Hershey Bears Headed in New Direction

Posted July 9, 2018

(Caps Outsider)

Fresh off of a Stanley Cup win, the Washington Capitals went in the direction of resigning the majority of their free agents this offseason.  Most notably, John Carlson with his monster of a deal, Michal Kempy signing for four years and Devante Smith-Pelly signing a generous one year deal to stay with the team.  This still leaves out RFA’s Tom Wilson and Madison Bowey, both expected to make deals before the preseason begins.

So what does this mean for the Hershey Bears?  Let’s start off by showing you this section of Mike Vogel’s (beat writer for the Washington Capitals) article:

With newly named head coach Spencer Carbery at the helm, the AHL Hershey Bears figure to have one of their deepest freshman classes ever. Goaltender Ilya Samsonov is set to make his North American pro debut there in the fall, and first-year forwards Shane Gersich, Jusso Ikonen, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Max Kammerer, Beck Malenstyn, Garret Pilon and Brian Pinho are poised to do the same.

If one or two of those seven first-year forwards is ready to compete for an NHL job as early as 2019-20, doling out too much term to current RFA and UFA vets may prove counterproductive down the road. As it is, the Caps will be facing the challenge of having as many as seven first-year forwards at Hershey this season.

“Years ago, with the way we operated, I’d be worried,” admits Steve Richmond, Caps director of player development. “I’d be worried because it was more about Hershey than it was about developing, but it’s changed. So they’re going to have their opportunity to play. We’re not going to have six veteran forwards there, so they’re going to have an opportunity to play. And if they’re not ready, then we’ll make an adjustment. But they’ll have the first shot over a journeyman American League guy.”

Check out Vogel’s article on dumpnchase.com.


Obviously, this is disheartening for longtime Hershey Bears fans.  These word came from Steve Richmond, the Capitals Director of Player Development.  Since the Capitals took over the partnership with the Bears, there has been success.  But with this success, philosophy has slowly changed behind the scenes.

Last season was a complete disaster, with players like Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Christian Djoos and Bowey playing for the parent team for all or most of the season.  This left big roles to fill on Hershey’s roster, which never really took off during the season.

Once the season was over, Hershey fired head coach Troy Mann. This left fans scratching their heads on what the thought process was behind this.  During his time as a coach in Hershey, Mann posted a 162-102-22-18 record in 304 regular season games.  This won the Bears two Atlantic Division titles and a trip to the Calder Cup Finals in 2016.  During this stretch, Mann coached 9 players who were apart of the Stanley Cup winning Washington Capitals.  Mann was also the assistant coach from the 2009-10 to 2012-13 seasons.  Hershey won the Calder Cup in 2010.

Next to exit Hershey was longtime player Chris Bourque.  Many think Bourque will be the next player to have his number retired.  Steve Richmond was quoted, “But they’ll (young prospects) have the first shot over a journeyman American League guy.” This made it pretty clear that Bourque’s days were done in Hershey.

This quote from Richmond is also leaving a big question mark for players like Zach Sill and last season’s captain, Garrett Mitchell.  These players were the heart and soul of last season’s team.  Sill would put everything out on the ice and when they played together, they brought an energy that the Bears desperately needed.  Mitchell suffered injuries and was a healthy scratch at some points during the season.  This made room younger forwards who needed more ice time.

This tweet from @taylortweetn has summed up how most fans have been reacting to the news:

@pwilliamsNHL who works from the NHL as an AHL corespondent shared his first hand experience with this philosophy change that is similar to what the Manitoba Moose two years ago:

Who are the newcomers? (Please note these players are not confirmed to be starters in Hershey.  These are projections.)

Let’s start with the new head coach, Spencer Carbery.  Carbery spent 5 seasons with the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays from 2011-2016.  He posted a 207-115-38 record which makes him the all-time winningest coach in Stingrays history.  Carbery won the ECHL’s Coach of the Year (John Brophy Award) in 2014 and was the runner-up in 2015 and 2016.  Spencer spent last season as an assistant coach of the Providence Bruins in the AHL.  The Bruins record last season was 45-26-3-2.  The new coach is 36 years old but has a lot of experience.

Goaltender Ilya Samsonov, who stands at 6’3″, was drafted by the Capitals in 2015 in the first round (22nd pick).  The 21-year-old had a very impressive stint in Russia’s KHL.  In 87 career games, he went 37-20-9 with a 92.7 save % and 2.19 GAA.

Coming over from Sweden is Axel Jonsson-Fjallby.  The 20-year-old was drafted in the 5th round (147 overall) in the 2016. Most know him on this side of the pond as the player who deflated team USA in the World Junior Championships just a year ago.  He has great speed and does well on the penalty kill.

A new Garrett is in town.  This time around his name is Garrett Pilon.  The 20-year-old comes from the WHL and was drafted in the third round (87th pick) in 2016.  While in the WHL, Pilon posted 192 points in 207 regular season games.  This could add that offensive spark that Hershey was missing last season.

Shane Gersich came straight off of the University of North Dakota’s roster and became a Stanley Cup champion.  He was drafted in the 5th round (134th overall) in 2014.  During his time in college, Gersich posted 77 points in 117 games.  We got to see a small sample for 5 games during the regular season and playoffs for the Capitals.  He shows creativity, which was one of many things missing from the Bears last season.  Gersich is expected to fight for an NHL roster spot, but he could be in the mix for AHL time as well.

Beck Malenstyn is a left wing who is fresh off of a WHL championship.  He was drafted in 2016 in the 5th round (145th overall).  During his last season with the Swift Current Broncos, he posted 17 goals, 12 assists in 38 regular season games.  During the playoffs he scored 4 times with 7 assists in 26 playoff games.  Having this experience of playoff hockey and winning a championship will give him a head start of what we expect in chocolate town.

Jayson Megna comes over from the Utica Comets.  Megna has been a role player during his career through the AHL.  He also has 113 games of NHL experience.  This will help as he becomes a role model for all of these young prospects.

Brian Pinho who was drafted in 2013 in the 6th round (174th overall), joins the Bears after finishing college at Providence.  He had 115 points in 156 games during his 4 years there.  His numbers were consistent through the last two seasons.  If he can click with someone early, he could be a dangerous threat.

Maximilian Kammerer joins us from the DEL league in Germany.  His last two seasons there, he posted 57 points in 103 games.  The 21-year-old will be playing left wing.

Jusso Ikonen, 23, is a native from Finland where he played in the Swedish Hockey League.  The last two seasons he played from Brynas IF Gavle where he posted 33 points in 60 regular season games and 17 points in 28 playoff games.

Last we will talk about Michael Sgarbossa.  We welcome him from the Manitoba Moose last season where he had 40 points in 68 games.  The season before that, he spent most of his season playing for the Florida Panthers in the NHL.  This experience could also help the young guns grow.

Here are words from Hershey’s very own Zack Fisch, voice of the Bears:

The optimism is something Hershey Bears fans need.  There is a lot of change, but definitely not bad change.  Last season was difficult, especially at home where the Bears lost 21 times.  With new, young talent coming in from different parts of the world, we can expect to see a different Bears team.  Maybe, just maybe, this could be good for the fans.  When the team is expected to make playoffs every season, you can expect these players to learn quick or hear it from the fans.

Players expected to return to Hershey from last seasons team are Nathan Walker, Riley Barber, Mason Mitchell, Mathias Bau, Jonas Siegenthaler, Lucas Johansen, Aaron Ness, Tyler Lewington, Kris Bindulis, Colby Williams, Conner Hobbs, Liam O’Brien (currently in RFA arbitration) and Vitek Vanecek.

@CottonEyeJones, a fan favorite at the Giant Center who is famous for his dancing to Cotton Eye Joe every game had an interesting perspective:

As we see young players coming in, they might be here for awhile.  Teams like Grand Rapids and Toronto use this same system and guess who won the last two Calder Cups?  This system can work, but it won’t bring a cup home overnight.  It will take some time and patience.  The AHL has been changing as a league for years but Hershey is late getting on the bus.  So as a fan, give these guys a chance.  Your (soon to be) new favorite player will be lacing up the skates in September and they could use your support.