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BY JEFF FALK

HERSHEY – Friendly, hard-working people. A climate that features a true change of seasons. The perfect combination of urban and rural living.

A passionate and knowlegeable fan base. Lots of things to see and do. A close proximity to major metropolitan areas.

Hershey is a great place to play hockey. And for many of the same reasons, central Pennsylvania is also a great place to live.

Not every out-of-the-area transplant who plays professional hockey for the Hershey Bears settles in central Pennsylvania after his playing days are over, but many of them do. Freddy Cassivi’s story is very representative of the 15-20 former Bears who now call central Pennsylvania home.

“I think the two relate,” said Cassivi. “One of the reasons you play at the professional level is because you’re passionate about the game. It’s hard to find that at the AHL level, but there are a lot of people who are paassionate about the game here. It makes it feel almost like an NHL city. You feel it at the rink, that the fans are really behind you.

“The Hershey area has the sense of a small community,” continued Cassivi. “I was in the middle of it when I played for the Bears. It’s not too busy, not too hectic, but you can find anything you need here. Plus, I really like the proximity to big cities – Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Pittsburgh. And compared to Canada, its climate isn’t bad.”

Cassivi, who was born in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, Canada, played six seasons during two different stints with the Bears. A former goaltender, he retired following the 2009-10 season with the Vienna Capitals of the Austrian Hockey League.

He has lived in Hershey ever since, at least partly because his son, 15 and his daughters, 12, also live here. On and off, Cassivi has lived in the Hershey area for close to 20 years.

“My kids were here with their mom,” said Cassivi. “I moved around a lot when I was a kid. Hershey felt more like home. I felt the most important thing was to live near my kids, and I really liked the area.

“I would say it’s the exact same reason for all of them (former Bears who have settled in central Pennsylvania),” Cassivi continued. “We’re all pretty tight. We’re all pretty close. We’re still in touch. Sometimes we’ll have dinner and catch up. It’s a common reason.”

In 2005-06, Cassivi backstopped the Bears to the Calder Cup and was named the AHL’s playoff MVP. He played 15 professional hockey league seasons, including 13 NHL games with the Washington Capitals and Atlanta Thrashers.

In 2015, Cassivi was inducted into the American Hockey League hall of fame.

“Hockey-wise, you start to get a little bit older,” said Cassivi of his decision to step away from the game. “I thought I was taking pretty good care of myself. I was in Austria, and we lost in the playoff semifinals after we were up 3-0, and I didn’t play well. Family-wise, I had been separated from my kids the year before, while they were here in Hershey. I found that difficult.

“It wasn’t a decision,” added Cassivi. “I was still working out. I told my agent to ask if there was anything around. Then I started getting interviews with financial firms. It’s not a decision you really make yourself.”

Having a stable home in the Hershey area made Cassivi’s transition from professional athlete to the ‘real world’ easier. Today, he works in the Hershey area as a financial adviser.

“I think I adjusted pretty well,” said Cassivi, 44. “I had a plan while I was playing hockey. I wanted to be in the financial industry. I had taken some courses in Canada. I was interested in investments. It was a pretty easy transition. Sometimes you have a plan and it doesn’t work out. But it’s been a pretty big change in lifestyles.

“Playing professional hockey was a great experience,” Cassivi added. “In 1999, the first time I came to Hershey, I didn’t know much about it. You hear things. When I first came here, Hershey was the farm team for Colorado and I didn’t know what to expect. During that first stint, we had a good bunch of guys and I got to know the area. Then I got to come back in 2005, when the Caps were Hershey’s parent team.”

Cassivi’s parents live in Montreal, and he returns to Canada a few times a year, mostly for special events like birthdays and weddings. But Hershey is his home.

“Where I’m from, it might be like a smaller Harrisburg,” said Cassivi. “It is different. What’s special here are all the attractions, like Hersheypark, the concerts at Hersheypark Stadium, the golf courses, the (Hershey) Hotel.

“It depends where I’m at,” continued Cassivi. “If I’m on a trip and someone asks me where I’m from, I’ll say I live in Hershey. If someone notices my accent, I’ll say I’m from Quebec.”

Unless some unforeseeable circumstances arise, Hershey will remain Cassivi’s home well into the future.

“My wife has a good position,” said Cassivi. “She’s doing well at the Hershey Company. Things are going well. It wouldn’t make sense to live anywhere else while the kids live here.”

Because home is where the heart is.

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