The Hershey Bears ended a memorable 2020-21 season with a pair of recent home victories to claim the F.G. (Teddy) Oke Trophy, as the champions of the AHL’s North Division, and the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL’s overall regular-season champions.
Hershey has now won six division crowns since affiliating with the Washington Capitals in 2005-06, and also earned the Kilpatrick Trophy three times during that period.
The Bears clinched their 20th division title overall, with a 3-2 win over Binghamton on Saturday, and also wrapped up first place in the 28-team league standings when Laval fell to Toronto, 2-1, two hours later.
Sunday they handed Wilkes-Barre/Scranton a 5-2 loss in a penalty-filled finale for both teams.
Binghamton scored first 5:27 into Saturday’s contest. Tyce Thompson, son of former Bears captain Brent Thompson, scored on a two-on-one break, taking a pass from A.J. Greer and beating Hershey goaltender Zach Fucale with a shot from the right wing.
In the final two minutes of the opening period, Fucale came up big with a key save on a Binghamton breakaway that kept the score 1-0, after 20 minutes.
Hershey did all of its Saturday scoring in the second period, in a span of 2:41, following a free-for-all at the 9:20 mark that resulted in several game misconducts along with other penalties.
Hershey’s Connor McMichael started things when he won a faceoff back to Paul LaDue, who unleashed a rocket past opposing goalie Jeremy Brodeur at 12:56, to tie the game.
At 14:18, Aliaksei Protas’ second goal of the season put the Bears in front 2-1. Shane Gersich cleared the puck out of Hershey’s zone and Protas controlled it at center ice, and skated in alone, before sliding the disc through the five-hole of Brodeur.
Just moments later at 15:37, Brett Leason found a wide-open McMichael at the post, and he slammed his 13th goal of the season home for the tally that became his eighth game-winning goal of the season. Mason Morelli also assisted on the play.
“This was not our best effort at the start, then we got it going in the second, then had to hold on for dear life in the third, but I give the guys a ton of credit that when the game got tough they found ways to make little plays that helped us win,” said Heshey head coach Spencer Carbery.
“We weren’t playing well until the scrum in the second period got us up on the bench and got them a little bit juiced, and we scored three times in a couple of minutes, but then we didn’t have much left in the tank in the third period,” added Carbery.
Mason Jobst cut Hershey’s lead to just one with a power play goal at 29 seconds of the third period, but Fucale shut the door the rest of the way, to improve his record to 9-2.
“I give Binghamton credit for the way they played, because they had zero quit considering their record, especially against us” Carbery said. “They pushed us to the brink and the game could have gone either way after scoring that quick goal early in the third period.”
Binghamton was 1-for-5 on the man-advantage while Hershey was 0-for-3. The Bears finished the regular season 11-1-0-0 versus the Devils.
Philippe Maillet, Martin Fehervary and Pheonix Copley were called up to Washington with Paul LaDue and Mike Sgarbossa returned to Hershey.
It marked the first time the Bears have won a division title since 2015-16, and the first time Hershey has won the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy since 2009-10.
Sunday’s season finale entertained a crowd of 1,329 fans, Hershey won its tenth straight on home ice, by a 5-2 verdict, in a contest that saw the Bears penalized for 58 minutes and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 34 minutes.
Hershey’s Connor McMichael started his four-point (1g-3a) game with a power-play goal at 7:37 of the first period, with Matt Moulson’s power-play strike coming four minutes later. Brett Leason and Aliaksel Protas had assists on the first goal with McMichael, and Cameron Schilling on the second one.
McMichael added another assist 1:03 into the second period, firing the puck toward the net from the left boards. The pass was right on the tape of Leason, who redirected it into the goal for his eighth marker of the season.
The majority of the penalties took place during the second period, and that’s when Wilkes-Barre/Scranton responded with two goals to cut the lead to one, scoring at 7:30 on a power-play marker from Drew O’Connor, and 8:56 on a screen shot from Cam Lee, to make it 3-2.
Midway through the third period, Hershey got an insurance marker from Eddie Wittchow, his first goal of the season. Shane Gersich stole the puck and fed Wittchow, who cut to the middle of the slot and fired a shot past goaltender Brett Brochu to make it 4-2.
Coach Spenser Carberry spent most of his post-game comments talking about several players and what they brought to this year’s team, starting with Wittchow: “He plays with so much energy and is so competitive, and the fact we can play him at forward or defense, plus he is just loved by everybody and the guys were just thrilled for him when he scored.”
Moving to rookie sensation Connor McMichael, Carbery said, “These last two games were his best of the year, when he was just phenomenal, because often after having a good game guys come back down a little the next game, but he actually elevated his game and stepped up for us.’
Carbery concluded his comments saying this about Kale Kessy, “He has a really good skill set and we often just see the PIMs but he is also one of our best wings at handling the puck along the wall and going out as a penalty killer.”
Leason ended the season’s scoring with a five-on-three power-play goal at 17:46, taking a McMichael pass in the left circle and scoring his second goal of the game, to make it a 5-2 final.
Hershey’s Hunter Shepard earned the win in goal with 34 saves, to finish the season 3-0-0-0.
The Bears finished 8-2-0-0 this year versus Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, including a perfect 5-0-0-0 at Giant Center, and 24-7-2-0 for the season.
Hershey played 33 of its scheduled 36 games this season, and the three games not played were due to COVID-19 protocol issues with other teams. Hershey had no COVID-19 protocol issues that caused the team to miss games, and the club missed only one day of practice during the season.
Connor McMichael finished the season as Hershey’s point leader with 27 (14g, 13a) in 33 games, becoming the first Hershey rookie since Craig Fisher ((43g, 36a) in 77 games in 1990-91, to lead the team in scoring.
Matt Moulson played in his 400th AHL game.
Local product Padraig Carey backed up Shepard in the win, after signing a try-out agreement with the club earlier in the day.
The Bears will return to the ice next fall with the 2021-22 AHL season set to start on October 15.