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A Look Back at the 80th Anniversary Season

A Look Back at the 80th Anniversary Season

05/01/2018 - While the end result was not typical of the Chocolate and White, the 2017-18 season did provide many individual accomplishments and memorable moments. As Hershey celebrated its 80th Anniversary Season, the club graciously gave back to the community, hosted an Outdoor Classic, had a player skate for Team USA in the Winter Olympics, saw many of its alumni become full-time players in Washington, all while several players on the active roster posted career years. 

While a busy summer is ahead as the Bears look to return to glory, we look back at a snapshot of the best moments from 2017-18. 

For the second time in three seasons, Chris Bourque led Hershey in scoring, posting a team-best 53 points (17 goals, 36 assists) in 64 games. Bourque, who was named to the 2018 AHL All-Star Classic, led the club in assists and finished tied for second in goals and power play goals (7). The future Hall of Famer went on a tear to start the season, recording nearly half of his points (25 points in 19 games) before Thanksgiving. This season marked the fourth straight year, and ninth time in his AHL career, that Bourque has scored 50 or more points. The winger continued to rewrite Hershey’s record book as he is now 5th all-time in games-played (604), 7th in goals (196), 3rd in assists (390), and 5th in points (586) in franchise history. 

For the second straight year, Hershey center Travis Boyd was named the club’s PNC Team Most Valuable Player. The third-year Bear finished second on the club with 47 points (15 goals, 32 assists) in 61 games. He scored seven power play goals, tied for second on the club, and compiled 13 multi-point games. He was the only AHL player to score four goals in a single game when he had the best offensive night of his AHL career on Feb. 16 at Laval. The Hopkins, Minn. native also made his NHL debut this past season, and skated in eight games with the Capitals. 

The Bears were one of just nine teams in the AHL who dressed at least three rookie defenders for 40 or more games this season. Three Washington prospects, Connor Hobbs, Lucas Johansen, and Jonas Siegenthaler joined the Chocolate and White in 2017-18, and all three played big minutes for the club. Johansen, a 2016 first round selection of Washington, led the way, winning the team’s Rookie of the Year award after posting 27 points (six goals, 21 assists) in 74 games. His output was the most by a Hershey rookie defensemen since Madison Bowey scored 29 points in 70 games during the 2015-16 campaign. Siegenthaler played in all but one of Hershey’s games in 2017-18, scoring 12 points (six goals, six assists). Hobbs was limited to just 44 games due to multiple injuries, but posted 16 points (three goals, 13 assists). In addition to the trio of defenders, fellow rookie Kris Bindulis also played in 12 games on Hershey’s blue line. 

Defender Aaron Ness excelled for the Bears during the club’s 80th anniversary campaign. The veteran started the season in Washington, skating in eight games for the Capitals, before re-joining Hershey in late November. Ness provided a stabilizing force to a young blue line, recording 29 points (four goals, 25 assists) in 55 games. These were the best numbers that Ness has posted in his three seasons as a member of the Chocolate and White. He also tallied three game-winning goals for Hershey this past year. The Roseau, Minn. native was named Hershey’s winner of the Milton Garland Memorial Award as the club’s best rearguard. 

Winger Liam O’Brien turned in another strong season for Hershey. In his fourth year with the Bears, O’Brien posted a career-best 17 goals, a mark tied with Chris Bourque for second on the club. O’Brien, who finished the season with 26 points, was an all-situations player for Troy Mann’s group, scoring three power play goals, and striking for the first two shorthanded goals of his professional career. While he is still known for his toughness, O’Brien posted a career-low 79 penalty minutes. He also appeared in three games with the Capitals. 

This past year was a memorable one for forward Nathan Walker. After four productive seasons in Hershey, Walker made history on Oct. 7, becoming the first Australian to play in the NHL, scoring a goal in his NHL debut vs. Montreal.  After his dazzling debut, Walker struggled to stay in the Capitals’ lineup, seeing just seven games total. Washington elected to waive Walker with intentions to assign him to Hershey, but on Dec. 1, he was plucked off waivers by the Edmonton Oilers. Walker’s stay in Edmonton was short-lived as he appeared in just two games. Like a boomerang, he came back to the Capitals organization, and to Hershey, when Washington re-claimed him off waivers on Dec. 21. A fan-favorite in Chocolate Town, Walker had a successful stint in Hershey, scoring 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) in 40 games. The 24-year-old is under contract for next season on a two-way deal with Washington. 

Mathias Bau made a big impact in his first year in North America. The 6-foot-7 forward was the tallest player on Hershey’s roster, and the tallest player to take the ice with the Chocolate and White since Joe Finley, also 6-foot-7, patrolled Hershey’s blue line in 2010-11. The Denmark native made a great impression in his first season with the Bears, scoring 23 points, including 13 goals, in just 58 games. Bau, on an AHL deal this past season, registered three multi-goal games, and tied Riley Barber for the team lead with five game-winning goals. An injury, and a dry spell saw Bau go from Dec. 29 to Mar. 31 without a goal (23 games), but the 24-year-old finished the season strong, scoring four goals in the final six games. 

Hershey captain Garrett Mitchell completed his seventh full season with the Bears in 2017-18, scoring eight points (seven goals, one assist) in 47 games. The club’s regular season finale was a special one for Mitchell as the forward played in his 400th game as a member of the Chocolate and White. He became only the 26th player in the franchise’s 80-year history to accomplish this feat. Mitchell has scored 110 points (53 goals, 57 assists) in his tenure with Hershey. 

On Apr. 15, Hershey held the club's annual Team Awards Ceremony. Award winners included Mason Mitchell (Hershey's AHL Man of the Year), Dustin Gazley (John Travers/Steve Summers Award for Highest Plus/Minus Rating), Pheonix Copley (Kenny Smith Memorial Player of the Game), Liam O'Brien (Arlene Tighe Award for Bears Unsung Hero), Lucas Johansen (Jack Gingrich Award for Rookie of the Year), Colby Williams (Dan Sernoffsky Most Improved Player Award), Aaron Ness (Milton Garland Memorial Award for Best Defenseman), and Travis Boyd (PNC Team Most Valuable Player).

The Bears are committed to giving back and playing a large part off the ice in Central Pennsylvania. The Bears held numerous benefit nights, helping local charities such as Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central PA, The Vista School, Liberty USO at Ft. Indiantown Gap, Children’s Miracle Network, and American Special Hockey Association. Most recently, the Hershey community helped raise over $11,000 for those impacted in the tragic Humboldt Broncos bus crash. Hershey players and coaches made over 30 community appearances this season, with Coco the Bear attending nearly 50 events this past season. The club also donated nearly $15,000 worth of equipment to youth hockey efforts, and works with local charity groups to donate tickets to those in need. 

The Hershey Bears hosted the 2018 Capital BlueCross Outdoor Classic on Jan. 19-20, as the club took hockey back to its roots, and skated outside at Hersheypark Stadium. Friday night’s festivities included a Flyers vs. Bears Alumni Game that saw many of the NHL's greatest players skate, including the famed Flyers' 'Legion of Doom' line of Eric Lindros, John LeClair, and Mikael Renberg, as well as special honorary guest player, Ray Bourque, for the Bears. Hershey fan favorites Mike McHugh and Graham Mink both stood out, scoring two goals and an assist each as Hershey won the Alumni Game on Friday, 9-5. The weather for Saturday's Bears vs. Phantoms game was perfect, featuring a picturesque sunset, and temperatures near 50 degrees. The Bears welcomed a crowd of 13,091 to Hersheypark Stadium for the game. Despite goals from Nathan Walker and Travis Boyd, Hershey fell to the Phantoms 5-2. The Outdoor Classic was the second outdoor game held in Hershey, the third the Bears have played in, and the 10th of its kind in AHL history. 

Chris Bourque not only led the Bears in points this season, but the winger was also named to Team USA and played in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. With NHL players not participating in the Olympics, the door was opened for all players not on NHL contracts, and Bourque was one of three active AHL players chosen for Team USA. In five games with Team USA, Bourque added two assists, but the Americans failed to medal.  

Several mainstays in Hershey over the past few seasons advanced to the NHL in 2017-18 and helped the Washington Capitals earn a Metropolitan Division title. The Capitals roster featured four full-time rookies (50+ games) who all played in Hershey in 2016-17, including: Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos, Chandler Stephenson, and Jakub Vrana. This is the first time the Capitals have had a youth influx of this magnitude since 1981-82. Vrana led the way among rookies, scoring 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) in 73 games. 

Eight players who skated with the Bears during the 2017-18 season also appeared in NHL games with Washington. Forward Travis Boyd is the next prospect likely to graduate to DC. The center made his NHL debut on Dec. 4 vs. San Jose, and in total, appeared in eight games with the Capitals this year. He recorded his first NHL point, an assist on an Alex Ovechkin goal, on Mar. 18 at Philadelphia. In addition to Boyd, forwards Tyler Graovac, Liam O’Brien, Anthony Peluso, Chandler Stephenson, Nathan Walker and defensemen Madison Bowey and Aaron Ness all appeared in NHL games during the 2017-18 season, with Stephenson and Bowey becoming full-time NHL players. 

With a record of 30-37-4-5, Hershey finished outside the playoff picture for the first time since 2013-14, and the club missed the post-season for just the 13th time in team history. The Bears finished in eighth place in the Atlantic Division, marking the first time the club has finished last place in the division since 1983-84. The Bears struggled to score, finishing 26th in the league in goals for, averaging just 2.64 goals per game. Hershey was held scoreless six times, tying a club record with the 1961-62 Bears for the most shutout losses in a season. A large part of Hershey’s struggles was their record vs. divisional powerhouses Lehigh Valley and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Hershey went 2-7-1-2 vs. the Phantoms, losing all six games in Allentown. The Bears didn’t fare any better vs. the Penguins, losing the final eight games of the season series, and finishing with a 2-9-1-0 record vs. their bitter rivals. 

As the 80th Anniversary Season is in the rear view mirror, Washington and Hershey management are preparing for 2018-19. There could be a number of changes among the players on the ice, and below is a contract breakdown of players heading into this summer. 

The following players are unrestricted free agents: Dustin Gazley, Zach Sill, Jeremy Langlois, Anthony Peluso, Chris Bourque, Wayne Simpson, Joe Whitney, Tyler Graovac, Mathias Bau, Aaron Ness, and Garrett Mitchell. Players currently in the ECHL who are unrestricted free agents on Hershey contracts include: Kelly Zajac, Dylan Margonari, Tommy Hughes, Paul Geiger, and Parker Milner.

The following players are restricted free agents, and would have to be tendered a qualifying offer to stay with the organization: Adam Carlson, Tyler Lewington, Travis Boyd, Riley Barber, Liam O’Brien, Adam Chapie, and Tim McGauley. 

The following players are under contract for next season with Washington and could return to Hershey next year: Lucas Johansen, Connor Hobbs, Nathan Walker, Hampus Gustafsson, Colby Williams, Vitek Vanecek, Pheonix Copley, Kris Bindulis, Jonas Siegenthaler, and Mason Mitchell.

Hershey Bears in a victory embrace

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