Friday, October 23, 2015

Bears Welcome Hartford Wolf Pack in 2015-16 Home Opener

After 3 road games in the first two weekends and another one tonight, the Bears FINALLY open the home slate against the team that ended their season back in May, the Hartford Wolf Pack. 
Opening night throwback jerseys.
 Image courtesy of
Kyle Maceand Chocolate Hockey.

In that series the dynamic Chris Bourque served as catalyst for the Wolf Pack.

In 2015-16 he hopes to serve as the catalyst for the Hershey Bears offense!  

It will be good to have Chris back in Chocolate and White this season, but he isn't the only new addition.  

Some other new faces you might not be familiar with...
  • Zach Sill
  • Carter Camper
  • Riley Barber
  • Sean Collins
  • Paul Carey
  • Madison Bowey
  • Ryan Stanton
  • Aaron Ness
  • Dan Ellis
Each of those players comes to the Bears after having played elsewhere in 2014-15.  

Plus some others that you might have heard of or seen for a few games last year...
  • Jacub Vrana
  • Travis Boyd
  • Caleb Herbert
  • Christian Djoos
  • Justin Peters
Each of those spent at least a portion of the 2014-15 season (mostly late in the season) in Hershey.  But none were used often or played a major role.

That's 15 new players on a 23 man roster.  Quite a bit of turnover.  

Gone are the likes of Casey Wellman, Tyler Kennedy, Chris Conner, Kris Newbury, Jim O'Brien, Stanislav Galiev, Steve Oleksy, Nate Schmidt, Jon Landry, Cameron Schilling, Philip Grubauer, Pheonix Coley, and Dane Byers.

Man, that's a lot of good players.  Quite honestly...I don't know if the replacements are nearly as good.  But we will soon find out.

Ultimately, I have 3 rather large concerns as we enter the 2015-16 season.  

Size and Physicality

I think most of us expected Dane to be back as the captain of our Bears.  Maybe something happens and he comes back midseason, but he surely isn't here now.  And that hurts.  

One of the reason the Bears struggled so much in the postseason last year was a lack of physicality.  I for one believe that a healthy Dane would have made a huge difference in the postseason.  

So without Dane, who is going to pick up the slack in the physical play?

One look at the roster and you would be hard pressed to find someone capable based on their size.  Liam O'Brien seems like the heir, but he wasn't real good at doing it last spring.  

Other than him there is exactly ONE forward that is at least 200 lbs, Zach Sill.  He weighs in at 202.

The problem is made worse when you realize the Bears field a much smaller than average lineup.  Only 6 of the 13 forwards stands even 6'0" tall.  4 of the 13 are 5/9" or smaller!!

We have seen Hershey Miniatures before (Aucoin, Perreault, Bouchard, Bourque, among others), but they were generally accompanied by larger players around them.

That isn't the case in 2015-16.  

Sure, there is some size (SOME) on the blueline.  But those guys won't be able to help in the corners when the Bears are trying to dig out loose pucks.  Nor will it help when you are looking to screen the goalie on shots from the point.

Guys like Nathan Walker, Garrett Mitchell, and even Bourque do know how to throw their weight around a bit, but it isn't exactly going to strike fear into an opponent the way a Dane Byers or Steve Pinnizzotto hit ever did.  


Problem number 2 is a rarer in one Hershey.

Typically when the Bears break camp and start the season there are about 25-27 guys left on the roster as things shake out in the first couple of weeks.

2015-16 didn't see that happen.  

When they announced their opening night rosters there were 23 players on it.  

In theory, that is fine.  You have your best lineup and you go with it.  

But I also think it raises questions about the level of the guys that weren't kept and were sent to South Carolina.  I am sure they are all skilled and will be adequate for a fill-in game or two.

However, if a key Bear suffers an injury (which one likely will) then Hershey might be in big trouble.

Experience and Familiarity

Last season was a struggle at the beginning.  Guys were new to the system and new to the team and it took a couple of months to really gel.  

Expect the same thing this year.  As mentioned above, there are 15 new(er) skaters to the team and the system.

And for the first time in a while there are a number of rookies!  

That's exciting as rookie's generally bring more speed and skill then some of the veteran players in the league.

And it's also terrifying as most of these kids have never played in a league this skilled before, so no one knows how they will acclimate themselves.

Ultimately, I would rather have loads of rookies than veterans, but it will likely make for a slow start with frustrating losses early.  

Hopefully that all turns around like it did last year and this team can dominate once Christmas rolls around.


Alright, so this is a 4th concern, but it needs mentioned especially considering the inauspicious start to the season by the Bears 2 veteran netminders.

Last season it was Gruby and Copley in net.  

Everyone was well aware that Gruby would likely be headed to Washington full time this year and that did end up happening.  

But we also all assumed Copley would make a fine #1 in Hershey.  I know I was excited as I thought he was better than Gruby for much of last year.

And then the Caps traded him.  Don't get me wrong...I LOVED the deal for the Caps.  LOVED IT.  But it hurt the Bears.

Within days the Bears/Caps had signed Dan Ellis to bridge the organization between Gruby and prospect Vitek Vanecek.  

Having two goalies in Hershey, Ellis and Peters, with NHL pedigree's is fantastic.  But at the same time, both are old (younger than me, but still...old for hockey players) and at some point the body breaks down and reflexes slow.

Hopefully that isn't the case as I know the organization doesn't want to rush Vanecek, who is playing in South Carolina this year, but after the start to the season I am at least slightly concerned.  It's only 3 games, with little chance to build a rythym, but still...something to monitor.

Regardless of any of these concerns I am HYPED for the home slate to get started.  
  • Can't wait to see the new scoreboard in action.
  • Looking forward to welcoming Bourque back to Hershey.
  • Excited to see the young talent in Hershey.
But mostly, just excited to get back to my seat at the GC for some LIVE HOCKEY!!