HERSHEY, Pa. – The conclusion of the 2021-22 season hit in full force on Wednesday at Giant Center as the team officially put a wrap on the year with exit interviews and locker room cleanout. Hershey’s season came to a conclusion in an overtime loss to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in a decisive Game 3, and less than two days later it’s only now starting to sink in as the players go their separate ways. Some will stay in the area while others will likely join the Washington Capitals as black aces for the remainder of their playoff run, and the unfortunate reality of the season is that it may be the last time this group as it stands will be together.
The saddest day of the year 😢 pic.twitter.com/JJIBytxqea
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) May 11, 2022
“I’m proud of our group, proud of our players, but that said more disappointed for them than anything,” Bears head coach Scott Allen said. “Whenever the season ends, it’s a tough time for me, but it’s my care for the players because it’s another one in the books. When it’s all said and done, there’s only one team from any league left standing that ends up being the champion of that league and it’s an extremely difficult task and a mountain to climb. With the type of adversity that we dealt with this year, I’m extremely proud of our group and our players for finding a way to at least extend the season into the postseason.”
It was a difficult way for the season to end for the Bears, who have been riddled with injuries and recalls and never quite got their full lineup back even during the four days of playoff games. Hershey got leading scorer Joe Snively back on a long-term conditioning assignment from Washington but lost forward Brett Leason on a brief recall to the Capitals, and even though Leason was returned days later, both Snively and forward Kody Clark were injured in Game 1. The series of events played out as a microcosm of the adversity Hershey has dealt with this season.
“Going into the playoffs, we knew we were getting Joe back on a conditioning assignment, and Brett Leason was already here and one injury up top changed that. We never even had a week before the playoffs the lineup we thought we were going to have – we didn’t even have that going into Game 1. It was discouraging how poorly we played in that first game. We also knew it wasn’t going to be an extension and we came back strong in front of a great crowd, got a huge win. 1-1 going into the third period of a deciding game, couple of not necessarily fluke goals but not ideal, Pheonix Copley has played unbelievable for us all year long and he needed a little pickup at that point and our guys did, they picked him up and we found a way to get it to overtime. It would have been unbelievable for this group to get…people are going to talk about it for a long time. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way and we didn’t find a way to score in overtime.”
“Guys stepped up and two crucial 6-on-5 situations. When we pulled him, there was three minutes and change left and we scored the one and put him back in and got him back off and scored again. We were feeling so good we were talking about trying to end it in regulation, which would have been great but to Wilkes’ credit, they found a way to get through regulation and they went back in, regrouped, and they came out strong in overtime. We got hemmed in on a shift and we couldn’t get our defense off the ice, we had some tired defensemen out there, puck turned over and came the other way and the rest, they say, is history, and unfortunately I’m standing here talking to you guys as opposed to talking to you after tonight’s game which we would have been playing tonight against Springfield which is a tough pill for me to swallow, but there’s nothing we can do about it now.”
Hershey now has the task ahead to see how the team may change shape over the summer, and although there is a core group of players from this squad who will be returning next season, there will no doubt be some changes. Allen mentioned how important it is to instill by example the standard and what the expectations are to play for the Hershey Bears, but that there will be some new players in the fold for that change. There are many players who will be free agents this summer, and the organization will have many tough decisions to make in the summer months when constructing the 2022-23 Bears squad.
“The group always changes from one season to the next regardless if it’s a Stanley Cup winner because they usually lose some unrestricted free agents, Calder Cup winners, bottom-of-the-barrel American league teams, it always changes. Hopefully, we’ve done enough this year within the group for our nucleus that they have a strong understanding of what the expectations will continue to be here in Hershey. That’s something we’ve taken a ton of pride in for the three years I’ve been here, and that will not change. When you have a core nucleus of guys who have that understanding and can pass that knowledge and information on and lead by example attitude to younger players coming in, whatever unrestricted free agents that the organization chooses to sign, hopefully gives us a leg up from training camp starting into the season and something we can continue to build on.”
“I don’t think we had a single guy who played every game this year, that just goes to show you just how challenging it is. To lose some of the guys that we lost to season-ending, even career-ending injuries is tough without question.”
One such player whose hockey future is up in the air is captain Matt Moulson, who also spoke to the media at the end of the season. Moulson had back surgery in late December that sidelined him for the season, and his tenure in Hershey has been marred by impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as he was unable to compete for the Calder Cup in two seasons while being sidelined for so much of the third. Despite this, he still supported his team and was in the stands for the postseason.
“I feel good now,” Moulson said about his recovery. “It sucked not being able to be out there.”
“We’ll see. Back surgery might have made my decision easier.”
For now, the Bears will reset and focus in on preparing for next season. Hershey’s core group of returning players will look to be supplemented by new faces to don the Chocolate and White jerseys in the fall, and the process of building that roster begins now. The quest to hang a 12th Calder Cup in the rafters of Giant Center will continue on for another year, and this group will be out to make that happen when play gets underway this fall.
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