Hershey Bears reflect on shortcomings of historic 80th season
The 2018 Capital BlueCross Outdoor Classic Hershey Bears vs. Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Gallery: The 2018 Capital BlueCross Outdoor Classic Hershey Bears vs. Lehigh Valley Phantoms
HERSHEY – It was a quiet Tuesday morning at Giant Center as the Hershey Bears cleaned out their lockers and officially closed the book on the 2017-18 season.
It was a much different season-ending vibe for a team that’s accustomed to playing well past mid-April.
Hershey, eliminated from playoff contention for over a month, missed the postseason for just the 13th time in franchise history. This wasn’t where the Bears (30-37-4-5) expected to finish during their historic 80th season.
“It’s tough. It’s definitely a feeling that I haven’t had here in the American League,” Hershey alternate captain Chris Bourque said. “This is the first year that I haven’t made playoffs in all my years here in Hershey and then when I was in other places as well.”
“It’s disappointing for us because we still want to be playing,” added Bourque, who tallied a team-high 53 points. “Everybody wants to be playing for the Calder Cup. Playoff hockey is the best hockey to be playing and to not be playing is definitely disappointing.”
Hershey got off to a slow start to its historic season as primary goalies Phoenix Copley and Vitek Vanecek both suffered injuries that kept them out of the lineup for four to six weeks.
Bears’ head coach Troy Mann said that the goaltending “needed to be better” and that the inconsistencies in net “could’ve been due to the injuries.”
A rookie-laden defensive group and the team’s poor record against Atlantic Division rivals Lehigh Valley and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (combined 4-16-2-2) also contributed to Hershey’s challenging season.
Last year Hershey had three 20-plus goal scorers but just one (Riley Barber, 20) this season as the Bears ranked last in the Atlantic Division with 201 goals.
All of that resulted in Hershey missing the postseason for the first time since the 2013-14 season. It’s eighth place finish in the Atlantic Division saw the Bears finish last in their division for the first time since the 1983-84 campaign.
“It’s hard to put your finger on one thing,” center Zach Sill said. “It was a frustrating season, but we had a pretty good group in here. We couldn’t get the wins when we needed big wins. It wasn’t a great season and it’s hard to look back at it and figure out what went wrong and when it went wrong but you just have to move on.”
Despite its shortcomings, the organization still fulfilled its primary goal of developing players and funneling them to the NHL. Several former Bears suited up for the playoff-bound Washington Capitals this season.
“I think our record in terms of developing speaks for itself,” Mann said. “There were only three teams in the NHL that had four-plus rookies in the NHL this year – New Jersey, Boston and the Washington Capitals – and all four of our guys played 50-plus games. From a development standpoint I don’t know if you can ask for anything more but from a winning side we know what it’s about here and unfortunately we’re not getting to where we need to be and that’s the playoffs.”