Photo: JustSports/Hershey Bears
The Hershey Bears made quite a few moves this offseason, all aimed at improving the forward corps, as well as the blueline, for the upcoming season. With the addition of new, young talent and the signing of skilled NHL and American Hockey League veterans, the Bears are staging a run for their 12th Calder Cup championship. In this piece, NoVa Caps Zac Herr looks at some of the factors in making it happen.
Many players (especially the prospects) will be attending Capitals and/or Bears training camps in the coming weeks, looking to make an impact and get noticed. Capitals camp opens on September 12th, while the Bears are looking to start in or around September 23. While most of the players are already slated to have a role in Hershey this year, training camp has proven over the years to be the place where all players have an opportunity to make an impact and earn a shot at an NHL role.
The Capitals have seen a number of players over the years make the most of their opportunity in training camp and make a name for themselves, regardless of whether the subsequent NHL stint was a permanent/long one, or simply a handful of games (longtime Jonas Siegenthaler being a prime example). The Bears’ roster is looking to be a relatively strong one this season and after a monumental turnaround last season, the returning cast will look to build on second half successes from the 2018-2019 season.
The organization’s prospects have shown and made it clear this offseason that they are ready for a shot at a spot on the NHL roster. Forward Shane Gersich has said he is ready to make an impact and his performance in Da Beauty League this summer certainly reflects those intentions. 2018 first-round pick Alexander Alexyev has also expressed a “plan” to make the roster.
A strong showing in Hershey has often led to prime NHL opportunities for Capitals prospects. Take for example the back-to-back Calder Cup-winning teams in 2009 and 2010. The core group from those teams included former Capitals such as Jay Beagle, Michal Neuvirth, and Karl Alzner (all who made an impact in some way during their time in D.C.), and current members of the team in John Carlson and Braden Holtby.
One situation the Bears find themselves in is that both goaltenders that backstopped the team last season are both very good and coming off strong seasons. While second-year netminder Ilya Samsonov may see some NHL time this year [with the possibility of the Caps losing Braden Holtby to free agency next summer], Vitek Vanecek has also proven himself to be trustworthy in net and is coming off an All-Star season in 2018-19. Both played consistently last season and both could push for an NHL spot at some point in the near future if they continue to play at the level they showed in 2018-19.
This offseason has seen many additions to Hershey’s roster. With the loss of a few key players (including leaders in Aaron Ness, Jayson Megna and Riley Barber), something needed to be done for the roster. The Bears made several moves to bring in some key veteran players that will replace the experience lost. Matt Moulson, one of the team’s recent additions, has over 650 professional games played and was a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy in the past; the team also added Casey Bailey, [former Bear] Erik Burgdoerfer, and offensive weapon Mike Sgarbossa was re-signed by the Capitals. These signings have the potential to bolster the locker room morale and provide a guiding hand for the team’s young players.
The 2019-20 promises to be an interesting one for the Bears after many additions to the team, in the form of both veterans and some new youth to the roster this summer. After a vast improvement under Head Coach Spencer Carbery last season, the Chocolate and White will look to build on that in 2019-20.
By Zac Herr