Last season, the Hershey Bears leadership core consisted of captain Garrett Mitchell and alternates Chris Bourque and Zach Sill. That entire group is gone. Mitchell remains unsigned and Bourque (Bridgeport) and Sill (Czech Republic) have signed elsewhere. Their departures leave Hershey with a need to come up with a new leadership group. Who will be the next captain? Who will step in as alternates? The Bears have some options to step into leadership roles.
The favorite for the captaincy is likely veteran defenseman Aaron Ness. He has been a captain before, with Bridgeport in 2014-15, and has worn the “A” on his sweater for Hershey when the other alternates were hurt, on recall or scratched. Ness is the clear leader of the defense and is one of the few veterans on the team. He is also one of the longest tenured players on the roster, having suited up for 168 games for the Bears. He brings a lot of experience to very young team that will have a lot of new faces this season. With the leadership void in Chocolate Town, it is almost a certainty that Ness will be part of the leadership core.
Ness’ sometimes defense partner Tyler Lewington is another candidate for captain. The rugged, stay-at-home defenseman always has his teammates back. He constantly steps in and defends a teammate who takes a questionable hit. Although, that can also be considered the biggest draw back to Lewington being captain. He spends a lot of time in the penalty box because he stands up for is teammates and he was suspended on multiple occasions last season for having too many fights. Still, having a leadership role could help him be more selective as to when he gets involved in a fight. On the flip side Lewington did a good job mentoring Lucas Johansen last season after the two were paired together. Johansen’s defensive game started to come around once he began playing alongside Lewington. That is good leadership. He may not end up as the captain, but could easily be one of the alternates.
Veteran forward Jayson Megna joins Ness and Lewington as a candidate to be the next captain of the Bears. He was one of two veteran forwards the Washington Capitals signed for Hershey this off-season. He served as an alternate captain for the Hartford Wolf Pack in 2015-16 and has played in 113 games in the National Hockey League (NHL). On a team that could have as many as seven rookie forwards seeing significant playing time, Megna’s experience will be invaluable in the development of the young prospects. It is a good bet that Megna will be a part of the Hershey leadership group in some capacity. It may be as an alternate, but he likely will wear a letter on his sweater.
Another candidate to join the Hershey leadership group is Michael Sgarbossa. He is the other veteran forward brought in by Washington. He has played in 312 American Hockey League (AHL) games, as well as 38 NHL contests. Similarly to Megna, his experience will help guide the rookie forwards through their inaugural pro season. Sgarbossa has not worn a letter in his pro career (was an “A” in Sudbury in juniors), but the lack of veterans on the Hershey roster could change that this season.
Liam O’Brien is also a candidate to be captain or an alternate. A year ago, the idea would have seem far-fetched, but the rugged winger grew up a lot last season. He had a career low in penalty minutes and did not get suspended once. O’Brien took on more responsibility, becoming one of Hershey’s top penalty killers. He earned the trust of the coaching staff in a way he failed to do so in his prior seasons. O’Brien is entering his fifth season with the Bears and the next step in his growth could very well be a leadership role.
Finally, fourth-year winger Riley Barber could find himself in the Hershey leadership core. On a team with potentially seven rookie forwards, the Pittsburgh native will be one of the team’s most experienced forwards and will be leaned on to help the youngsters along. He has been a captain once in his hockey career. He captained the United States in the 2014 World Junior Championship. The biggest concern with Barber is his ability to stay on the ice. He has missed significant time the past two seasons due to injuries. If he can stay healthy, Barber could find his way into the leadership group with the Bears.
The 2018-19 leadership core for the Hershey Bears will likely come from these six players. The number of these players and the specific roles each player will be assigned will be determined by new Hershey head coach Spencer Carbery and his assistants Patrick Wellar and Mike Eastwood. The Bears could choose to use four alternates, using two at home and two on the road, to go with the chosen captain. This will allow five players to wear letters on their sweaters and give the rookies more leaders to work with. Will this happen? That remains to be seen, but a rotation of at least three alternates would make sense.
Prediction: Aaron Ness as captain with Jayson Megna, Tyler Lewington and Liam O’Brien rotating as alternates.
By Eric Lord