Photos: Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Last season, Spencer Carbery, Head Coach of the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate Hershey Bears, elected not to have a team captain for his relatively young squad. Instead, he chose to go with a rotation of players to serve as assistant or alternate captains throughout the season; Aaron Ness, Riley Barber, Tyler Lewington, Mike Sgarbossa, Jayson Megna, Liam O’Brien, Nathan Walker and Colby Williams were among the players who wore the “A” last season for the Bears. As the 2019-20 season approaches, the question remains. Will Spencer Carbery name a captain this season? If so, who will it be? While Ness, Walker, Barber, and Megna have all departed this offseason, Hershey still has a group of players that should form the team’s leadership group.
If Carbery decides to name a captain, a strong case can be made for defenseman Tyler Lewington. The Edmonton, Alberta native is coming off a strong season in which he teamed with Ness to form the Bears’ top defensive pair, which was a big part of Hershey’s mid-season turnaround. Lewington also saw his first action in the NHL, recording a Gordie Howe hat trick in his second career game with the Capitals. Now entering his fifth professional season, Lewington has grown into a leader: he always stands up for his teammates, in the wake of a hit he deems unnecessary, or when they are caught in the middle of a fracas; he has also developed into a mentor for the team’s younger defensemen, guiding them through the ups and downs of professional hockey, showing most of the tools necessary to be a successful captain.
Another candidate who should be strongly considered is winger Liam O’Brien. The longest-tenured Bear has a magnetic personality and a good relationship with the players. In addition, he donned the alternate’s “A” last season and has all of the off-ice characteristics required of a team captain. However, there are questions with O’Brien on the ice. When Hershey made their big turnaround last season, O’Brien was largely absent from the rebound efforts, as his play dipped when the team caught fire. In addition, the Halifax, Nova Scotia native’s penalty minutes increased, culminating in O’Brien finding himself suspended for three games (including Hershey’s first playoff game) after a charging incident in a game at Harford. Another potential issue with O’Brien wearing the captain’s “C” is his somewhat rocky relationship with the referees. His previous transgressions can be held against him, and as an emotional player, he can be demonstrative at times with the officials, something a team captain cannot repeatedly do. The Bears would need O’Brien to be a leader and to consistently show he is capable of doing so.
Also returning to the Hershey leadership group is center Mike Sgarbossa. The team’s top center led the Bears in scoring last season with 65 points and was in the top three in almost all offensive categories, remaining a consistent offensive presence. O’Brien may be the off-ice leader, but Sgarbossa is the on-ice leader of the forward corps. He sets the tone offensively and leads by example. As he goes, so goes the offense. Sgarbossa is even-keeled and is well-respected around the AHL, something that would aid him well in a role as captain.
Hershey Vice President of Hockey Operations Bryan Helmer signed two players to AHL contracts this offseason that will not only help the Bears with their play, but will also serve as additional leaders for the organization. Helmer brought back defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer, who previously played for Hershey during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. Burgdoerfer spent the last two seasons in the Ottawa Senators organization, playing in six NHL games, while serving as the Senators’ AHL affiliate Bellville Senators’ captain last season and as an alternate captain the year before. Burgdoerfer also served two seasons as an alternate captain with the Bakersfield Condors earlier in his career. He will be counted on as a mentor to Hershey’s young defenders and the team as a whole.
The other player Helmer signed was veteran winger Matt Moulson. The 35-year old brings 650 games of NHL experience to Chocolate Town. Moulson was once an alternate captain for the Buffalo Sabres during the 2014-15 season and held the same position with the Ontario Reign of the AHL last season. Moulson posted 62 points in 68 games last season in Ontario, playing on a line with now-Bears teammate Philippe Maillet. Hershey has a lot of young forwards on its roster and Mouslon’s experience will be an invaluable tool to the Bears.
These are the five players that will likely make up the leadership group for the Hershey Bears and should Carbery opt to name a captain, be in the running to don the “C” as the 44th captain in the Bears’ illustrious history.
Who would you name captain?
By Eric Lord