WASHINGTON, D.C. – The newest group of potential players for the Hershey Bears took their first steps with the organization this weekend as rookie camp began in Washington. 18 skaters are on the ice ahead of the main training camp for the Washington Capitals this week, with a number of new and familiar names who are looking to make an impact in Hershey this season.
The new faces extend beyond those who will be taking the ice, as new Bears head coach Todd Nelson and his staff began the process of getting familiar with players on the ice during these sessions. Nelson and the Bears open up their season in less than a month, and these early sessions are only the beginning of the process towards establishing the identity of the 2022-23 Bears.
“I think just getting acclimated to everybody here,” Nelson said during a media availability at Caps camp. “I know a few players. I coached Dylan McIlrath, Anthony Mantha, and Nick Jensen, there’s a few familiar faces. Kale Kessy is coming to camp. Everybody else is new.”
The 28th head coach in team history also is getting to know his coaching staff.
“It’s a fresh staff, which I’m really excited about. We’ve had quite a few (meetings) over the last four days and our philosophies are quite similar,” Nelson said. “Along with our philosophy, we’re trying to get to know Peter (Laviolette)’s philosophy, what they want to do, and as much as possible, we want to play very similar, so if guys get called up, they blend right in. That’s what we’re going for right now, I’m learning a lot right now with system work, and every day it’s getting more familiar to me.”
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) September 18, 2022
Nelson admitted he’s still getting a feel for the players and is eager to see them in game action, which begins this Sunday afternoon with a tilt against the Buffalo Sabres. He will be looking for good fits in different situations, whether it is on special teams or adapting Washington’s style with their available personnel. Nelson, along with his assistant coaches Patrick Wellar and Nick Bootland, will be evaluating players as Hershey’s training camp approaches and preseason play nears. This season, there are plenty of players taking part in rookie camp who are looking to make an impact on the new Bears bench boss, including top prospects Vincent Iorio and Hendrix Lapierre, the former of whom the coach had plenty of positive praise for in his media availability.
“I like his intensity, plus he’s a good skater,” Nelson said. “Very ambitious player; he goes back for pucks hard, makes a good first pass, and from what I’ve seen he plays with a lot of confidence.”
Asked whether or not Iorio will play with the Bears or return to juniors, where he has a year of eligibility, Nelson said there’s still a ways to go until that is determined. Having a strong right-handed shooting defenseman in the lineup would be a huge boost for the Bears, and that makes any decision around Iorio an important storyline to watch for Hershey fans. Among the skaters at camp, a few are under contract with the Bears and have made impacts, including forward Ethen Frank, who scored his first AHL goal in a stint of five games with the Bears during the 2021-22 season before being sidelined with injury. Other players under contract with the Bears include Julian Napravnik, Bear Hughes, and Benton Maass, as well as Washington contracted players like Henry Rybinski and goaltenders Clay Stevenson and Garin Bjorklund, who all figure to be in the conversation for playing time in Hershey.
Washington’s main training camp starts on Thursday, giving the team a few days to work with before preseason play begins. The team will play six total games before their season begins on October 12, and players will begin joining the Bears from the main camp prior to the start of Hershey’s three-game preseason slate on October 5 when the Chocolate and White visit Wilkes-Barre for a 10:35 AM (yes, you read that right) tilt. Hershey wraps up their exhibition slate with a home game against the same Penguins group on October 9 before the games count for real on October 15, giving Nelson and the new coaching staff three weeks to work with their current group of players and get some time as a group.
Hershey’s group will be an interesting mix of new faces as well as a familiar core group, and Nelson will be working to put a strong group on the ice when they host the Utica Comets to kick off the 2022-23 season.
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