Roaring back: Hershey Bears start season strong after COVID shortened ‘19-20

Cameron Fisher , Reporter

After nearly 684 days without a full capacity crowd, the roar is back in the Giant Center.

The Hershey Bears have dropped the puck commencing their 84th season in the American Hockey League. Despite the impacts due to COVID on fans, the team, and the AHL, the Bears have started strong with a winning record.

16 games into the season, Hershey has a record of 7-6-2-1. 

While last season was cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Bears were still able to play. They finished the season with a strong 24 wins and 7 losses including 2 overtime losses both coming against I-75 rival, Lehigh Valley. 

The Bears brought home some hardware last season, winning the MacGregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL’s overall regular-season champs, and also the F.G. (Teddy) Oke Trophy as champions of the North Division. 

Despite the success of last year’s shortened season, the Bears and AHL have kept in place some Covid restrictions for this season. 

According to the AHL, “The AHL continues to place paramount importance on the health and safety of our players, officials, staff and fans and all of their families, and we all look forward to returning to our arenas in 2020-21,” said in a statement 

Zack Fisch, Manager of Hershey Bears Media Relations and Broadcasting said, “Last year was very limited in terms of player restrictions and fans. Now we have completely vaccinated players and staff, which contributes to player safety. Additionally, there was and still is no Old Barn Hockey Show at The Bears Den.” Fans can still catch the Old Barn Hockey Show via a podcast on Fox Sports 1460 Monday nights at 6:00pm. 

Another fan favorite that remains restricted is player appearances and autograph night featuring a team photo. 

Some of the league rules affecting the team are “Anyone within 12 feet has to be vaccinated. The locker room is highly sanitary with disinfecting touch points. The Bears locker room is deep cleaned usually once a week,” Fisch said. 

As for the fans, mask wearing remains highly encouraged, however, is not mandatory.

Another effect from Covid has been the economic impact on not only the Bears, but the entire AHL. “Ticket sales have increased significantly. We don’t have to worry about TV contracts like the NHL does.  Getting fans in the building is imperative, especially after last year from beginning the season with only 400-1400 fans, then increasing to 2,500, then finishing the season with 5,000,” Fisch said. This year, the Bears are hopeful to once again play in front of a sold out crowd. 

Familiar faces also return to the Chocolate and White along with some veterans from other teams that Hershey acquired over the summer like Dylan McIlrath from the Grand Rapids Griffins.

There are some elite prospects from Washington playing with Hershey this season, so keep a close eye on them.

“Young prospects,” said Fisch, “like Garret Pilon, Alex Alexeyev, Tobias Geisser and Cody Franson will play a key part to the Bears this season.”