Let’s face it: this offseason has been a rollercoaster ride. Finding ways to keep up with the Stanley Caps celebrations across the world, dealing with the losses of fan-favorites in Hershey and Washington, and the signings of new faces in the organization can make it difficult to know just who fans will be seeing on the ice come the 2018-19 season. There have been numerous changes to the roster over the course of this summer, so let’s break down some of the major shifts the Chocolate and White have made in their effort to defend the Den this year, starting with the man in charge.
Inking a deal on June 26th of this year to become the next head coach for the Hershey Bears, 36-year-old Spencer Carbery will be bringing his talents to the Capitals organization for the second time. The Victoria, British Columbia native, formerly a winger and head coach for the South Carolina Stingrays, has been a rising force in the organization since he took the helm in Charleston in the summer of 2011 when he became the youngest person to hold that position in the league at just 29 years of age. Carbery has previously lead the AHL’s Providence Bruins, as well the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League, and is expected to bring a hunger for victory to Hershey, who is currently seeking their 12th Calder Cup championship after a less-than-impressive run in the 2017-18 season under previous head coach Troy Mann.
“I would be lying if I said this wasn’t one of the most highly sought after jobs in pro hockey,” Carbery said during his introductory press conference in July, adding that “there’s pressure to win here, no doubt about it. But I feel like I do a good job of doing the work and doing the right things as coach.”
Perhaps the most significant loss to Hershey fans this season has been that of Chris Bourque, the longtime on-again-off-again left winger for the Bears. Since 2005, Bourque, son of Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, has been a fan-favorite in Hershey, while making stops in Pittsburgh, Boston, and Washington on the NHL level, as well as the KHL, and other AHL teams along the way. Other notable losses up front for the Bears include Tyler Graovac, who signed a one-year deal with the NHL’s Calgary Flames, Dustin Gazley, who moved to the EC Salzburg of the EBHL, and Zach Sill, departing from Hershey for the Czech Republic to continue his own professional career. All is not lost, however, as the Bears have signed and re-signed multiple forwards to their roster, including 21-year-old German forward Maximilian Kammerer, six-year veterans Jayson Megna and Michael Sgarbossa, and current Bears Riley Barber and Liam O’Brien, who both signed new one-year, two-way contracts with the Capitals this summer. With Travis Boyd likely moving to a full-time role with the Caps, Anthony Peluso playing the free-agent market, and team captain Garret Mitchell likely to return to Hershey, goal-scoring potential for the Bears seems likely to remain on par with last season, despite a few key losses.
Hershey has suffered few losses on the blueline for the upcoming season while making three notable signings on defense a mere five weeks from the beginning of the AHL preseason in late September. With the departures of Paul Geiger and Tommy Hughes to the EIHL and EBHL respectively and the more-than-likely permanent assignment of Stanley Cup Champion Madison Bowey to Washington, what little bleeding Hershey has experienced on defense seems to have been stemmed effectively by management. Signing five-year veteran Logan Pyett, making his return to the AHL after being diagnosed with sarcoma in 2015, will certainly bring experience to Hershey’s blueline corps. The re-signing of familiar faces Aaron Ness and Tyler Lewington will seek to reinforce and improve upon a defensive group that allowed a bottom-five 249 goals against last season. Living up to their mark from the previous campaign is nearly a guarantee, as Hershey is likely to improve due to the experience present and forthcoming on the blueline.
Losing Phoenix Copley may not be as catastrophic as some fans have been led to believe. Sure, sending your starting goaltender to understudy Braden Holtby isn’t the best thing in the world, and losing Adam Carlson to Rapid City in the AHL will further harm depth, but Vitek Vanecek has proven time and time again to be a reliable netminder whenever called upon. Compounding this fact is the good news that Washington has signed not one, but two goalies to send to Hershey. AHL rookie Ilya Samsonov, whom I’ve expounded upon before, brings an exciting prospect to Hershey as a KHL champion and sought-after prospect due to his quick reflexes and hockey-sense. Adam Morrison, previously serving as the third goaltender during Hershey’s short-lived 2017 Calder Cup campaign, returns to the Bears as a likely third-string goalie yet again after signing a deal with the team on Friday. Parker Milner, working under a third straight AHL contract with the Bears, will likely be assigned to South Carolina for the season, barring any injuries in Hershey. After all is said and done, fans should expect a robust goaltending team in Hershey this season, perhaps surpassing last year’s performance, due in no small part to Samsonov’s new role as starting goalie in his rookie season, where he seeks to excel in transitioning to the North American style of play.
This offseason, the names, and faces in Hershey have shifted in many ways, but even more familiar faces are set to return to the Giant Center in September. With a seasoned new head coach leading the way, along with more veteran presences on every part of the ice, these Hershey Bears are shooting for the moon, and may just land among the stars of yesteryear if they play their hand well. With the Stanley Cup making a stop in town on October 7th, maybe some of that championship mojo will remain long enough to see our boys in brown through to their own piece of hardware this season.
Featured image: Sports Illustrated