HERSHEY, Pa. – The Hershey Bears find themselves in a good place in the standings following a difficult stretch of four games in five nights, winning three of four games and taking over second place in the Atlantic Division. After a difficult stretch in November and December, Hershey’s lineup is starting to take a more consistent shape and really taking off offensively, and it’s mainly due to the strong play of a few key forwards having career years in the AHL. Their remarkable production has eased the long-term losses of key players like Brett Leason, Aliaksei Protas, Mike Sgarbossa, and Connor McMichael, who all contributed heavily to the Bears last season and will remain away at least until the taxi squad is dissolved in February.
The big story in Hershey has been the career year for forward Joe Snively, whose incredible production has put him among the AHL’s best this season. Snively’s 30 points in 29 games played (ten goals, 20 assists) puts him in a tie for fifth in the AHL in scoring, and even more remarkable when factored in that he only had three assists in the first nine games of this season. Starting with a hat trick in Hershey on November 7, Snively has scored ten goals and 17 assists in just 20 games, only failing to record a point in three games during that span. His current point streak is up to seven games (two goals, six assists), and the variety in which he has contributed to Hershey is equally impressive. Snively has three power-play goals, a shorthanded tally, three game-winners, and one shootout goal in two attempts (Hershey has only played two shootouts all season). He has already shattered his career-best in points set during the shortened 2019-20 season. The only mark Snively has yet to best is his goal output, sitting at ten with a high-water mark of 12 also set during that campaign, but it seems likely he’ll beat it with 16 games to play before catching up with his previous numbers.
Mine Vecchione and Joe Snively connect and extend their point streaks on the finish for Snively! #HERvsWBS pic.twitter.com/hUFuRvF3nu
— Bears Hockey Nation (@HBHNationBlog) December 15, 2021
Hershey forward Shane Gersich has run with an expanded role of late, quickly turning into an offensive powerhouse for the Bears. Gersich has the noted ability to score from his time in the University of North Dakota prior to joining the Capitals organization, but settled into more of a responsible two-way role with the Bears. Recently, particularly since Hershey’s return from their COVID shutdown, Gersich has found his footing offensively and quickly become a key weapon for the Bears, bringing a streak of nine points (five goals, four assists) in his last six games and is only seven points away from matching his career-best set in his rookie season of 2018-19. While the fewer games played in two seasons certainly prevented Gersich from passing those numbers, he’s already passed his production from the entire 2020-21 season with four games yet to spare and has found his office space at Giant Center at the net-front, burying rebounds from the dirty areas. He has found chemistry on different units with Matt Moulson, Mike Vecchione, Drake Rymsha, and Mason Morelli in different line combinations this season, and their success has been huge in recent games.
Shane Gersich wins it in overtime! #BRIvsHER pic.twitter.com/sg8rJPJhU0
— Bears Hockey Nation (@HBHNationBlog) January 2, 2022
It would be impossible to talk about the Bears without mentioning forward Garrett Pilon in the conversation of top scorers. Pilon has been arguably Hershey’s most consistent forward in his time with the team, and although topping his 36-point season in 2019-20 will be difficult, it’s doable as he leads the team with 11 goals. Pilon is a sharpshooter, leading the Bears with four power-play goals, and his ability to pick the corner with his shot has been essential on special teams. His recent combination with Snively and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby has been Hershey’s defined top unit for good reason, as the trio of players can all pass and shoot well with great chemistry, which is hard for opponents to stop.
Garrett Pilon’s shot is oh so good! Hershey regains the two goal lead! #WBSvsHER pic.twitter.com/XhVhpmhUQW
— Bears Hockey Nation (@HBHNationBlog) January 10, 2022
Jonsson-Fjallby is among Washington’s top prospects to factor in for Hershey. His speed gives him an edge over a lot of opposition, and he’s seemed to improve his strengths each season as well as pick up new ways to impress. His two power-play goals on Friday in Syracuse were perfectly placed shots, and head coach Scott Allen would certainly point out his strong forecheck being rewarded last Wednesday with a goal over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Much like his teammates, Jonsson-Fjallby is well on his way to shattering his career numbers this season, only six off of his single season-best in Hershey, only 38 games sooner. Along with his teammates, Jonsson-Fjallby has been one of the names heard often tallying overtime winners for the Bears, who have a lot of confidence in that area. He has two overtime tallies and three game-winners overall and has helped make the team so successful.
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby scores his second of the night and ninth of the season for another power play goal! #HERvsSYR pic.twitter.com/ZfHWPUeczS
— Bears Hockey Nation (@HBHNationBlog) January 8, 2022
It’s all combined with the great play of Vecchione to give Hershey a lot of stability and helped win games even with a depleted and changing lineup. The Bears could have easily been in a difficult spot losing four of their top players and not seeing McMichael at all this season. In addition to losing Moulson long-term due to back surgery, they have negotiated the lineup changes with Allen’s “next man up” philosophy that has seen a few players break out well with bigger roles.
Hershey has also managed this success largely without forward Brian Pinho, who returned to the lineup this past Sunday after missing two months with an injury. Pinho is another difference-maker on this team who previously hit the 20-goal mark in the 2019-20 season, and his return only gives the Bears another option with his excellent play at both ends of the ice. It was no surprise to see him and Beck Malenstyn on the ice on Sunday defending a one-goal lead in the closing moments of play.
This is all in combination with a growing list of healthy Washington Capitals players, which may see some players returned sooner rather than later. The Capitals iced a full lineup minus the long-term injured Anthony Mantha on Monday, which may lead to some players returned to Hershey and perhaps more after the taxi squad runs its course in February, which would be extremely close to the lineup from opening night for the first time since late October. Those players returning will have to earn their ice time, though, as Hershey has found its groove lately and their remarkable standings rebound reflects that success.
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