Monday, January 11, 2016

Utica Comets 3 at Hershey Bears 6 (AHL) - January 10, 2016

Day 2 of the Stupid Trip continued in Pennsylvania with a stop in Hershey, most famous as home of a chocolate maker. Within the sports world though, Hershey is known for its Bears, an AHL franchise that has played here since 1932, making it the longest-standing hockey club outside of the Original Six in the NHL. The team was founded by Milton Hershey and originally called the B'ars (get it?), but that name was dubbed too commercial and changed to Bears in 1936. The team joined the AHL in 1938 and has remained there since, an incredible feat given the itinerant nature of franchises in minor league sports. They have won 11 Calder Cup Championships (photos of each club are on display in the concourse as you can see below) in that time, making them the most successful club in the league's history as well. I could go on, but if you want more information, check out the detailed Wikipedia page.

The Bears play out of the Giant Center, which is right next to Hersheypark, a theme park that is popular in the summer but closed in the winter. The arena was opened in 2002 to replace Hersheypark Arena as the Bears den. Hersheypark Arena is the place where Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in 1962 and it is still used for college hockey, with Lebanon Valley and Shippenburg University sharing it. There was even a Lebanon Valley game at 2:00, but I wanted to spend the entire pregame at the Giant Center, and the 5:00 start precluded a visit to Hersheypark Arena on this trip.

The worst thing about the venue is the parking setup. First, it is $9 to park, which is exorbitant at this level. The arena is surrounded by parking lots (which are used for Hersheypark in the summer) so it is tough to find street parking within a reasonable distance. Our hotel was over a mile away, but there are no sidewalks, so that was not an option either. Once you have paid and grumbled about it, you have to drive around the entire arena to get back to the entrance to the actual lots. Getting out is also a painful experience unless you hang around for the postgame show and let traffic subside.

Tickets on game day are $28 for 100 level seats and $22 for those in the 200 level ($2 less if bought in advance). The picture above shows both levels; the seats upstairs are a bit more cramped and bigger people might find it too tight. Before going to the box office, we found an older gentleman with many extras who was selling them for $15 with a catch - he wanted the Hersheypark pass. Turns out that as a promotion, all fans were given a free pass to Hersheypark, worth $40 for seniors and children and $63 for adults. Dom and I have no use for this pass, so we agreed to his proposition. We went in, got the passes, and handed them to him. He didn't even bother entering as he had more tickets to sell. Smart guy - buying several $20 tickets, selling what he could for $15, and picking up a $40 value in the process. If we had known the details, we might have negotiated a bit harder. The seats were at center ice in the upper deck (view below).

For most Sunday games, there are a couple of cheap sections where tickets are $10, including Ollie's Cheap Seats, where fans also receive a $7 gift card to Ollie's Bargain Outlet. However, these were not available for this game due to the Hersheypark promotion. The view from Ollie's is below.

The sightlines are great from anywhere in the building, though I found row Q in the lower level to be perfect, moving there for the third period to get a few action shots.

Before taking your seat, make sure to tour the concourse and check out the history on display. The Bears Hall of Fame includes former-Leaf coach Mike Nykoluk, who is the all-time point leader with the Bears.

Of course, chocolate is also on display here. Hershey's Kisses adorn the section signs as one example.

If you want some free chocolate, try Tweet for a Treat. This vending machine dispenses a free Hershey's bar if you include a couple of hashtags for Toyota as part of a tweet. My 333 followers might have wondered what #ToyotaTreats means, but their confusion was well worth some free food for me.

One final touch that merits a mention: a rotating out-of-town scoreboard that included NHL, NFL, and NCAA basketball scores, as well as those in the other AHL games. This is something that should be mandatory in every sports venue - all pro scores that day visible in the seating bowl. Overall, Giant Center is probably the best minor league hockey arena I have seen. If only they could improve the parking situation or add sidewalks to the neighbourhood, then it would be perfect.

The Game

Utica (Vancouver's affiliate) were the visitors, coming in on a five-game losing streak, including a couple of road losses on Friday and Saturday. Hershey (Washington) had also dropped their two weekend games on the road, so I expected a couple of tired teams, but they put on a good show. NHL veteran Dan Ellis (in net below) started for Hershey while Joe Cannata, Vancouver's 6th-round pick in 2009, got the call for Utica.

Each team scored once in the first, with Chris Bourque beating a screened Cannata for Hershey while Micheal Pereira, on a PTO from Reading, scored his first with Utica. Hunter Shinkaruk (Vancouver's top pick in 2013, 24th overall, #9 below) gave Utica the lead midway through the second when he popped a juicy rebound past Ellis, but Hershey replied when Sean Collins (Columbus' 7th-round pick in 2008 who signed with Washington in the off-season) laced a perfect shot instead of passing on a 2-on-1.

Christian Djoos (the Capitals 7th-round pick in 2013) scored a beautiful power-play goal late in the frame to give the Bears the 3-2 lead, but Joe Labate (Vancouver's 4th-round pick in 2011) tallied with the man advantage early in the third period to again tie things up. Both goalies made a few great saves after that and it looked like overtime, but Hershey scored a fantastic shorthanded goal, with Collins converting a goalmouth pass from Dustin Gazley after a poke check back at their blue line caught Utica flatfooted. A couple of empty netters made the final 6-3 Bears and sent the 10,982 fans home happy.

The scoreboard removed the final score before I could take a picture, so instead, here is a shot of Collins, the game's first star.


Hershey outshot Utica by 3 in each period, so their 3-goal victory was quite fitting.

Prior to the game, we stopped at Troegs Brewery. Good beer and reasonably priced food with large portions, well worth a look if you want something a bit different when you are in Hershey.



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