HERSHEY, Pa. – It seems as though there’s at least a short spell every season for each American Hockey League team that their depth will be tested. It’s a nature of the business as a developmental league, between National Hockey League affiliates forced to make recalls and dealing with injuries that occur over the course of a 72-game slate. The challenge for an organization during the summer months is to not only build a strong environment for top prospects but also a winning locker room that can battle through adversity.
For the Hershey Bears, this depth is no more evident than evaluating the team’s defensive depth players in Jake Massie and Logan Day, two players that haven’t played every game and are often required to be flexible in whatever role they might play. However, their success in their roles has played a large part in the Bears’ current first-place spot.
Massie returned to the Bears on an AHL contract this summer after becoming a regular depth option during the 2021-22 campaign, suiting up for 34 games and chipping in two goals and an assist. Massie had to wait nearly a month to get into game action, dressing for his first game on November 5, while Day dressed for a game on October 22 and then sitting until November 12. Some of that is due to lineup composition, as the Bears ideally try to dress a compliment of three right-handed defenders and three left-handed ones. The two would get into the lineup more often, but not for every game, mostly due to rotating personnel during sets of three games in as many nights, as having fresh skaters for the set of games becomes essential. Massie’s biggest performance from a production standpoint happened on November 29, where he had a goal and an assist to help the Bears to a win over the arch-rivals, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Jake Massie lets it fly from the point for his first of the season! #WBSvsHER pic.twitter.com/dFMqDYCUY4
— Bears Hockey Nation (@HBHNationBlog) November 30, 2022
Suddenly, both players have not only found their names being called upon each and every night, but suddenly became leaders on the blue line as Hershey’s group has struggled to stay healthy. The Bears at one point had nine healthy defensemen available to them prior to puck drop for game one, and now due to both injury and recall have found themselves summoning players from their ECHL affiliate in South Carolina in order to field six defenders and have any additional depth. Players get bumps and bruises through the course of a 72 game AHL schedule as a nature of the business, another factor that’s come into play which means that the next man up has to be ready to go. It’s a situation where Day and Massie are excellent examples of players coming in to take note of their preparation and execution on the ice.
It’s a small example of how the Bears have found themselves in first place at the quarter mark of the campaign by buying in as a group for success. It’s hard to pick out any one player who has a step above everyone else in terms of scoring or their role, and everyone is pulling on the same rope. Massie has tallied four points over his last five games and his on pace to set new career highs in points with his previous best of five. Day has tallied four assists over ten games, and with his previous best in the AHL at 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists) set during the 2018-19 campaign, it’s safe to say he can thrive with more opportunity. With injuries piling up, Day has recently slotted into some power play time, where he has six prior power play goals in his career. He was the second-highest-scoring defenseman for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last year with 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) over 72 games played.
“I thought once again when you look at guys like Massie and Day, they come in and do a great job,” Bears head coach Todd Nelson said after Saturday’s game. “Bobby [Nardella] got hurt, but they all played well. I thought Carlsson was better tonight, he had the night off [Friday] just because he was coming off of injury and there was no sense in him making the trip. We rested him up, Aaron Ness scores his first goal, and Vinny Iorio had some nice breakouts in the third period. All of those guys stood up, you can’t win a 3-2 hockey game without all five of those guys competing hard.”
It’s important for the Bears to have this depth. It’s a difficult balance to achieve of having a strong top-six and the right mixture of depth to utilize when needed. Like Massie and Day, the 2019-20 season saw the Bears call up Eddie Wittchow, who played so well he stuck with the team for two seasons and became a fan favorite player in Hershey. With the AHL being a league for development, it lends itself well not only for top draft picks to hone their craft before making the leap to the National Hockey League, but also gives bubble players a chance to work their way up and showcase their abilities in a longer bid to try and make it to the top. Massie and Day have been the latest success stories to come out of Hershey in that regard.
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