The Hershey Bears have once again made the Calder Cup Finals and will play the Coachella Firebirds starting on Thursday at Acrisure Arena in Thousand Palms, California. This is the first time the Bears have been to the Finals since the 2015-16 season when they faced the Lake Erie Monsters. This is the Bears sixth appearance in the Calder Cup Finals since becoming the Washington Capitals AHL affiliate before the 2005-06 season.
This is the 24th overall time the Bears franchise has made the Finals, as they seek their 12th Calder Cup. In this post, we will take a look at the previous appearances in the Finals as a Capitals affiliate.
2005-06 Season – Won Calder Cup
Regular Season Record: 44-21-0-15
Head Coach: Bruce Boudreau
Assistant Coach: Bob Woods
This was the first season of the current partnership between the Washington Capitals and the Hershey Bears. It was also the first season where Bruce Boudreau was the team’s Head Coach. During the regular season, the Bears finished in second place in the East Division, behind Wilkes-Barre.
Photo via Stowe Today.
During the playoffs, the Bears swept the Norfolk Admirals in the first round and followed that up by sweeping the top-seeded Wilkes-Barre Penguins in the second round. After that, they met the Portland Pirates of the Atlantic Division, beating them in a series that required playing the maximum possible seven games.
In Game 7, Portland initially got off to a 2-0 lead, but Hershey tied the game at 3-3 before the first intermission. Portland scored a short-handed goal during the second period to take a 4-3 lead which held up most of the way until Graham Mink got the game-tying goal with just over two minutes to go. Eric Fehr scored the game-winner nearly halfway through overtime, advancing the Bears to the Calder Cup Finals.
They faced the Western Conference Champions, the Milwaukee Admirals, and beat them in six games. They split the first four games but won games five and six to clinch the championship.
The team included several future Capitals who, at the time, were regarded as prospects, which included recent draft picks and prospects acquired in trades. Future Capitals regulars, who played for them for most of the season included forwards Tomas Fleischmann, Eric Fehr, David Steckel, Boyd Gordon, and defenseman Mike Green. Fleischmann led the Bears in goals with 30 and overall points overall with 63. Brooks Laich joined them for the playoff run and defenseman Jeff Schultz joined them when his junior hockey season was completed.
2006-07 Season – Lost Calder Cup
Regular Season Record: 51-17-0-12
Head Coach: Bruce Boudreau
Assistant Coach: Bob Woods
During the regular season, the Bears finished in first place in the East Division. Future Capitals regulars included Steckel, Fleischmann, Schultz, and Quentin Laing. Mike Green played most of the season with the Capitals but joined the Bears for the playoffs. Eric Fehr missed much of the season due to a back injury and was unable to play in the playoffs.
Photo: Town of Hershey Hockey Blog
The Bears beat the Albany River Rats in five games during the first round. They moved on to play the Wilkes-Barre Penguins in the second round and won that series in five games. They moved on to face the Manchester Monarchs in the Eastern Conference Finals and swept them in four straight games.
They then faced the Hamilton Bulldogs in the Calder Cup Finals. They split the first two games but fell in each of the last three games, losing the series in five games. The Bears didn’t have as much depth as they did the previous year due to trades, promotions to the NHL, and injuries. The Bears also faced a hot goalie in Carey Price who later became prominent with the Montreal Canadiens
2008-09 Season – Won Calder Cup
Regular Season Record: 49-23-0-8
Head Coach: Bob Woods
Assistant Coach: Mark French
During the regular season, the team finished first in the East Division. Although tied with the Bridgeport Tigers in standings points, they won the division thanks to tiebreakers. The team had a very French flavor as at least five players were of French descent, including Alexandre Giroux, Keith Aucoin, Chris Bourque, Mathieu Perreault, and Francois Bouchard. Future Capitals regulars included Karl Alzner, Jay Beagle, and Mathieu Perreault. Giroux led the team in goals that year with 60. Bryan Helmer, now the Bears’ Vice President of Hockey Operations, was team captain.
Both goalie prospects that the Capitals drafted in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, spent time with the Bears that season and both made their NHL debut. Neuvirth joined the team when Varlamov was first called up to Washington. Neuvirth was ultimately the goaltender who played the entirety of the team’s run through the Calder Cup Finals. Neuvirth received the Jack Butterfield Memorial Trophy given to the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs. Giroux led the Bears in playoff scoring.
Photo: Town of Chocolate Hockey Blog
The Bears swept the Philadelphia Phantoms in the first round. After that, they played the Wilkes-Barre Penguins in the second round, requiring the entire seven games to do so. They won each of the final two games by identical 3-0 scores. They they then faced the Providence Bruins in the third round and won the series in five games.
The Bears moved on to face the Manitoba Moose, the winner of the Western Conference, in the Calder Cup Finals. They won the first game in Overtime, 5-4 but dropped the second game. The Bears then won the next two games to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. They lost Game 5 but ultimately won Game 6, winning 4-1.
2009-10 Season – Won Calder Cup
Regular Season Record: 60-17-0-3
Head Coach: Mark French
Assistant Coach: Troy Mann
The 2009-10 season marked the best regular season in wins and overall points in Hershey Bears’ history, as they finished first in the East Division. Many of the players on the 2008-09 team returned to Hershey.
Once again Alexander Giroux had the most goals on the team, with 50, and Keith Aucoin led in overall points with 106. The team included future Capitals regulars, Jay Beagle and Karl Alzner. It also featured defenseman John Carlson, who joined the Bears soon after scoring the game-winning goal for Team USA in the World Juniors.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who was expected to spend the season with the Caps’ ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays, played in more games for Hershey than anyone else due to injuries to goaltenders either on the Caps or on the Bears. The playoff run featured Holtby starting in two of the first three playoff games for Hershey before yielding the crease to Michal Neuvirth who had returned from injury but ultimately played the remaining games before the team won their second consecutive Calder Cup.
Photo: Joe Beninati from Twitter via Washington Post
The Bears beat the Bridgeport Tigers in Round 1 in five games. They moved on to the second round to play the Albany Devils who they swept in four games. They played the Manchester Monarchs in the Eastern Conference Finals who they beat in six games. This set up the Calder Cup Finals matchup with the Texas Stars who they beat in six games. During that run to the Calder Cup, defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner were the shutdown pair for Hershey.
2015-16 Season – Lost Calder Cup
Regular Season Record: 43-21-0-5
Head Coach: Troy Mann
Assistant Coach: Bryan Helmer and Ryan Murphy
During the regular season, the Bears finished first in the Atlantic Division. Chris Bourque was once again the leading scorer for Hershey with 30 goals and 80 points. Rookie Riley Barber ranked second in goals scored and points.
This Bears team featured several future Capitals players, many of who were part of their Stanley Cup-winning team of 2017-18, including Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker, Madison Bowey, Chandler Stephenson, and Christian Djoos. Vrana missed nearly half the season due to a broken wrist but scored the most goals for the Bears during their playoff run, with eight. He ranked second on the team in points with 14.
The Bears played the Portland Pirates in the first round of the playoffs, beating them in five games. Their only loss was a 2-1 loss in triple overtime. They then played their second-round series against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and took the series in seven games. Game 7 ended up as a 3-2 Overtime win.
After that, they faced the Toronto Marlies of the North Division, who had the best record in the AHL for the regular season and featured several future Maple Leafs regulars. The Bears took that series in five games.
Photo: Hershey Bears
They Bears ultimately faced the Lake Erie Monsters. However, the Bears fell in four games to the Monsters where many of the heroics came from Zach Warenski, the Columbus Blue Jackets first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, who had left college to sign a professional contract and would become an eventual fixture in the Blue Jackets lineup.
In short, the Bears have won three Calder Cups since their partnership with the Capitals and made two other appearances before this season. Several members of those Bears teams had gone on to become regulars with the Caps with several being members of the Capitals’ 2017-18 Stanley Cup winning season. Hopefully, the Bears can add their fourth Calder Cup Championship since their affiliation with the Capitals.
By Diane Doyle