Hershey Bears surging with 20 games to go

Despite falling to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Sunday by the score of 5 to 1, the Bears find themselves in the thick of playoff positioning, currently sitting 3rd in the Atlantic Division. Hershey is currently one point up on the Providence Bruins, the Boston Bruins AHL affiliate.

The Bears have seen their playoff chances strengthened by a historic run, breaking a franchise record for most consecutive games recording at least one standings point. The seventeen game point streak began back on January 12th, have taken the Bears from relative uncertainty to being in the hunt for not just a playoff spot, but a chance to clinch home ice advantage in the first round of the Divisional series.


The Bears have been led in scoring by Capitals 6th round draft pick Riley Barber, formerly the captain of the U.S. Men’s Junior team that won gold in Sweden in 2014. Barber (24G, 23A) has been a steady contributor on the right wing all season. Barber and his running mate, Mike Sgarbossa, have combined to score 47 goals and 46 assists, driving a lot of the team’s offensive success this season. The two first liners find themselves in the top 20 in scoring on the season in the AHL. Shane Gersich, who saw playoff action for the Capitals last spring, has performed well, scoring 6 goals and adding 12 assists in his first full year as a pro.


On the back end, defenseman Aaron Ness (3G, 36A) has buoyed a defense core that has suffered some big injuries to some of the Bears better prospects, namely Capitals 2016 1st round pick Lucas Johansen, who has only appeared in 26 games this season. Defensemen Connor Hobbs and Colby Williams have also been banged up, testing the blueline depth in Hershey. In their absence, defenseman Ryan Sproul has stepped up, chipping in 21 points from the back end to stabilize the defense.


In the crease, the tandem of former 2nd round pick Vitek Vanecek and 2015 1st round pick Ilya Samsanov have provided stability in net that the Bears haven’t had in several seasons. Samsonov, the coveted goalie prospect for the Capitals, has experienced growing pains after coming from the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia, where he starred for Metallurg Magnitogorsk for 3 seasons. Samsanov has struggled a bit, putting up a .892 save percentage and 2.83 goals against average, while Vanacek has slightly better numbers, posting a .903 save percentage and 2.8 goals against average.

What’s Ahead?

With the final quarter of the season coming up in the next two months, there is no question that the play that earned the Bears a franchise record in consecutive games with a point must continue. Despite the 17 game stretch where they were nearly unbeatable, only five points separate them and the 5th place Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Strong goaltending, players returning from injury, and the continued play from Barber and the rest of his forwards must consistently produce to ensure that the historic month and a half stretch that dominated headlines means anything.

The Bears play the last-place Hartford Wolf Pack tonight at 7pm EST. Recently demoted Devante Smith-Pelly, known for his timely goals for Washington in their Stanley Cup run last spring, is expected to pencil into Hershey’s lineup. Head coach Spencer Carbery hopes Smith-Pelly will inject energy into a team in need of depth scoring. It’s a must-win game for Hershey as they continue their push towards the playoffs, and more importantly, to the second seed in an effort to secure home ice.

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Austen Adcock

Freelance writer, alumni of the University of Mississippi, hockey and baseball connoisseur

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