Head CoachTroy Mann— Third season as Head Coach of the Hershey Bears, seventh year on staff with the Bears. His American hockey League career coaching record is 89-42-22.

Captain: Last season’s captain Garrett Mitchell has returned to the team this season. If he remains the captain it would be his second season wearing the “C.”

Last Season: Largely successful, last season saw the Bears finish atop the Atlantic Division with a record of 43-21-5-7 that culminated in a trip to the Calder Cup Final. Rookie forwards Riley Barber and Travis Boyd proved to be valuable additions to the lineup with each surpassing 50 points. Chris Bourque’s return to Hershey was a fruitful one as the 11th year-pro led the AHL in points and was awarded the Les Cunningham Award for the league’s most valuable player. Ultimately the team was swept out of the Calder Cup Finals at the hands of the blazing hot Lake Erie Monsters.

Hot or Not?

After a successful 2015-2016 campaign, not much will be changing on the offensive side of things. The blueline lost a few players which could lead to an increased roll for young returning players like Madison Bowey, Tyler Lewington, and Christian Djoos. There will be two new faces manning the Hershey nets this season, Joe Cannata and rookie Vitek Vanecek.  Vanecek finished second in the ECHL in goals against average at 2.03 and went  18-7-6 as a rookie but will start the season as the understudy to Cannata (more on him later).

Who’s Back?

  • Chris Bourque is back for his eighth season in Hershey. In 464 regular-season games, Bourque has 161 goals and 312 assists (473 points) and 326 penalty minutes. He sits in sixth place all-time in franchise history for assists (312) and seventh place in points (473).
  • The young trio of Jakub Vrana, Travis Boyd, and Riley Barber enjoyed great success together last season combining for 142 points in 186 games. The pairing has already been reunited in pre-season action and will be a fun group to watch this year. Vrana’s season was shorted to 36 games due to injury but he was still able to put up 34 points( 16G, 18G).
  • Chandler Stephenson almost made the Capitals opening night roster last season. Stephenson saw his point total double from 14 points in 2014-2015 to 28 points in 2015-2016. He also played in nine games for the Capitals but failed to record a point.  He is reliable in the faceoff dot and is an important piece of Hershey’s depth up the middle.

Who’s Through?

  • The unsung hero of last season’s Calder Cup Finals run was Carter Camper. After registering 17 points in 21 playoff games, Camper signed a two-way contract with the New Jersey Devils and will start the season with the Albany Devils.
  • Hershey’s second highest point scoring center last season Sean Collins has moved on to the KHL. He signed with the new Chinese team, Kunlun Red Star, and has two goals and four assists in 17 games played.
  • Blueliner Erik Burgdoerfer appeared in all but two of Hershey’s regular season games last season recording six goals and 14 assists. He signed with Buffalo in the off-season and was sent down to Rochester in the AHL to start the season.
  • Another loss on the blue line veteran Ryan Stanton played in 60 games with Hershey last season registering four goals and 12 assists. He signed with the Colorado Avalanche and was assigned to their AHL affiliate the San Antonio Rampage.

Who’s New?

  • Darren Dietz signed a two-way deal with the Capitals after being released by Montreal in the past off-season. The 23-year-old Defenseman was originally drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 NHL draft by Montreal. Dietz has 38 points (eight goals, 30 assists) in 166 regular season games AHL games. He also appeared in 13 games for the Canadiens last season.
  • Hershey was assigned well-traveled winger Christian Thomas after he signed a two-way deal with Washington in July. Thomas was drafted in the second round (40th) by the New York Rangers in the 2010 NHL draft. Since then he’s played for seven different teams and appeared in 27 NHL games for the Rangers, Canadiens, and Coyotes. In 219 career AHL games, Thomas has 52 goals and 55 assists (107 points).
  • Another free agent comes to the Bears from the Carolina Hurricanes, Brad Malone.  Malone was drafted in the fourth round of the 2007 NHL draft by the Colorado Avalanche. He has played in 176 regular season games with Colorado and Carolina in the NHL amassing 13 goals, 17 assists, and 188 PIMs. This signing will help the depth a center that plagued the team late last year.
  • Joe Cannata is slated to be the number one goalie this season. Cannata signed with the Capitals in July and is considered their third string should an injury require a call-up. The 26-year-old Wakefield, Ma native was drafted in the sixth round (173rd overall) of the 2009 entry draft by the Vancouver Canucks. He has played in parts of five seasons in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves and Utica Comets. He has a career record of 41-33-7 with a 2.59 goals against average and 0.911 save percentage.

Movin’ On Up

  • Madison Bowey is definitely a name for Bears and Capitals fans to keep an eye on. Considered Washington’s top defensive prospect, Bowey is entering his second season as a pro with the Bears after playing in 70 games (four goals and 25 assists) during his rookie season. The 21-year-old is known primarily for his offensive prowess but his work on the defensive side of the game is coming around as well. He finished the 2015-2016 season with a team-high plus-minus rating of plus-22. Washington’s blueline is deep but should the injury bug bite Bowey could find his way to the NHL this season.
  • Nathan Walker is one of the best stories in hockey.  Born in Australia he left his home to play in the Czech Republic.  He earned a contract with Hershey and eventually became the first Austrailian born player to be drafted in the NHL in 2014 when the Capitals traded up to pick him in at 89 the third round.
    Coach Troy Mann spoke with The Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan, “He’s become a vital part of our team and is probably our most improved player, in terms of contributing offensively,” Mann said.  “I mean, he had 41 points, and we didn’t anticipate that back in October. It was a nice surprise. He played with a lot of tenacity and skates really well. He’s made for the way the game is being played today with a lot of speed.” No doubt that Walker will eventually get his shot.Sin Bin Swami Says… The core remains mostly the same after the Calder Cup Final run. Key players that led the way have returned and Troy Mann is back behind the bench. The younger players like Boyd, Barber and Bowey proved they belong last season, it’s up to them to bring it again this season.

Head coach Troy Mann has won 46 and 43 games in his two seasons as bench boss. His team has a good balance of youth and experience. I see no reason why the Bears won’t be right back at the top of the division and competing for another Calder Cup.

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