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BY JEFF FALK

Photos Courtesy of Hershey Historical Society

If you’re a local history buff, it comes highly recommended.

If you’re a sports fan, it’s a great flick.

If you’re a hockey enthusiast, it’s a must-see.

If you’re a Hershey Bears’ fan, well…

‘B’ars to Bears: Hershey’s Hockey Dynasty’ is so much more than the most comprehensive film ever made about the Hershey Bears organization. Expertly weaving together personal interviews, old game footage and historic still photography throughout, the 69-minute documentary produced by the Hershey Historical Society puts a personal spin on the 90-year history of the Bears through the eyes of the former players, coaches and general managers that made it all happen.

But quite uninentionally, ‘B’ars to Bears: Hershey’s Hockey Dynasty’ also sheds light on the evolution of ice hockey, highlights the keys to long-lasting success in professional sports and re-tells the history of Chocolatetown, USA. And of course, helps us think of Milton Hershey in an altogether new way.

“It’s a movie for just about any sports fan,” said Nicole Soliday, executive director of the Hershey Historical Society of her directorial debut. “It’s for any hockey fan, for sure. For me, the best part of the film was that we were able to integrate all these personalities into the story. There’s something there that’s very personal, and we touched on that.”

“If you live in Hershey and you’re a fan of the Hershey Bears, it’s a movie for you,” said Lisa Melmed, one of the film’s writers. “I hope it’s an accurate account of the Bears’ franchise. It’s for any Hershey fan out there. It’s the stories, it’s the history, it’s the success of the franchise. The Hershey Bears aren’t just another hockey team.”

Narrated by legendary hockey voice Doc Emrick, ‘Bar’s to Bears: Hershey’s Hockey Dynasty’ explains how the Bears’ legacy in the American Hockey League has come to rival those of the NHL’s ‘Original Six’, through more than 30 personal interviews, including the likes of former general manager Doug Yingst, the legendary Don Cherry and Willie Marshall, the AHL’s all-time leading scorer. The documentary, which is broken down into a first, a second and a third period, can be viewed through Amazon Prime Video or in a DVD format.

“The Hershey Bears are a critical part of the community, the town, even the outside world,” said Soliday, who was assisted by Bob Goodman in her director duties. “You’re talking about a team that is based in a town that, when the sports arena (Hersheypark Arena) was built, had a population that approached 5,000 people. You can talk to anyone in the world who knows about hockey, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of the Hershey Bears. We look at it as this little town of Hershey. But the Bears put the town on a totally different map.”

“It became clear to me, when all of these former players and coaches and fans came out to be interviewed, how important the Bears are to Hershey,” said Melmed. “It really warmed my heart to hear all of their stories. It became very clear to me how important the team was to the town. It’s a little universe to itself.”

From initial discussions in November of 2016 to preproduction in February 2017 until its release at a premiere held inside Hersheypark Arena on December 7, 2018, ‘Bar’s to Bears: Hershey’s Hockey Dynasty’ took almost two years to complete. The inspiration for the film came former AHL linesman Bob Goodman and the Hershey Historical Society’s extensive Hershey Bears collection.

The chronologically-correct movie begins with the original club’s founding as the B’ars in 1932, the construction of Hersheypark Arena in 1936 and Mr. Hershey’s desire to provide quality entertainment for his company town.

“John Sollenberger was Milton Hershey’s right-hand man, and part of his job was to integrate entertainment into the community,” said Soliday, a 46-year-old resident of Annville. “With hockey, they took it to another level. They founded the term ‘B’ars’. It obviously had a commercial relation to the chocolate company, and people loved it.

“If it wasn’t for Bob, this project wouldn’t exist,” added Soliday. “The impetus was his idea to accumulate the Society’s material collection into an exhibit in 2012.  From That point, this was his vision and dream to see it materialize into a film of some sort.  Without him, no one would have answered their phones or supported the project – I can’t say that enough.”

“I learned a heck of a lot about the town and the Hershey Bears,” said Melmed, a 57-year-old resident of Brooklyn. “I had been to the park. I had heard of the Bears. There was so much footage we came upon. I was fascinated and intrigued by these people. But I came into it not knowing much at all.”

The movie also deals with the evolution of the Hershey Bears as a franchise, the organization’s continuous passing of the proverbial torch and its multi-layered history of success.

The B’ars began playing competitive hockey at the old Ice Palace, then, as the Bears, spent 66 seasons at Hersheypark Arena, before moving to Giant Center in 2002. Hershey is the longest continually-running franchise in the American Hockey League, and the Bears have captured more Calder Cups – 11 – than any other current AHL organization.

“Initially, they had the best of everything,” said Soliday. “They had a guaranteed owner, connected to chocolate, and that’s never going to go away. That certainly laid the foundation for great success. The town being what it is, and the exposure, the love of the fans have helped sustain it.

“It’s (Hershey) a magical place,” added Soliday. “The town is special. It’s unlike any town I know of. There’s something special going on here.”

“They are winners, and everyone loves a winner,” said Melmed. “The management has been very steady and they’ve had quite a bit of longevity. They’ve had a consistent group of people overseeing the organization throughout their history. And people came to seee them play.”

From all reports, ‘B’ars to Bear: Hershey’s Hockey Dynasty has been very well received. In many ways, the story tells itself, but the interviews make it personal.

“Within the popluation of Bears fans, the response has been what we thought it would be,” said Soliday. “I thought there was a great response to the event (premiere), because we included so many former players. The response has been very positive, but I think the project has the ability to reach a much broader audience. We love it because it’s here.

“There is so much to the Hershey Bears that fans think they know, but they don’t,” continued Soliday. “This film very much draws in the viewer. There’s character there. You can’t help but enjoy it. There’s a certain level of personality to it.”

“We had to make sure we got the highlights,” said Melmed. “There were so many things that were important to the Bears. I think the interviews brought the story to life. There’s a plot and there’s a story, and all the characters made the story more interesting.”

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