Seven Questions Facing The Hershey Bears Heading Into 2023 Training Camp

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The commencement of training camp is approaching for the Hershey Bears, with the defending Calder Cup champions entering the 2023-24 American Hockey League (AHL) season with what looks like another formidable roster. Still, the Bears do have questions heading into camp. 

Here’s a look at the questions facing Hershey entering training camp.

1. Can Hendrix Lapierre seize the second line center role?

With Connor McMichael likely moving up to Washington, there is a hole at the second line center position and Lapierre will be given the first crack at the spot. The pivot got off to a hot start in his rookie campaign and led the team in scoring with 14 points after the first two months of the season.

Lapierre then scored 16 points the rest of the way. He went 15 games without tallying a goal, from late January to late March. The Gatineau, Quebec native also found himself a healthy scratch at times during the stretch. Lapierre netted three goals in the playoffs and added three assists.

To claim the second line center role, Lapierre will need to be more consistent. He has to bring the same effort game in and game out. The streakiness has to go. If Lapierre fails to do so, Alex Limoges and Ryan Hofer are around to take the spot from him.

2. Who will fill out the fourth line?

The Hershey fourth line was a strength last season and played a big role in the team’s run to the Calder Cup. The unit brought energy and a high level of physicality with bone crushing hits. They set the tone on most nights.

Several parts of that line have departed. Mason Morelli played on the unit for much of the postseason, but departed for the Vegas Golden Knights organization in July. Shane Gersich saw time on the fourth unit, but signed in Sweden in the offseason. Beck Malenstyn was a mainstay on the line. He is still in the organization, but will likely make Washington’s roster this training camp.

That leaves Riley Sutter as the holdover. Sutter enjoyed a breakout campaign, finally carving out a niche as a pro. He turned himself into the prototypical checking center, but the pivot will need new wingers. Henrik Rybinski could fill in on the right side. He is a solid defensive forward with offensive upside. The left wing likely will be split between the physical veteran Garrett Roe and the penalty killing specialist Matt Strome. However, players such as Julian Napravnik and Jimmy Huntington could find their way into the mix on the fourth line.

3. Who steps up to take roles on the penalty kill?

Garrett Pilon, Mason Morelli, Shane Gersich, Beck Malesntyn, Connor McMichael and Gabriel Carlsson all played important roles on the penalty kill unit last season. The team will probably not have any of those players for the unit this season (Pilon, Morelli, Gersich and Carlsson left in free agency. Malenstyn and McMichael will likely be with the Captials).

Assistant coach Patrick Wellar has to rebuild the penalty kill. Henrik Rybinski gained some experience as a penalty killer as a rookie last season and could be in line for a larger role on the unit this season. Matt Strome is a penalty killing specialist, but may not be in the lineup every night. Free agent signings Matthew Phillips and Alex Limoges have both killed penalties with previous organizations and could step into roles on the unit. On the blue line, Carlsson was the best penalty killing defenseman for the Bears last season. His shoes will need to be filled by someone.

4. Can Hardy Haman Aktell replace Gabriel Carlsson on defense?

The Capitals elected not to tender a contract to Carlsson this offseason. The organization believes it has a replacement for Carlsson in the 25-year old Aktell. Carlsson was a stalwart for Hershey last season. He was the team’s best defenseman in the regular season and took the assignment of shutting down the other team’s top offensive players.

Carlsson was also the best penalty killing defenseman for the chocolate and white. Aktell has plenty of upside and had a strong season with the Vaxjo Lakers last season. However, the Swede has never played in North America and will need to transition to the different style of play. Asking Aktell to step right into a top pair defensive role may be too much to ask at the start of the season.

5. What happens with Bogdan Trineyev and Ivan Miroshnichenko?

A pair of Russian prospects face uncertainty heading into training camp. Trineyev is listed by as being a member of the Bears for the upcoming season. However, reports out of Russia have the winger being loaned back to Dynamo Moscow.

The path to playing time is clearer with Dynamo Moscow than it is with Hershey. The Bears have a lot of forwards under contract and the situation for Trineyev becomes murkier if Joe Snively is sent down by the Capitals. Snively being in Chocolate Town basically eliminates any role for Trineyev.

If Snively remains in D.C., then a spot on the third line would be open and Trineyev would have the chance to earn that role. Otherwise, the youngster will find himself without a role and a possible ticket to South Carolina.

Miroshnichenko is coming to the United States, but where he plays and his role is up in the air. The 2022 first round pick comes with a large amount of hype. However, the 19-year old is still working his way back after a battle with Hodgkin Lymphoma. Miroshnichenko only returned to hockey in December and spent most of last season in the Russian junior league. The kid needs a lot of ice time to develop and adjust to the North American game. He is unlikely to get that in Hershey with the loaded roster. A stint in South Carolina (or elsewhere) to start the season would allow him to play first line minutes and grow. He could then join the Bears later in the season.

6. How does the coaching staff manage the roster?

The chocolate and white are poised to have a potent, deep roster, with eight quality defensemen. Nelson and Wellar (who is in charge of the defense) will need to find a way to keep all eight sharp.

Jake Massie is used to playing the extra defenseman role and knows how to stay sharp with limited playing time. Logan Day only played 36 regular season games last season, but took off in the playoffs and was one of the heroes of the championship run. His role should be elevated.

Then, there are six other defensemen (Dylan McIlrath, Aaron Ness, Chase Priskie, Hardy Haman Aktell, Vincent Iorio and Lucas Johansen) who would expect to play every night. A team can never have too many good defenseman, but keeping all of them happy will be a challenge. The coaching staff will need to be upfront with the defenseman on how the playing time will be handled.

Similarly, the forward corps is deep. There will be a group of forwards who will be in the lineup every game if healthy. Mike Vecchione, Mike Sgarbossa, Riley Sutter, Matthew Phillips and Alex Limoges fit into this category. Prospects Hendrix Lapierre, Ethen Frank, Henrik Rybinski and Pierrick Dube will be in the lineup as long as they are giving a consistent effort and playing hard.

That leaves the remainder of the forward corps in need of ice time. Players like Matt Strome, Julian Napravnik, Garrett Roe and Jimmy Huntington may not play every night, but will need to play to keep themselves in game shape because they will likely be called upon at some point due to injuries and callups.

7. Who will emerge as the number three goalie?

The top two goalies for the Bears are pretty well set with Hunter Shepard and Clay Stevenson. Shepard was Hershey’s best player in both the regular season and the Calder Cup playoffs. Stevenson played well in his limited playing time in the AHL and had a solid season with South Carolina.

However, a team never gets through a season using just two goalies. Recalls and injuries force teams to deploy additional netminders. Last season, Stevenson filled that role. Who moves into that role this season? The two candidates are Garin Bjorklund and rookie Mitchell Gibson.

Bjorklund missed almost all of last season after undergoing major back surgery. He ended up playing in a total of two games for South Carolina, one in the regular season and one in the playoffs. The Calgary, Alberta native will now look to work his way back into the picture on the organizational depth chart.

Gibson heads into his first professional season after a solid collegiate career at Harvard University. The native of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania went 18-7-2 for Harvard last season with a 2.25 goals against average and .922 save percentage. He was named 2nd team all ECAC and led Harvard to a NCAA tournament bid. Hershey will likely need one of Bjorklund or Gibson to make some starts this season and will need them to play well when given the opportunity. One will need to grasp the chance in front of them.

By Eric Lord

About Eric Lord

Eric has been a Hershey Bears fan since attending his 1st game at age 8. He has been a season-ticket holder since the 2009-10 season and has been writing about Hershey Bears hockey since 2012. His favorite Bears memory is the team's 1996-97 run to the Calder Cup Championship where Hershey was 5-0 when facing elimination. Eric graduated from Fordham University in 2000 with a bachelors in communication and from Iona College in 2005 with a Masters in Journalism. He is also a photographer and serves as an assistant soccer coach for the Pottsville Area High School girls soccer team.
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11 Responses to Seven Questions Facing The Hershey Bears Heading Into 2023 Training Camp

  1. Anonymous says:

    Let’s go Bears!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Lapierre needs to take a big step forward this season. Other forwards/centers are starting to breathe down his neck.

    • DWGie26 says:

      He is on track. Big season last year with games played. If he can hold down 2C and stay healthy he will be well positioned. Part of the path. Can he do it consistently?

      • Eric Lord says:

        I wouldn’t say Lapierre had a big season last year. He struggled after a strong start & was a healthy scratch at times. Lapierre scored a third of his points in November. His play was up and down a lot. He needs to find a more consistent effort. He doesn’t have to score 10 points every month like he did in November last season, but he needs to contribute every month and not go long stretches without making an impact. The talent is there to do that.

        • DWGIE26 says:

          Oh yeah, his play was up and down. I was referring to a big year in terms of games played and experience. He played 80 games, including 20 playoff games and winning a championship. He’ll grow from that. And like we both said, he needs to do it consistently next year. If he does, he be ready for pull-up duty in 24-25. But he needs a full season in Hershey next year and be strong 2C.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The Stingrays signed defenseman Connor Moore to a contract for the 2023-24 season. Moore, 26, returns for his fourth season in South Carolina where he has skated in 150 games and accumulated 70 points (8g-62a). He has been an alternate captain for the past two seasons.

  4. novafyre says:

    The ECHL South Carolina Stingrays were founded in 1993, were an affiliate of the Caps from 2004 to 2012, and then have been again since 2014. The team has called the North Charleston Coliseum home since year one and has welcomed over 4.5 million fans.

    The team qualified for the postseason in 24 of their 25 previous campaigns and won the Kelly Cup 1997, 2001 and 2009.

    Their fifth appearance in the Kelly Cup Finals in 2017 is the most of any ECHL team. South Carolina became the second team to reach the 1,000 win mark in 2018 and has an all-time winning percentage over .600. The 2017-18 team also set the record for most wins and points in a regular season, with 48 and 104 respectively. They also established three ECHL records for defense including least goals allowed in a regular season (153), lowest team goals-against average (2.13) and fewest power play goals allowed (27).

    South Carolina also owns the record for the longest winning streak in ECHL history with 23 consecutive victories during the 2014-15 season. The Stingrays have the most playoff appearances and have also played the most playoff games in the league’s history.

    South Carolina has also been known for the success of their coaches, many of which have moved on to higher levels of hockey. Currently, Spiros Anastas is serving as the eighth head coach in team history, while former bench bosses Jason Fitzsimmons, Jared Bednar, Cail MacLean), Spencer Carbery, and Ryan Warsofsky all hold hockey operations positions in the NHL or AHL.

    This is from a very dated article from the Rays. I have tried to update it but might have missed something.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      you should watch Vogs interview with “The Carburetor” They talk a lot about SC.

      • novafyre says:

        Thanks Jon for the link. Fantastic interview. Failures more important than wins, learning from mistakes, wanting new challenges, teamwork, mentoring, how being a square peg in a round hole doesn’t work but given the opportunity of a square hole, it can. So many life lessons. Bolts had a Pat Maroon interview that I thought all high school students should watch. This is another. A student who is good at learning (as opposed to one who finds making A’s easy) makes the best teacher. Carbs shows that he was a good student, that he has viewed each change, each opportunity, each failure as a learning opportunity, and is still learning today. Should be a great teacher.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Excellent analysis Eric! Caps and Bears each have a surfeit of talent – not always the case. Three days and a wake-up until Caps’ Rookie Camp!!

  6. William Charles Gilbert says:

    Napravnik is not really a 4th liner. His skill set is more of a 2nd or 3rd liner

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