The Hershey Bears look to defend their Calder Cup championship and try to three-peat this season. Nineteen players from last year’s championship season will return, with Andrew Joudrey being named their new captain. The Bears will look to match their dominant season and spectacular record of 60-17-3 in 2009-10.
One of the Bears’ top scorers last season, Alexandre Giroux, has left the team to join the Edmonton Oilers, signing a one-way contract in July. However, the Bears replaced some of his scoring later on in July by Kyle Greentree signed a two-way contract with the Capitals for two years. Veteran Brian Willsie also signed a two-way contract with Washington in July for one year to serve as an injury call-up and put up points in the minors. The Bears look to have another deep, dominant forward core, with several veteran scorers, like Greentree, Willsie and Keith Aucoin, joined by promising offensively-minded prospects such as Jay Beagle, Francois Bouchard, Andrew Gordon and Mathieu Perreault. The Capitals would like to see continued development among the younger players as they try to crack the NHL roster.
Hershey has its fair share of grit as well, with players like Trevor Bruess, Boyd Kane, Grant McNeil, Steve Pinizzotto and Joel Rechlicz racking up penalty minutes and adding size to the lineup. Ashton Rome brings size, discipline and experience to the Bears’ lineup. Andrew Joudrey is a player to watch, after he potted a career-high goal (15) and point (34) totals and established himself as a solid defensive forward with excellent penalty killing abilities. Another exciting player to watch is Dmitry Kugryshev, the Capitals’ second round pick in 2008, who finished fifth in scoring in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2009-2010, putting up 87 points in 66 games. He’s looking to establish himself as a consistent scorer at the minor league level en route to potentially joining the Capitals as a scoring forward in a few seasons.
Defense is another strong area on the Bears team, with several young, puck-moving defenders and veteran defensive defensemen. Patrick McNeil and Zach Miskovic lead the pack of the former and Lawrence Nycholat and Patrick Wellar headline the latter. Sean Collins is looking to make it back to the NHL after spending time with the Capitals in 2008-2009 and Joe Finley is itching to crack the NHL roster as soon as he can. Patrick Cullity, Brian Fahey, and Johann Kroll will soak up minutes on the back end and give the Bears some depth and versatility.
In quite possibly the most interesting move of the pre-season, the Oilers waived disgruntled defenseman Sheldon Souray, but instead of assigning him their farm team in Oklahoma City, the team loaned him to the Hershey Bears. Souray is still an NHL-level defenseman, with a booming shot from the point, and will look to prove he can still play while in the minors. If he acquits himself well, an interested team may either trade for him or claim him on re-entry waivers and he could be very well be on his way to making it back to the NHL.
Braden Holtby is expected to take over as the number one goaltender for the Bears after Michal Neuvirth has joined the Washington Capitals and is slated to split time with Semyon Varlamov in net. After posting a 7-2-3 record to go along with a 2.95 goals against average and a .911 save percentage for the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL, Holtby was called up to Bears where he put up fantastic numbers, including a 25-8-2 record, a 2.32 goals against average, and a .917 save percentage. He is expected to build on his strong season last year and continue his push to play in the NHL.
Dany Sabourin was supposed to spell Holtby in net and serve as a steadying veteran presence, but with Varlamov out with a groin injury, Saboruin instead is backing Neuvirth up in Washington. As a result, Todd Ford, recently of the Stingrays, has joined the Bears to serve as Holtby’s backup. Ford had a solid season for South Carolina last season, posting a record of 18-7-1, a goals against average of 2.79, and a save percentage of .910. He’ll likely only spell Holtby occasionally but the coaches may give him a few starts early on in the season to see if he can succeed at the AHL level.
Mark French will be behind the Bears’ bench for his second season, after leading the team to a franchise record 123 points, an AHL record 60 wins, and a second-straight Calder Cup Championship. Troy Mann will return for his second season as an assistant coach under French.
Cody Eakin was easily the most impressive junior player on the Capitals’ roster in training camp, after he put up solid numbers in the pre-season and looked quick and confident on the ice. He was ultimately sent back to the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League, where he will captain the team and continue to develop. He was very close to making the opening night roster, but Marcus Johansson eventually won the third line center position. Eakin still has a year of junior eligibility so it only made sense to give him some more time to grow as a player as he’s still only 19.
The other junior players at training camp were Brandon Anderson (Lethbridge), Samuel Carrier (Lewiston), Stanislav Galiev (St. John), Philipp Grubauer (Kingston), and Garrett Mitchell (Regina). Each of them were returned to their respective clubs after playing in several intra-squad scrimmages but before pre-season action got under way. With so little NHL game experience, it’s difficult to gauge how these players will look in the future. However, most of these players are still relatively young and were expected to play in junior for a few more years before they even sniffed an AHL roster, with the exception of Mitchell. After being named captain for his final junior season for Regina, he will likely join the Bears following the 2010-11 OHL season. These junior prospects will look to continue to develop and play pivotal roles for their respective junior teams as they try to make the Capitals one day.
Article was written by Patrick Harbolick.