02/24/2024

STL:

1

DET:

6

Final

MTL:

3

NJD:

4

Final

TBL:

4

NYI:

2

Final

NYR:

2

PHI:

1

Final

WSH:

2

FLA:

3

Final

TOR:

4

COL:

3

Final

VGK:

3

OTT:

4

Final

BOS:

2

VAN:

3

Final

DAL:

2

CAR:

1

Final

CGY:

6

EDM:

3

Final

MIN:

5

SEA:

2

Final

NSH:

4

SJS:

2

Final

ANA:

2

LAK:

3

Final

02/25/2024

TBL:

4

NJD:

1

Final

PHI:

6

PIT:

7

Final

CAR:

2

BUF:

3

Final

NYR:

2

CBJ:

4

Final

DET:

3

CHI:

2

Final

ARI:

3

WPG:

4

Final

NSH:

4

ANA:

2

Final

02/26/2024

OTT:

3

WSH:

6

Final

NYI:

3

DAL:

2

Final

LAK:

2

EDM:

4

Final

BOS:

3

SEA:

4

Final

02/27/2024

WSH:

3

DET:

8

Final

BUF:

2

FLA:

3

Final

ARI:

2

MTL:

4

Final

TBL:

2

PHI:

6

Final

VGK:

6

TOR:

2

Final

CAR:

2

MIN:

2

3

13:27

OTT:

1

NSH:

3

3

16:05

STL:

2

WPG:

3

3

13:56

LAK:

0

CGY:

0

2

15:28

DAL:

1

COL:

2

1

02:53

PIT:

0

VAN:

0

1

20:00

NJD:

0

SJS:

0

Final

02/28/2024

CBJ:

0

NYR:

0

07:00 ET

STL:

0

EDM:

0

08:30 ET

02/29/2024

VGK:

0

BOS:

0

07:00 ET

CAR:

0

CBJ:

0

07:00 ET

NYI:

0

DET:

0

07:00 ET

MTL:

0

FLA:

0

07:00 ET

BUF:

0

TBL:

0

07:00 ET

ARI:

0

TOR:

0

07:00 ET

WPG:

0

DAL:

0

08:00 ET

MIN:

0

NSH:

0

08:00 ET

COL:

0

CHI:

0

09:00 ET

PIT:

0

SEA:

0

10:00 ET

LAK:

0

VAN:

0

10:00 ET

ANA:

0

SJS:

0

10:30 ET

03/01/2024

ARI:

0

OTT:

0

07:00 ET

PHI:

0

WSH:

0

07:00 ET

NJD:

0

ANA:

0

10:00 ET

Hershey Bears: The Men After Midnight

If by chance you haven’t already heard, the Hershey Bears have won the Calder Cup! This is a historic win for many reasons. This is the 12th championship for Hershey, the most out of any single franchise in AHL history. This is also the first Calder Cup finals Game 7 overtime game in 70 years. The last time this happened was in 1953, when the Cleveland Barons beat the Pittsburgh Hornets with a score of 1-0. A rare feat, indeed. This win ends a 13-year championship drought in Chocolatetown, with their last Calder Cup coming in 2010. But for the Bears faithful, this win is so much more than just the surface facts.

The Comeback Kids:

This season was full of ups and downs for the team and the fans. The Hershey Bears had a knack for not being able to hold a lead. On October 21st vs. Charlotte Checkers at Bojangles Coliseum, the Bears had a two-goal lead until… the dreaded 3rd period. The Charlotte Checkers proceeded to score four consecutive goals, with the game ending 5-4. This was only the beginning of a frustrating series of games lost in the 3rd period when the Bears were leading. That said, they were the ultimate comeback kids! As adept as they were at blowing a lead in the 3rd period, they were equally and more impressively skilled at coming back in the final 20 minutes of play to win. There was no deficit too big for the team to overcome, it seemed. You could never count this team out, even during the mid-season slump. They battled back from so many deficits that it seemed like they thrived on the pressure. Game 7 of the Calder Cup finals is a prime example. It seemed they liked being under pressure so much that they were neck and neck with the Providence Bruins until the very end of the regular season. The Bruins took 1st place in the Atlantic Division with 98 points vs. the Bears with 97 points, leaving the Bears 2nd place in the division. However, much like their NHL affiliate, the Boston Bruins, they were out in the 1st series (after the bye round). Falling to the Hartford Wolfpack. Needless to say, this season was a winding road to the Calder Cup finals. I spoke with some fans about how they felt during the tumultuous season and times when the Bears struggled to find the back of the net.

“I knew they could do it because we had seen it. The frustrating part for me was how the coaches seemed to get technical with the fix. They just needed to play Bears hockey, which is not really pretty. This team is and was about grit. Mason Morelli and others up in the goalies eyes. Etc.” Says Brian of Denver, PA.

“I never once doubted their ability to be able to do it. There were times I felt frustrated because I knew they could play better than they did in certain games, but I never doubted that they could do it. They proved time and time again as well that they could overcome hard situations and come out on top.” Says Sarah of Lititz, PA.

“Everyone hits the wall at some point in the season, they were able to overcome the slump, which was the most important part. For me, I knew they were going to fight like hell and give it their all, so I wasn’t too worried about it.” Says Paul of Leola, PA.

Bear Hugs! A Team-wide Brotherhood:

It’s no secret that the Hershey Bears have been a close-knit group all season long. Head Coach Todd Nelson has made mentioned fostering a family atmosphere in the locker room and on the ice in post-game interviews. After game 6 of the Calder Cup finals, the team reported for practice only to be told that reviewing the video doesn’t matter but to go and spend time with their families and come back ready to play game 7. He even went as far as hosting a last-minute picnic for the team and their families while in California. Family is everything, and Coach Nelson understands the value of fighting for someone you see as a brother rather than just a friend. That’s just what the team did! They fought for each other, went into the corners for each other, and celebrated each other’s victories together, no matter how big or small. It wasn’t all work and no play for the team, though. They developed many fun rituals over the season. Sam Anas became the official locker room, DJ. This became such an integral part of their pre-game and post-game ritual that the big speaker they used even traveled with them and made an appearance at every arena they went to. Most notably, Sam’s musical variety led to the iconic win song “Gimmie! Gimmie! Gimmie! (A Man After Midnight)” By ABBA is becoming the soundtrack for the Bears entire playoff run.

Some other honorable mentions include the post-game bear head. After every win, the Hershey Bears would give out the bear head to the player of their choice, with the previous recipient deciding who gets it. It’s not just based on scoring; it could be awarded for a big block, or a tremendous penalty kill, etc. Another honorable mention is Vincent Iorio. Early in the season, it was noticeable that the defenseman was determined to always be the last man off the ice during warmups. I had a chance to ask him about this, and he told me, “I’m not sure if I should be doing this or not because I’m just a Rookie, but it’s something I’ve always done.” This was much enjoyed by the fans at GIANT Center, who watched this every game. However, this came to a head in Springfield, MA, when Iorio and Springfield Thunderbirds goaltender Garret Sparks engaged in an epic battle of wills to be the last man to touch the ice. Iorio was the victor, ducking down the tunnel until he saw Sparks leave the bench and then taking the opportunity to touch his skate to the ice once more. Bears fans went wild for this, but the AHL was not so fond of the ritual, telling Iorio that he could no longer do this and had to be off the ice before the clock hit zero. This is another testament to the closeness of this team. Wanting Iorio to be able to do his ritual, Bears goaltender Zach Fucale started staying out on the ice with the defenseman until the clock struck zero so that the league could not say Iorio was continuing the superstition. Fucale always made sure to get off the ice a fraction of a second before Iorio, leaving him as the last player to touch the ice.

I’d be remiss not to mention the most iconic symbol of the season, THE ROAR! Started by alternate Captian Mike Vecchione, who, after scoring a goal early in the season, turned to the Bears bench and took the standing Bear position and roared for the first of many times. This caught on like wildfire, becoming a team-wide celebration, a fan favorite, and a marketing phenomenon. Even Head Coach Todd Nelson, who is known for his even-keeled demeanor, has been spotted giving the “roar” a time or two. It not only gave the team another great way to connect with each other but also connect with the fans. Throughout the season, the players were spotted many times roaring with their faithful fans.

I had a chance to ask some fans what they thought made this season so special:

“The team chemistry, these guys worked so well together all season long, and I’ve never seen a group of players love each other as much as this group did. That has a lot to do with the success.” Says Nathan of Wellsville, PA.

“I think this season was so special because the players put so much time in effort into not only bonding with each other but also forming connections with the fan base. They wanted to give the fans a good show, and they also wanted to win for each other, and it was clear they’d do whatever they needed to to make that happen.” Says Tanya of Denver, PA.

Fired Up To Face The Firebirds:

All of these things culminated in an epic 7-game series against the Coachella Valley Firebirds. After a disappointing start in the first two games against the Firebirds, where the Bears were shut out both games, things did not look good for the boys in Chocolate and White. What Coachella Valley was not prepared for was how our fans would rally behind our team and get the boys so fired up (no pun intended) that they came back to lead the series 3-2 before heading back to the West Coast. Coachella Valley was not prepared for the level of love the Bears had for each other and their fans, that they were left dumbfounded by the complete turn-around in the series. It just goes to show that family is everything, and the team’s willingness to go to battle for their brothers was an insurmountable obstacle for their first-year Firebirds.

Photo Credit: The Hershey Bears

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