By Rich Blosser
After 100 days of Calder Cup celebrating, Hershey Bears hockey is back, and as the kids say, I am here for it; the last time the Bears played hockey in Hershey was June 17, 2023, Game 5 of the Calder Cup Finals.
On Friday, the Bears had their 2nd preseason game against their rivals up I-81, The Wilkes Barre Baby Penguins, an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The two teams squared off on Wednesday morning, October 3, in a School Day preseason tilt that saw WBS come out on top, 3-0. But no need to worry, Bear Nation; most of those playing on Wednesday are destined for South Carolina or, worse, released in the hockey ether.
On Friday, I returned to Giant Center to Press Row; considering that my podcast, The Grit and Bear It Podcast, had yielded a seat up there, I was very excited to get back there.
Clay Stevenson led and tripped on the way out to lead the boys into Friday's preseason action; attendance wasn't that good because it was preseason.
Some quick notes
Garrett Roe and Mike Vecchione (Mr. Game 7) wore the Alternate A
No Captain's C as Dylan McIlrath is still up in DC, finishing out the preseason for the Caps
Also, on a separate note, Garrett Row wore number 67, the second-highest number I have seen in a Bears jersey since Dan Gilbert in 2018 wore 77.
Wilkes Barre's starting lineup had guys who will be in Wheeling, West Virginia, by the end of next week, and that is NOT compliant; Johnathon Gruden, Ty Glover, Sam Poulin Valteri Puustien, and Taylor Fedun were all scratches this game, and it showed.
Starting for Hershey were Vecchoine, Dube, Huntington, Day, Ness, and Clay Stevenson in the net.
The game could have been faster and more active to start, with missed passes, dumping and chasing, and passes just a bit off. Guys were determined to make the roster, giving extra checks and using finesse moves.
Speaking of the Bears, they dumped the puck into the corner. Huntington worked the puck out of the corner to feed a streaking Mike Vecchione who gave a light pass to Patrick Dube who found the back of the net to score! It's 1-0 Hershey in the first!
However, the Bears got into penalty trouble as during a Bears Power play, Vecchoine slashed Addamo and got a five-minute Power Play and a game misconduct. Addamo did return, and hopefully, this won't lead to any extra discipline. I have never seen a 5-minute penalty called in the preseason, and it seemed odd to call it here.
Thankfully, WBS couldn't cash in at the end of the first as the powerplay carried over into the second, and again, they came up empty. Afterward, WBS took back-to-back Delay of Game penalties. Still, Hershey couldn't cash in either as the game began to slow down into preseason action.
However, in the second, we got a fight! Tyson Empey and some WBS player whose name escapes me in a very spirited fight that saw both men fight for a few minutes before falling onto the ice. The small crowd at Giant Center stood cheering Tyson for his fight. I would bring him in on that fight alone. But does the name Kale Kessy mean anything?
After two periods, the Bears were outshooting WBS 22-5, which is not a typo.
In the third, Hershey continued to frustrate the Wheeling Baby Pens, and Clay Stevenson was playing very well and pretty. I was not going to say it up in the press row. WBS turned up the shots with 5 minutes to go and turned this into a decent push to try and tie the game.
However, the wall of Clay hardened up, and the Bears won their only home preseason game, 1-0, behind a 12-save shutout for Clay.
3rd: #30 WBS
2nd: 31 Clay Stevenson
1st: 18 Patrick Dube
Players that stood out for me
Matt Strome and Jon McDonald had solid games, playing great defensive hockey. Strome should get some solid 4th line minutes, and John got upgraded to an Ahl deal.
Garrett Row had a solid game, too, but I don't know if there is a roster spot for him.
Alex Suzdalev put on a passing and puck-handling clinic and will be a fun player to watch in Hershey this year! Hershey will have one more preseason game against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms at PPL Center on Sunday at 1:05 p.m.
Then it is on to Saturday Night, October 14, and raising a banner to kick off the 23-24 season; Hershey Hockey is back!