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2018-19 Hershey Bears Season Recap

2018-19 Hershey Bears Season Recap

May 14, 2019

The 2018-19 Hershey Bears season has come to a close, but the year was certainly one to remember for the Chocolate and White. With a new coaching staff and many new faces, it took a bit for the club to get its footing, but a second half of the season for the ages helped propel the Bears from the bottom of the AHL all the way to a playoff position and a chance at the Calder Cup. Rookie head coach Spencer Carbery guided the club on a spectacular featuring a franchise record point streak in a year many players recorded the best season of their professional careers. 

The Hershey Bears recently completed the club's 81st season in the American Hockey League, finishing with a record of 43-25-4-4, good for 3rd place in the Atlantic Division under first-year head coach Spencer Carbery. The Bears qualified for the Calder Cup Playoffs for the 68th time in franchise history after a rare miss of the postseason in 2017-18. Hershey defeated Bridgeport in five games in the opening round of the playoffs to win the franchise's 72nd all-time postseason series. Hershey's campaign ended in the second round as they were swept by the Charlotte Checkers, the winner of the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the top regular season team in the AHL. 

Hershey made the playoffs thanks to an exceptional turnaround in the second half of the season. The club endured the worst start in franchise history, going 0-5-0-0 before earning their first win on Oct. 17 at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. On Dec. 21, the Bears were 6-11-0-2 with a .414 points percentage, last place in the 31-team AHL. Once the calendar flipped to 2019, Hershey's climb up the Atlantic Division standings started. The club posted a franchise record 17-game point streak from Jan. 12-Feb. 23, going 16-0-0-1 in that stretch. In the second half of the AHL's season, Hershey went 27-5-4-1, good for a .789 points percentage in 38 games. 

Defender Aaron Ness enjoyed the best season of his professional career in 2018-19 with the Chocolate and White. Ness led all AHL defenders with 55 points (five goals, 50 assists) and was named an AHL Second Team All-Star.  His 50 assists were the most by a Bears defender since Mike Gaul set the franchise record for assists by defender in a single season, posting 57 in 1999-2000. Ness also led all AHL defenders in power play assists (26) and power play points (29). The fourth-year Bear earned team honors, being named the John Travers/Steve Summers Award winner for the highest plus/minus rating with a +24, and earning the Milton Garland Award as the team's best defender, as well as the PNC Team MVP award. 

Forward Riley Barber was one of many Hershey players who had a career-year in 2018-19. The forward posted a personal best 60 points, including cracking the 30-goal plateau, scoring 31 goals to lead the Bears over his 64 regular season games. The fourth-year Bear led the AHL in shootout goals (5) and shootout winning goals (3), ranked second in the AHL in shots with 232, and finished third in power play points (32). He collected 13 power play goals on the season, six game-winning markers, and finished with 17 multi-point games. Barber also added six points (three goals, three assists) in Hershey's nine playoff games. The sniper has scored 180 points (90 goals, 90 assists) in his 237 career games with the Chocolate and White. 

Center Mike Sgarbossa made an immediate impact on Bears fans, scoring a goal in each of Hershey's home games during the opening weekend of the 2018-19 campaign. The forward never stopped scoring, posting career-bests in games played (75), goals (30), assists (35), points (65), power play goals (14), and penalty minutes (91). The 26-year-old was Hershey's leading point scorer, scoring the most points since Chris Bourque posted 80 during the 2015-16 season. Sgarbossa finished 10th in league scoring overall, and his 14 power play goals led the Bears and were tied for third in the AHL. 

The Bears enjoyed a great one-two punch between the pipes this season with 23-year-old Vitek Vanecek, and 22-year-old Ilya Samsonov. Vanecek impressed all season, finishing with a 21-10-6 record, 2.62 goals against average, .907 save percentage, and two shutouts. He was named the AHL's Player of the Week for the period ending Oct. 21. The 2014 2nd round selection of the Capitals was Hershey's lone representative at the 2019 AHL All-Star Classic in Springfield, and was the top goaltender during the All-Star Challenge. Samsonov, a 1st rounder of the Capitals in 2015, had a slow start to his rookie season in North America, but picked up steam in 2019. From Jan. 12 on, Samsonov was one of the league's best goalies, going 15-3-2, with a 1.78 goals against average, .930 save percentage, and three shutouts. He finished with a 20-14-2 record, a 2.70 goals against average, and a .898 save percentage, making Hershey one of just two teams in the AHL with two goaltenders who won 20 or more games. 

The Bears earned a victory in the opening round of the playoffs thanks to Game 5 heroics from forward Brian Pinho. After a 2-2 tie through regulation in Bridgeport, Pinho won the best-of-five series for the Bears at 10:27 of overtime, cutting between the defenders and beating Bridgeport netminder Christopher Gibson with a low shot for his first career Calder Cup Playoffs goal. The rookie forward, who has won USHL and NCAA titles, had 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 73 games during his regular season rookie campaign. 

Early in the season, Hershey posted a franchise-record streak while a man down. Hershey killed 37 consecutive penalties in a streak that started Oct. 19 and ended Nov. 11, as the Bears were perfect in eight consecutive games on the penalty kill in that stretch. 

Rookie forward Beck Malenstyn earned honors as Hershey's team winner of the IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year award for his outstanding contributions to the Hershey community during the 2018-19 season. Malenstyn was always the first Bear to volunteer for events as part of the team's Hershey Bears Cares community initiative. The 21-year-old rookie forward quickly immersed himself in the Central Pennsylvania community, participating in nearly 20 events during the 2018-19 season. On the ice, Malenstyn quickly became a fan favorite with his rugged style, finishing his rookie season with 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) and 66 penalty minutes. 

The Hershey Bears became the world record holder this season in one of the best promotions in all of sports. The Bears collected 34,798 teddy bears and stuffed animals in Dec. 2's annual CommunityAid and WGAL Teddy Bear Toss. This surpassed the team's record of 25,017 collected in 2017, and the world record of 28,815, previously set by the Western Hockey League's Calgary Hitmen in 2015. Riley Barber scored the Teddy Bear Toss goal on the power play at 10:02 of the first period to send the bears flying. In total, over 40 charities and local organizations benefited from the event, and the promotion gained national exposure. The event was covered by ESPN, TSN, CNBC, HLN, Yahoo, CBS Sports, NBC Sports, Barstool Sports, and Sports Illustrated. Across the country, TV stations in all 50 states in over 150 different cities showed footage of the event.

Hershey welcomed 338,452 fans to Giant Center this season, giving the Bears the top rank in overall attendance in the 2018-19 campaign. No team drew more fans overall than the Bears this year, as Cleveland finished a close second with a total season attendance of 338,220. Hershey finished second in the AHL in average attendance per game at 8,903 over the 38 home games. 

Hershey Bears in a victory embrace

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