears captain Garrett Mitchell posted on his Twitter account a question for Bears fans: should Ryan Bourque dye his hair blond once again for the Calder Cup playoffs.

The votes were overwhelming and 83% of the 500 people who got to vote in the very short time the poll was live voted “Effin rights.”

“The other night the topic came up in a Twitter poll against my discretion,” said Ryan, “but sometimes you have to give the people what they want. The poll spoke for itself.”

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“We faced adversity many times this year, and we gotta go in and win a hockey game. Obviously, it’s not ideal what’s happened here the last couple days, but we’ve had success in [Lehigh Valley] the last three games…so we certainly can go win tomorrow.” Those were the words of Troy Mann following last night’s loss to the Phantoms at Giant Center, and the Bears responded by gutting out a 3-2 win on Sunday evening. Hershey advances to the second round where they will have home ice advantage against the Providence Bruins.

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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.

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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.”

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Photo: @TheHersheyBears

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…’

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Madison Bowey Poised for Return to Hershey Lineup

On March 16, 2017, in News, by Kyle Mace

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.”

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