September 28, 2023
With Washington Capitals preseason in full swing, it’s only a matter of days before the Hershey Bears
formally open their 2023 training camp.
And on the heels of Washington making some preliminary cuts earlier in week, a trickle of players have begun to descend on Chocolatetown.
The eight players released from Capitals training camp on Monday (forwards Jimmy Huntington, Julian Napravnik, Garrett Roe, Matt Strome, and Mike Vecchione, and defensemen Michael Kim, Benton Maass, and Colin Swoyer) are all under AHL contract to Hershey, and thus would not be eligible to skate in an NHL regular season game.
A handful of those eight were already on the ice at GIANT Center
Thursday morning for an informal player-led skating session. No coaches supervising, no instruction necessary – just an opportunity to keep the legs moving, the mind active, and maintain their conditioning prior to Monday, when the first truly grueling on-ice sessions get underway.
Return of the Roar
One player already back in Hershey is Vecchione, the 2023 postseason hero who cemented his place in Bears lore with his championship-clinching overtime-winner in Game 7 of the Calder Cup Finals.
A veteran of a handful of NHL training camps in his career, Vecchione, now heading into his seventh pro season, pointed out that during this year’s opening meetings with Washington, Capitals management made reference to Hershey’s Calder Cup triumph as evidence of the culture the organization is trying to breed throughout the pipeline, extending down to Hershey and the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays.
“It doesn’t matter what level you’re at – you’re trying to get better. I think that resonated with everybody, and all the new guys coming in saw what we did last year and they want to be a part of that. And obviously the expectations are high here in Hershey,” Vecchione said. “It was nice to really have that talk about our culture and have the new guys understand what it takes to be a Capital or a Bear or even a Stingray.”
Vecchione was the primary ringleader at Thursday’s session at GIANT Center
, pushing his teammates through their paces, knowing full-well what awaits them next week when Bears head coach Todd Nelson and the rest of the Hershey coaching staff will put the Bears to work.
“We got a good taste of it up at [Capitals] camp. It's gonna be high intensity, a lot of battles, a lot of work – it's a different animal,” the forward said. “This year we have a big target on our back as defending champ, so Nelly's already preached about that. And you know, we're just trying to stay loose and, you know, stay in shape right now. When Nelly comes down, it's gonna be another level of intensity and I know we're going to be getting the legs in shape. I think everyone's just excited – no questions about it where everyone's anticipating Opening Night (BUY TICKETS NOW
) and we're just all ready to get going.”
Then there is the matter of The Roar. Vecchione introduced a roaring goal celebration last season that became an enduring embodiment of the team’s identity.
Inquiring minds – among them former Bears head coaches Spencer Carberry and Scotty Allen, now behind the bench with Washington – want to know: what, if anything, does Vecchione have up his sleeve (or paws) for this season?
“A lot of people are asking me if I'm gonna change up the celebration and you know, [last season] the roar just kind of came out of nowhere, just from deep down in my stomach,” Vecchione said. “And a couple of the coaches asked me if I'm gonna stick with it and, um, yeah, I don't know if I'm gonna have anything else. I think that's just something I've always just had to do.
“Scotty Allen even asked me, ‘What now?’ and I was like, ‘What do you mean, what now?!’ That’s a tough question.”
Looks like the answer for that question is: to be determined.
Napravnik Ready to Take Next Step
Julian Napravnik enters his second full pro season with an aim to become a regular contributor to the Bears lineup. Oftentimes last season, the forward found himself watching and observing from the press box, but showcased his growth and development in the final seven of his 18 regular season games, notching four goals and two assists during that stretch.
The now 26-year-old then spent the postseason run as a member of the Black Aces for Hershey, ready at a moment’s notice to be inserted into the lineup should he be called upon. While that moment never came, thanks to the Bears’ ability to stay largely healthy, he nonetheless was a part of the team’s on-ice celebration and revelry following the Game 7 Finals victory at Acrisure Arena.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” Napravnik said. “It didn't matter if I played that much or not, like I was part of the team, and we were going through it the whole season. It's always special to be a part of a championship team.”
Napravnik expressed that he’s now motivated more than ever and eager to take that next step in his development.
“Obviously with not playing that much, you kind of use all the practice time that you get and just work on the details that the coaches want you to work on, and I continued to do that,” Napravnik said. “I think over the summer I took a step, getting stronger and gaining strength. We're going to be a deep team again, but, whenever my number gets called, I'll be ready.”
October 1st can’t get here soon enough.
Written by Jesse Liebman, Bears media specialist.