Saturday, July 17, 2010
July by the Numbers travels back in time for jersey #17.
The Hershey Bears, founded in 1932, are the oldest club in the American Hockey League, having joined the league back in 1938. They have been members of the league 18 years longer than the Rochester Americans and have 54 more years in the league than the Providence Bruins, truly making them the senior member of the AHL.
Founded by the founder of the Hershey Chocolate Company, Milton S. Hershey, the club was originally called the Hershey B'ars. Responding to criticism that the name was too commercial, the name evolved to the Bears by 1936. They moved to the Hershey Sports Arena in 1936, later renamed Hersheypark Arena, which remained their home until 2002.
They joined the International-American Hockey League in 1938, which was shortened to the American Hockey League in 1940.
The Bears won their first Calder Cup championship in 1947 after defeating Cleveland in four games by a combined score of 24-3 with two shutouts in Round 1. They then advanced to the finals against Pittsburgh, who had ended the Bears season in each of their three prior meetings. The Bears turned the tables this time. While it took the full seven games, three of the Bears four victories were by shutout.
The 1947 Calder Cup presentation to the Hershey Bears
The Bears would not win another until 1958, aided by the demise of the Pittsburgh Hornets in 1956. With the roster of the Hornets, who had won two recent championships now up for grabs, the Bears signed seven players from Pittsburgh to set them on course for back-to-back titles in 1958 and 1959. One of those players, Willie Marshall, would lead the Bears in scoring for seven consecutive seasons from 1956 to 1963.
Another one of the Hornets players brought to Hershey was Frank Mathers, a 31 year old, five time AHL First Team All-Star defenseman who would go on to become an integral part of the Bears organization for 35 years as a player/coach all the way to team president!
In 1958 the Bears also acquired Mike Nykoluk, a 23 year old with some NHL experience who would play for Hershey for the next 14 seasons and retire as the AHL's fourth leading scorer of all time. His #8 would become the first number retired by the Bears.
It would take the Bears until 1969 to capture their next Calder Cup with a 4 games to 1 victory over the Quebec Aces.
They reached the top of the heap again in 1974 with a balanced squad that did not place a single scorer in the league's top ten, but roared through the playoffs with a 12-2 record to take the Calder Cup home to Pennsylvania at the same time the Philadelphia Flyers were doing the same with the Stanley Cup, giving the state the top two trophies in North American professional hockey for the first time, a feat not repeated until 2009, this time by the Bears and Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Bears next championship arrived in 1980, although the Flyers were unable to hold up their end of "the double" when they lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to the New York Islanders.
Hershey celebrated their 50th season in style, winning 50 regular season games and romping through the playoffs undefeated to win the seventh title in team history, which was celebrated with a victory parade attended by 10,000 fans back at home two days later.
Mathers #3 was retired on March 9, 1991 with representatives from each of his Calder Cup winning teams present at the arena.
Tim Tookey, the second leading scorer in team history and fifth in the AHL, and Arnie Kullman both had their #9 retired on December 9, 1995.
While the 1980 club swept the playoffs in their entirety, the 1996-97 Bears had a much longer, tougher route. A first round 3-1 win over Kentucky opened their playoffs prior to a long, rugged seven game series over their rivals from Philadelphia. There was no time or chance to rest, as Springfield also stretched the Bears to a full seven games in the conference finals. The Bears made relatively easy work over Hamilton in the championship, prevailing 4 games to 1 to secure their eighth Calder Cup for Hershey and their final one in their original home.
After over 60 years at Hersheypark Arena, the Bears moved into the brand new Giant Center in 2002. Five seasons later they began a new run of success. Following a first place regular season finish with a then team record 114 points, the Bears dominated the 2007 playoffs with 16 wins and just three losses, never losing more than one game in any round, to hang a brand new banner in their new arena for the first time, the ninth in club history.
The Bears established new league record in 2008-09 by winning their 10th championship after knocking out Philadelphia in four, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in seven and Providence in five to earn the right to face the Manitoba Moose, who they took six games to defeat before raising the cup.
For the first time in over 50 years, the Bears repeated as Calder Cup champions in 2009-10. They blitzed the league during the regular season with a dominant 60-17-0-3 record to set a new team record with 123 points, easily the best mark in the AHL. Bridgeport and Albany fell in one game over the minimum in the division playoffs before Manchester put up a better fight before falling in six. Hershey then faced off against Texas, who also lasted six games before falling to the Bears, a team with 77 more seasons in the league.
Today's featured jersey is a 2007-08 Hershey Bears Chris Bourque jersey. It should be mentioned that this special throwback jersey style is not "brown" and white, but chocolate and white.
The jersey is in keeping with the style the team wore back in their original home, Hersheypark Arena prior to adopting a new logo and modern looking jerseys after moving into the Giant Center. When a team as been around as long as the Bears, they have many classic styles to choose from and in this case made an attractive choice.
Our video section today features the Hershey Bears most recent championship victory celebration in 2010, the 11th championship in team history.
Next up is an awesome video celebrating the Bears 70th anniversary with lots of great old photos and excellent game footage.