On the eve of the start of their 2022-23 season, the Hershey Bears released their initial training camp roster, which opens Monday morning at Giant Center. The initial roster includes a mixture of familiar faces, newcomers, youngsters and long shots. Here’s a look at the makeup of this years training camp roster.
Offensively, the roster is led by veteran centers Mike Sgarbossa, sporting a new number in 23, and Mike Vecchione. Entering his fifth season with the chocolate and white, Sgarbossa is unquestionably one of the leaders of the team and should center one of the top lines. Vecchione topped the team’s scoring list last season and will again be looked upon for scoring.
Also returning to Hershey up front are Mason Morelli, Shane Gersich, Kale Kessy and Riley Sutter. Morelli is a Swiss Army knife for the Bears. He played up and down the lineup last season at all three forward positions. The Minot, North Dakota native posted a career-high 33 points last season.
Gersich returns after being unable to secure an NHL deal this off-season. The University of North Dakota product potted a career-high 14 goals and 34 points this past campaign. Kessy is a fan favorite who provides a physical presence. Sutter is at a crossroads in his career. He has been unable to find a niche thus far in his career and could find himself sitting in the press box if he does not pick up his game.
The one big off-season addition was Sam Anas. The former AHL scoring champion brings a bona fide scorer into the fold and that is something the chocolate and white lacked last season. The native of Potomac, Maryland amassed 64 points with Springfield last season – 20 more than the Bears’ top scorer. Anas should also improve the team’s power play.
Ethen Frank and Julian Napravnik are in camp after joining Hershey late last season at the conclusion of their college careers. Frank had a goal in five games and Napravnik was scoreless in four games in their short time in the AHL. Frank, a natural center who can also play the right side, led the NCAA in goals last year with 26 while at Western Michigan. He has a shoot first mentality and could factor into the bottom six. Napravnik was a second-team All-American last season at Minnesota State and was second on his team in scoring. The German could play his way into a role with the Bears.
A pair of recent Washington Capitals draft picks are also in town. Headlining this group is 2020 first round pick Hendrix Lapierre. Drafted as a center, Lapierre spent last season on the left wing with Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and scored 51 points in 40 games. He will likely slot-in on the left wing on one of the top lines for Hershey. In that same draft, the Capitals selected Bear Hughes in the fifth round. He compiled 67 points for the Spokane Chiefs last season and figures to be in competition for the fourth line center spot.
Hughes’ main competition for the fourth line center spot is likely Henrik Rybinski. Originally drafted as a right wing by the Florida Panthers, Rybinski was never offered a contract and signed with Washington in March. The Vancouver, British Columbia native transitioned back to center last season with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League (WHL) and his game blossomed. He scored 21 goals and assisted on 44 others for his team and was named Seattle’s Most Valuable Player for the season.
Other forwards in camp include left wing Matthew Strome (16 points in 63 games with Lehigh Valley), left wing Alexandre Fortin (9 points in 34 games with Laval), center/left wing Ryan Scarfo (12 points in 63 games with Rochester) and right wing Jarid Lukosevicius (19 points in 62 games with Abbotsford).
These players are likely destined for South Carolina in the ECHL, but could factor in if injuries occur. Also likely headed to South Carolina is forward Jonny Evans who played four years for the University of Connecticut.
Finally, forwards Peter Laviolette (son of the Capitals’ head coach) and former Junior Hershey Bears captain Shane Sellar (a Carlisle, Pennsylvania native) are in training camp with the Bears, but have contracts with other ECHL teams (Wheeling for Laviolette and Reading for Sellar). Most of these players are longshots to make the opening night roster.
Beck Malenstyn and Garrett Pilon will join this group if they clear waivers after being cut from training camp on Sunday.
At the start of training camp, there are a lot of new faces on the blue line. Jake Massie played 34 games for Hershey last season and Benton Maass suited up in a single game. That is the extent of the players who saw action for the chocolate and white on the back end in 2021-22.
However, there is a player in camp with extensive experience as a Hershey Bear. Aaron Ness returns to Chocolate Town after three seasons. The product of the University of Minnesota was a stalwart on the Hershey defense from 2015-16 to 2018-19. Ness played for Team USA in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China and brings a wealth of experience and leadership to the team. He likely sees time on the team’s top defense pairing and will be part of the leadership corps for the Bears.
Logan Day brings 217 AHL games of experience to the team. He spent last season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Day is a solid defender who can bring a little offense.
The previously mentioned Massie returns after playing sparingly last season. He figures to see a similar role this campaign.
Maass enters his first professional season after spending five years in college. He spent four seasons with New Hampshire before spending his extra year of eligibility (due to COVID) with Minnesota State. The native of Elk River, Minnesota is a strong defender who has yet to show a lot offensively.
Another young defender in camp is Vincent Iorio. The 2021 second round pick turned a corner offensively last season, totaling 44 points, including 33 assists, in 60 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL. Iorio has a chance to see power play time this season with the Bears and could benefit from a pairing with Ness.
21-year old Martin Has is in camp on a tryout. A 2019 fifth round pick by the Capitals, Has had a solid 2021-22 campaign with the Shawinigan Cataractes. The Czech blue liner helped lead Shawinigan to a QMJHL championship and an appearance in the Memorial Cup. Hershey would need to sign Has to an AHL contract to keep him on the roster. With his ability and upside, that outcome should be likely.
The final defenseman on the initial training camp roster Michael Kim. The Boston College alum likely starts the season in South Carolina, but probably will be seen in Hershey at some point during the season. He has played in 49 AHL games over the past four seasons and will be a solid fill-in when injuries and callups happen.
The group of defensemen could grow by three on Monday if Dylan McIlrath, Bobby Nardella and Gabriel Carlsson clear waivers.
The goalie depth at camp took a hit when Clay Stevenson underwent surgery on his right hand. Stevenson will miss 4-6 weeks. With Stevenson out, that leaves Hunter Shepard and Garin Bjorklund as the only netminders in camp.
Shepard has played 12 games for the Bears over the past two seasons and has looked strong in his his limited time. Last season, he went 5-3 for Hershey with a save percentage of .922 and a 2.06 goals-against-average. His best start was a 42-save effort in a victory over Bridgeport on February 19. The two-time national champion at Minnesota-Duluth has a calm demeanor about him and exudes confidence. He should see a good number of starts for the chocolate and white this season.
A native of Grand Prairie, Alberta, Bjorklund was drafted in the sixth round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Bjorklund suffered through a dismal campaign on a Medicine Hat Tigers team that had the worst record in the WHL. He was 8-36-2, posting a 4.26 goals-against average and a save percentage of .877. Bjorklund is likely destined for South Carolina and that is probably the best thing for his development at this point.
Zach Fucale figures to command a majority of starts for the Bears if he clears waivers. If not, the team may need to go out and sign an available veteran goalie like Christopher Gibson or Garret Sparks.
The roster on the opening day of training camp will see changes before the roster is finalized for opening night. Over the next two weeks, more players will come down from Washington and the Bears will move players out. Still, there is a foundation of a lineup in place as training camp opens. It is up to Bears new head coach Todd Nelson and staff to build around that foundation.
By Eric Lord