With the AHL regular season surpassing the halfway point, it’s time to talk about the playoffs. Last year’s playoffs ended disappointingly for the Hershey Bears, as they made swift work of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, but lost to the Providence Bruins the next series. A large part of their demise in that series was the fact that starting goalie Pheonix Copley was injured in Game Four. That left the Bears with their young and promising goaltender, Vitek Vanecek, but, unfortunately, they were unable to pull off a victory against the Bruins, and were sent packing. All signs were pointing to another good regular season in Hershey with many players returning and two healthy, capable goalies, and the Bears came into the 2017-18 season hopeful. It looked like Hershey was poised for yet another postseason run.
Instead, they got something completely different. The Bears started the 2017-18 season having lost six of their top-ten scorers the previous season, as Paul Carey left to play in the NHL with the New York Rangers, Christian Thomas left to play with Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, and players like Christian Djoos, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, and Madison Bowey played well enough to make the Washington Capitals roster out of training camp. Having lost so many key players, the Bears struggled immediately out of the gate, and have not been able to string together many wins since, going 18-23-3-4 through 48 games this season.
This Bears team looks to be a long way from a playoff team as, in order to make them this year, they must climb over five teams currently in playoff position. Although this season may be looked at as a disappointment for many, there is no reason to stress over only one missed postseason. The Bears have qualified for playoffs in four of the last five years, and have historically consistently made the playoffs, giving them the opportunity to compete for the Calder Cup. This year was just an inevitable year for growth and retooling. All teams need it, and with the Bears losing so many key pieces at the beginning of the season, it was only a matter of time before they started to struggle.
Although the postseason looks like a long shot, the season is not lost yet. The Bears have a roster filled with young talents like Lucas Johansen, Mathias Bau, Connor Hobbs, and Jonas Siegenthaler. These young players – and the team, in general – can use missing the playoffs as a learning experience, and come back next year with a chip on their shoulder, ready to make yet another push for the Calder Cup.
Noah is a lifelong Flyers fan who loves the sport of hockey almost as much as the orange and black. He is currently studying journalism and media studies at West Chester University.