Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
Apologies (I teach English and felt the necessity to merge hockey and literature…there’s a first for everything), but is there any other way to sum up this hockey season? It’s hard. The loss of hockey in Hershey for another season is hard. Honestly it’s the tradition. We hang banners! Those are the best of times. Losing in the Calder Cup Finals last season was hard, but no more hockey on May 18? Well, that’s the worst.
But, in all honesty, the worst could be even deeper. It’s the loss of players due to injury – those guys who wanted to be on the ice last night by couldn’t, the ones who were helpless to stop the Providence train that forced Hershey’s season off the tracks.
An age of wisdom that was highlighted by a return to form, if you will, of Chris Bourque, who broke all kinds of records this season. He’s been there, he knows what it is like, and when the season hung in the balance, he brought his game. And you could see others stepping up their games as well. His brother, Ryan, had another gear in the playoffs. That playoff experience? Well, it was contagious, and everyone in that locker room wanted to hang #12.
But it was also an age of foolishness because one of the most basic rules in all of hockey is to maintain puck possession. Too often, Hershey would be a bit too careless with the puck. Turnovers would lead to opportunities for Providence, and well, you just can’t give teams in this league any edge.
It was an epoch of belief though because they MADE us believe. Stringing together win after win, they clawed their way back into the post-season picture not once, but twice. They ended up the #3 seed against all odds, in the toughest division, and just about everyone was incredulous, including Bridgeport, the odd-man out. Who would have thought they could all five of their regular season contests starting with an OT win in Lehigh Valley, followed by wins in Rochester, Toronto, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before beating Providence to earn that #3 seed?
It was a season of light as Travis Boyd, Bourque, Christian Djoos, and Paul Carey all had a hand in lighting the lamp over 50 times each. Boyd and Bourque both played in EVERY SINGLE game this season. Boyd has yet to miss a game in his Hershey career, and if Caps brass happens to be reading this – that kid is as deserving as anyone. He battled through a nasty hit along the boards and still led the team in scoring.
But there were some dark times too. Throughout the middle of the season, the injuries mounted, especially on the defensive end. Hershey became a revolving door of players, out of necessity, to try and plug the holes left by the wicked injury to Madison Bowey, the puck to the face of Djoos, etc. Honestly, typing up the weekly injury report for the posts along with the roster changes was not fun. But there was no quit in this team.
So the spring of hope out of the winter of despair – pretty fitting line, Mr. Dickens – has come to an abrupt end. Overachievers? Maybe, but they were ours. We had everything before us – #12. It was right there, all we needed was another win on our ice to make it one step closer. Now, there is nothing ahead for some guys, but the uncertainty of free agency. So if this is goodbye, thanks for the memories.
Tom Gilbert – Unrestricted free agent – What a signing this turned out to be. The Caps didn’t need him, but he never once let that bother him. I’ll never forget my interview with him. Classy guy, he was supposed to be getting the bus to Bridgeport, but he made sure he answered EVERY, SINGLE question. What a memory that was. And Djoos? Well that kid has thrived since Gilbert’s arrival, not to mention the number of times I’ve heard Gilbert’s name come up as a reason why someone had an incredible game. Our time with him was too short, but the parallel to Scott Gomez last season just keeps coming to mind. Some club is going to be lucky to have Gilbert…wishing it could be us!
Pheonix Copley – Unrestricted free agent – You just got back – this can’t be goodbye again, but it probably is. You’ve proven you’re ready for the big time, and I honestly hope that you get the chance. Just remember, we never wanted to see you go the first time and we genuinely appreciate your enthusiasm on Giant Center ice. Having you here has hopefully instilled that confidence back in Vitek, too. So I’ll hope that if this is goodbye, it’s a see you soon in Washington, because I’ll make that trip if for no other reason than to ask you what you think of the city and the Caps.
Christian Thomas – Unrestricted free agent – Your first, and probably only, season in Hershey was so memorable. We all wish that you’d have hit that 50-point mark, but for reasons unknown to us, you ended up a healthy scratch more often than not down the stretch. You dazzled us with skill that will hopefully help you get where you want to be.
Paul Carey – Unrestricted free agent – Sincerely hope the NHL offers come in because you’ve proven you’re worthy. Your point streak early in the season is just unforgettable and nothing short of amazing in this day and age. While we were all seeing red (literally and figuratively) because of your recall to Washington to be on the healthy scratch list, we were all happy for you at the same time. May your hopes and dreams come true (sure hope it’s earning that Caps jersey).
Stanislav Galiev – Unrestricted free agent – Your time in Hershey has had more ups and downs than the roller coasters across the parking lot. We’ve seen you fight back from the ECHL to earning a spot on the Caps roster and just about everything in between. This season, we’ve witnessed you regain the ground you lost last season on the “healthy scratch” list in Washington. Hopefully you’ll get your shot at the NHL again. Personally, I’ll never forget your face the night I asked you to sign that Caps jersey when you came back to Hershey.
Chris Bourque – Unrestricted free agent – How in the world do you say farewell to a guy who has done so much for the organization? If this is indeed the end of the line, I don’t think there is ever anyone I want to see wear that #17 in Hershey again. The records (AHL and Bears) you’ve broken are numerous. It’s been such a joy to watch you play with your brother (on our team, not so much in Hartford against us). The lifetime of memories you’ve given the Hershey fan base are priceless, so for that, a huge thanks.
Garrett Mitchell – Unrestricted free agent – I’ve saved this one for last. Mitchy, there are no words. You’ve done so much for this organization on and off the ice. We all tuned in to watch your NHL debut, and I’m relatively sure the pictures of you and your family on the ice at Verizon Center are ingrained in everyone’s memory. The “Fun with Mitchell” pregame videos are always going to have a place in my heart. You never had to do it, but it was just one more way you interacted (through us) with the fans. So as I sit in my classroom, choking back the tears while trying to find the right words, I slowly come to realize that this season, like those before it, really was the best of times because you, our captain, made it that way. You’ve led by example on and off the ice, always fighting for our team, and for that, well thanks just doesn’t seem like enough, so there will be a Mitchell montage coming…once I get the time to merge them all. It’s not much, but…
So, in the worst of times, there are so many memories that help ease the pain of another season ended a bit too early. But it was the best of times because 39 guys put on the Chocolate and White and made it that way.
By Julie Beidler
— Beids (@juliebeidler) May 17, 2017