HERSHEY, Pa. – The Hershey Bears recently re-signed forward Mason Morelli to an AHL contract for the 2022-23 season, their first player contract since the playoffs concluded. His extension comes on the heels of a career year for the journeyman forward who has been one of the best free agent acquisitions at the AHL level in some time. Morelli went from an extra forward when the regular season started to one of the most reliable players on Hershey’s entire roster as his presence stabilized the team in one of its most turbulent years in recent memory, and it’s clear getting him in the fold for 2022-23 was a priority.
Morelli signed a one-year AHL contract with the Bears for the first time on September 14, 2020 after playing 40 games over two seasons with the Stockton Heat. He played in 11 games for the South Carolina Stingrays after their season kicked off sooner than Hershey’s with the uncertainty of the 2020-21 campaign and was nearly a point-per-game player with four goals and five assists. He didn’t suit up for the Bears right away, waiting until mid-February when he was inserted into the lineup as injuries and other recalls affected the league. Morelli skated in Newark, New Jersey at that time on February 17, 2021, chipping in two assists in his first three games. Morelli acquitted himself nicely with five helpers in 15 games played and seemed on the verge of much more throughout the year, and it seemed the Bears took notice of this by adding him for the 2021-22 season on July 20.
Once again, Morelli was on the outside looking in at the lineup when the Bears took the ice that season, but once more would be pressed into service as the team started suffering injuries and recalls. Morelli found that elusive first Hershey goal in dramatic fashion just under a month after jumping into the lineup with an overtime winner on Thanksgiving Eve against the Providence Bruins, including his first multi-point game in the AHL in an important win. He’d follow it up with another goal two days later and kept chipping in on the score sheet which included a four-point night on December 29 as well as a five-game point streak in early February. He’d chip in another run of four points in five games in March and tally goals down the stretch including a memorable overtime winner over the Springfield Thunderbirds.
Morelli finished the 2021-22 season with 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in 68 games played, setting new personal bests in all categories including a plus-eight mark. He’d earn his first Calder Cup Playoff point in Game 2 of the Wilkes-Barre series, a helper on Beck Malenstyn’s deflection goal, for his 34th total point this season. Morelli would be named the team’s Most Improved Player in the season-ending team award ceremony in recognition of his great campaign. The Bears got Morelli under contract in short order after the team’s season came to a conclusion as the first contract signed by any expiring player this summer.
The signing will be key for next season as Hershey looks at a lot of potential change this summer, and Morelli being in the fold will help to establish the team’s identity early on as part of the core group. In contrast to years past, it will be easy to see Morelli in the lineup to start the 2022-23 campaign as he looks to build off of a great year and continue his growth. It was clear from his brief stint in South Carolina during the 2020-21 season that he’s conquered that level, and this past season proved he is more than capable of handling the AHL as well. He’s been an excellent pickup by Bryan Helmer and the rest of the Bears’ scouts and getting him under contract shows satisfaction on both sides. He’ll look to keep improving and run with the opportunity, and the rest of the hockey world will take notice.
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