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2023 Calder Cup Playoffs

AHL Atlantic Division Final Preview: Hershey Bears vs. Hartford Wolf Pack

AHL Atlantic Division Final Preview: Hershey Bears vs. Hartford Wolf Pack

HERSHEY, Pa. – The Hershey Bears and the Hartford Wolf Pack are set to battle it out in a best-of-five series to see who represents the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Wolf Pack have pushed into the division final after upsetting a couple of higher-ranked teams. At the same time, the Bears had a bye in the first round before taking care of business in the division semifinals. The teams last met up in the postseason in 2015, the last time Hartford made the playoffs, where the Wolf Pack took the series in six games. Hartford advanced to this point on the back of strong play by rookie goaltender Dylan Garand, who posted two shutouts in the division semifinals, while Hershey boasts their own strong netminder in Hunter Shepard. Both teams boast a well-rounded combination of offense and defense and are here because of it.

Final Regular Season Records:

Hershey Bears: 44-19-5-4, 97 points, 2nd Atlantic

Hartford Wolf Pack: 35-26-4-7, 81 points, 5th Atlantic

How They Got Here:

The Bears defeated the Charlotte Checkers in four games, while the Wolf Pack knocked off the Providence Bruins, the top team in the East.

Series Schedule:

Game One: Hartford Wolf Pack at HERSHEY BEARS, Thursday, May 11, 2023, at 7:00 p.m.

Game Two: Hartford Wolf Pack at HERSHEY BEARS, Saturday, May 13, 2023, at 7:00 p.m.

Game Three: Hershey Bears at HARTFORD WOLF PACK, Wednesday, May 17, 2023, at 7:00 p.m.

Game Four (if necessary): Hershey Bears at HARTFORD WOLF PACK, Friday, May 19, 2023, at 7:00 p.m.

Game Five (if necessary): Hartford Wolf Pack at HERSHEY BEARS, Tuesday, May 23, 2023, at 7:00 p.m.

Season Series Recap:

The Bears won four of the six matchups between the two teams this season, but it’s a bit of a deceptive stat as the teams haven’t met since February 11. The five preceding matchups took place before December rolled around. The two teams haven’t matched up since both teams loaded up on reinforcements from their affiliates, with the Bears receiving players like Aliaksei Protas from Washington and the Wolf Pack getting Will Lockwood at the trade deadline. The teams matched up often in November, with four tilts in five games for both teams, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see fireworks fly as familiarity ramps up.

How Hershey Wins:

The Bears’ best players must be their best to win this series. Hershey beat a tough Charlotte team by leaning into their team strength, with 11 different players lighting the lamp in the division semifinals. Hershey played four challenging games against a Charlotte team that was closer than the final scores indicated, and it’s been trial by fire for the team’s lineup that has not played postseason hockey very much due to the pandemic years. Those players like Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre will be important to this series to get production from in addition to top dogs like Mike Sgarbossa and Ethen Frank, the latter of whom has not tallied in the postseason (he missed most of the last two games with injury, but appears to be back for this series) and is a key cog on the power play.

How Hartford Wins:

The Wolf Pack made the unenviable task of taking on the Providence Bruins look like a walk in the park at times in the division final, and no doubt they’re hoping that strength matches up well with a team like Hershey that’s often been compared as very similar. Hartford plays a heavy style of hockey that makes life miserable for their opponents, and they’ll have to make it stand up against a consistent Hershey team. Hartford’s strong defense in the second round will figure to be important if they are to beat a team like Hershey. The Bears will be their biggest test yet, as they have four lines that can all do some damage. Still, the Wolf Pack have weapons of their own that will decide if this Cinderella run can continue, like Jonny Brodzinski, Tanner Fritz, and Lauri Pajuniemi.

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