The Hershey Bears joined the American Hockey League for the 1938-39 season and won the first of 11 Calder Cup championships in 1946-47. This season, for the first time in the league’s history, there will not be a Calder Cup champ.
That became official on Monday, May 11th when the league announced it was suspending the remainder of the regular season games and the post-season playoffs. On Tuesday, Bryan Helmer, Vice President of Hockey Operations and Hershey head coach Spencer Carberry tag-teamed a meeting with the media to discuss the situation and what might take place in the future for the AHL.
“We were hoping for the best but after a month it got worse and about a week ago we got word from the league president Dave Andrews that unfortunately, things weren’t going to work out for the league, so we might as well shut it down instead of waiting until June or July,” Helmer said. “It was a tough call for everyone involved, one that started at 3 o’clock and by 3:05 the voting was done and the season was canceled. For me, it was a roller coaster ride and was really disappointing but it was the right thing to do for the safety of the players and fans.
“This might have been our year,” said Carberry. “I liked the way the team was playing because everybody believed they were in every game whether they were going into the third period down or not. It was a tough pill to swallow.
“I guess everyone felt the call would end in this fashion but I kept holding out hope that somehow or some way we would do an abbreviated playoff the same way the NHL is planning to do,” Carberry continued. “I was really hit pretty hard by the decision to know there wasn’t going to be any more hockey this season, with the group we had. It was sad, but I had to keep things in perspective and understand what is going on in the rest of the world. Now we move on to things that are more important than sports and hockey”.
The Bears are only left with memories.
“The sad part is this group will never ever be together again, but that’s the reality of pro hockey as players move on and go to different organizations.,” said Carberry. “This was such a great group of guys to be around and coach, and know how badly they wanted to win for each other. I could go on and on talking about how great it was to be around them every day. I really felt they could go on a Calder Cup run, especially the way they played in that last weekend, against Hartford twice and Providence. You could tell and feel what this group could do.”
Helmer recalled some of the high points of the season that was shortened due to the coronavirus pandemic, one that included the teddy bear toss that he still gets goosebumps thinking about, just seeing all those bears tossed on the ice and the coverage ESPN gave it.
“In addition, the guys did so much off the ice making visits to schools and other places,” said Helmer. “Then there was the support of the fans that turned out for every game, and that’s what made it so disappointing the way it all ended so suddenly.
“I think there will be some positive things that come out of this, but the virus will dictate when we get started and this is all being talked about daily,” added Helmer. “The league is putting together different scenarios, but I’m optimistic a vaccine will be found so we can get fans back in the building and get started in October.”
There is talk some teams might not return next season, but Helmer indicated Hershey and the Capitals will continue working on renewing their contract, which is up the end of the season, because they have been getting along with the Capitals and the Caps are happy with what the Bears been doing.
Helmer addressed a question about what the future will look like for both the AHL and NHL teams saying, “The virus will dictate everything, but the leagues are going to put together a task force of NHL general managers and AHL executives to stay on top of things and keep us in the know. This will all be day-by-day and month-by-month, but hopefully, we can be playing in October. We want to be playing in front of fans because that’s how we get excitement in the building, but if we had to do it another way that would help Washington that’s probably what we would do.
“If the NHL continues they have TV revenue coming in for both regular and playoff games while we, at our level, do not have that,” continued Helmer. “We get revenue from ticket sales and don’t have TV income they do.”
The players’ last paychecks were issued April 15 and discussions with the Capitals are underway about who Hershey and Washington want to bring back for next year.
“There are a lot of boxes to be checked in order to be ready for the next season, whenever that start time might be,” Carberry said. “When you go through all the details of where players and families are, and figure out how to play games safely, because that is the number one priority, along with testing that will be important.
“Youngsters like centers Brian Pinho and Riley Sutter, left-wing Beck Malenstyn, right wings Alex Jonsson-Fjallby and Brett Leason, defensemen Bobby Nardella, Alex Alexeyev and Mary Fehervary all had good seasons,” Carberry added.
Carberry’s initial campaign behind the Hershey bench, in 2018-19, required a mid-season push that saw the team go from the bottom of not only the division, but the entire league, to claim a playoff spot, and win a first-round tilt.
Reflecting on his two seasons, Carberry said, “It has been a great two years for me here, that included the streak we had last season and the way we played all this season. This is a phenomenal place to play and there could have been a few gray hairs along the way but I really don’t have to worry about that.
“I just told the guys when we got the notice of the shutdown how terrible I felt but I was just so proud of them and what they had done,” Carberry continued. “They put so much into this, but we have to put things in perspective, and we’ll look back on this season the rest of our lives and think about what could’ve been. If they go on to play 10 years in the NHL, or retire after this one, I will always look back on this one as what could have happened.”