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Sgarbossa Heating Up, Leading Bears

Photo courtesy: Carl Minieri

Sgarbossa Heating Up, Leading Bears

HERSHEY, Pa. – The 2022-23 American Hockey League season is already the fifth for Mike Sgarbossa in a Hershey Bears uniform. Like many people within the organization and Bears fans, Sgarbossa hasn’t had the opportunity for much of that tenure to pursue a Calder Cup championship and is eager to push for it in the spring. Following the birth of his second son, Sgarbossa is looking to get back to smashing his career numbers as a key contributor for the team and lead the Bears to a lengthy playoff run.

Sgarbossa joined the Bears in the summer of 2018 by signing with Hershey’s National Hockey League affiliate, the Washington Capitals. He smashed his previous career numbers during his first year with 65 points (30 goals, 35 assists) in 75 games played, good for a tie for ninth place in the American Hockey League. The Bears missed Sgarbossa dearly in the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs after injury ultimately sidelined him for the team’s second-round series against the Charlotte Checkers. He rebounded in the fall with 40 points (13 goals, 27 assists) in 39 games, resulting in his second career AHL All-Star selection in 2020. He even dressed for the Capitals for a brief stint in that stretch, but it all unfortunately ended as the AHL season ultimately paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The return to play in 2020-21 saw a lot of oddities that normally don’t occur in a regular AHL year, as Sgarbossa skated in 14 of Hershey’s 36 games and collected ten points (five goals, five assists) while spending much of the campaign on Washington’s taxi squad. In 2021-22, the forward was limited to only 30 games with the Bears due to injury and recall, with 21 points (ten goals, 11 assists) in that span. It’s his recent stretch that’s been most impressive, registering ten points (four goals, six assists) over his last six games played. Overall, he’s skated in 20 games and recorded 17 points (seven goals, ten assists). His line with Mike Vecchione and rookie forward Ethen Frank combined for ten points in Hershey’s win over Bridgeport on Friday and followed it up with a goal and an assist on Saturday against Cleveland. Hershey’s forward group has a lot of scoring on its resume, and each line has taken turns providing the punch the Bears have needed, creating a team environment as Hershey’s identity.

“I think we have a good mix of youth and experience with veteran guys,” Sgarbossa said in an interview with the Voice of the Bears, Zack Fisch that aired during Friday’s game. “I think our team is really deep, all our lines are contributing offensively, playing well defensively, lot of skill. Lot of different players in situations. Our [defense] is very strong, there’s guys that aren’t playing that would be playing on other teams every day. When you have that combination of everything going well, you’re seeing the results and I think our team is heading in the right direction. I don’t think we’re fully there yet, there’s still a lot we can improve on. With a new coaching staff, it always takes a little time but the way the system has been implemented, it’s been a good transition so far.”

For Sgarbossa, getting consistent playing time and staying in the lineup has been key. The forward missed a bit of time during the opening stages of this season, including Hershey’s trip to Charlotte early on as his wife Kylie was due to give birth to his second son. Since then, the Bears forward has been playing regularly, and his recent hot streak is an impressive step towards returning to his previous totals from his first two years with the Bears. Getting into a routine and playing frequent minutes seems to get the scoring going for Sgarbossa, who spoke to the importance of facing regular game action.

“It was hard for me,” Sgarbossa said in the same interview. “I’m the kind of kind of player that needs the practice time but there’s nothing like experiencing what a game is going to bring. When you’re missing it, it’s hard to jump in in spurts. I think I’m finding a little more consistency, starting to find my legs, my game, little things that only a game can bring out. Especially when you’re getting bumped or slashed, things that you can get used to more when you’re playing that you can’t in practice.”

“I think it’s the compete level,” Bears head coach Todd Nelson said after Saturday’s game about Sgarbossa. “I really do. It’s the compete level and whenever you get a couple points, you always feel better about yourself and feel more confident as with any player. I think his compete is getting higher and that’s what enabled him to be around the net. The goal he scored tonight, he’s at the net. That’s a tough area to go to because defensemen are trying to box you out, but little puck battles here and there, he can still get better but he’s really improving on that and that’s why he’s had more puck possession time and why that line is producing.”

It’s another hopeful boost to the Bears after an already excellent start that has the Chocolate and White atop the division standings and the league. Nelson mentioned during his postgame availability that the Bears are looking to be in the mix for a championship this season, something that has been out of the equation for the team due to factors outside of their control since early on in Sgarbossa’s tenure. Going on a long playoff run at the AHL level is something Sgarbossa has not been able to do. The same goes for many players on Hershey’s roster who have been around for a few years, and the hope in the locker room is that this will be the time that it all comes together for a lengthy playoff run in the Sweetest Place on Earth.

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