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Sutter Leading Hershey’s Defensive Stand

Photo via Carl Minieri.

Sutter Leading Hershey’s Defensive Stand

HERSHEY, Pa. – For most of his tenure as part of the Hershey Bears, forward Riley Sutter has been building towards the 2022-23 season and looks to be an important part of the team’s playoff run this spring. Fully healthy and a regular part of the Bears’ forward group, Sutter has found a niche within head coach Todd Nelson’s system as a shutdown defensive forward whose strong play has made him an integral part of the team’s successful first half, even if it goes beyond the score sheet a bit more than most of those on the Bears’ roster.

Now, Sutter is not only a mainstay on the penalty kill, but he’s also Nelson’s go-to centerman for tough defensive assignments, and it’s leading towards more as the year progresses.

Sutter had a tough start to his American Hockey League career even before he officially donned a Bears sweater. His debut was delayed by months in the 2019-20 season after he was injured in a prospect tournament before the regular season got underway. With the Chocolate and White well underway, he was inserted for only 25 games before the league was shut down in March 2020. Sutter skated in the exact same number of games again in the pandemic season of 2020-21 but missed time again with an injury and was in and out of the lineup a year ago.

Now, fully healthy, Sutter has only missed three games and become an integral part of Hershey’s lineup, staying in the lineup amidst a wealth of talent for the Bears this season.


“He’s a player that has gained confidence throughout the year,” Nelson said of Sutter. “He plays an important role, he’s a right-handed centerman, he does a great job on the penalty kill for us. He’s out there in very important minutes, the last minute of a game where we’re trying to preserve a win, he understands and relishes his role. It was nice to see him get rewarded with a nice goal.”

Sutter hasn’t yet become a regular on the scoresheet but has eclipsed his previous bests in goals with five and points with 12 – rather, he has a role to play that he’s been deadly good at, and the points will come as he’s been generating chances and working hard in the offensive zone. His hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed, garnering him some looks in crucial situations in recent games on both the offensive and defensive sides of the puck. His line with Beck Malenstyn, Matt Strome, Shane Gersich, and Mason Morelli among other configurations has often been Hershey’s best because of their simple, hardworking structure that’s helped out at key moments.

Among moments where he’s shined the brightest, a game on April 7 immediately comes to mind. The Bears had a 3-2 lead over the Springfield Thunderbirds and went to the penalty kill with just under five minutes to play in regulation. Sutter stood in front of a slap shot from Martin Frk at the point, and just in case that sounds rather mundane, it’s worth recalling that Frk won the American Hockey League’s Hardest Shot in the 2020 Skills Competition with a shot clocking in at 109.2 miles per hour. It was the hardest shot in the league, but in all of hockey at that time, and Sutter blocked it head on to help his team get a clear.

“It’s a role that had to be filled,” Sutter said of becoming a key part of the defensive unit. “I got the assignment and I’m willing to do it, anything to help the team. It’s nice to know that we have trust from [Nelson] and the coaching staff to put us out there [in key situations] to get the job done.”

Sutter has become an indispensable member of this Bears group this season, and his value will only continue to grow as the Bears enter the postseason. Sutter’s team-first mentality is emblematic of Hershey’s success as a group, and his strength and steady play has factored into the team’s record in one-goal games. The Bears are an impressive 20-5-5-4 in games decided by a single tally, and their ability to hold leads is ultimately a team stat, but one that Sutter and his line contributes to in a major way. It should garner interest not only in Hershey, but in Washington as well where he will be a restricted free agent in the summer. The points will come, but Sutter’s play has been a major steadying factor for the Bears and it’s easy to see him being a crucial piece of a long playoff run in Hershey.

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