HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) — Despite being the all-time winningest franchise in American Hockey League history, the Hershey Bears are in unfamiliar territory: preparing for the Calder Cup playoffs.

That’s because the past two seasons were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, preventing the AHL from playing the Calder Cup playoffs. In 2020, the season was abruptly paused and later cancelled due to the pandemic. In spring 2021, the teams played shortened regular seasons without any type of playoff format.

Bears Head Coach Scott Allen previously equated that 2020-21 season to a prison sentence where the team counted down its 100 days until the season was over.

After a rollercoaster season in 2021-22, the Hershey Bears clinched their spot in the AHL playoffs, the first edition since 2019.

“It’s the greatest; it’s why we play,” said Bears defenceman Dylan McIlrath. “The last two years were frustrating, not having that chance at a Calder [Cup], or any type of playoffs. We’re really excited.”

After earning the franchise’s 3,000th win this season, the team has its sights set on winning the first Calder Cup since the 2009-10 season.

“Every year there seems to be something this team is striving for,” said Bears veteran Beck Malenstyn. “Nothing short of winning is acceptable.”

The Bears vets know the strength of the Chocolate and White is often the fans who have followed the team for almost nine decades.

“There is definitely a little bit of pressure, but there is a lot of excitement too,” Malenstyn said. “[When] you play with a team with this much history, you have the fan support behind you all the time. We’re really fortunate to play where we do.”

The Bears will face rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in a best-of-three series, starting Friday, May 6 on the road. Game 2 will be inside the Giant Center in Hershey on Sunday, May 8; puck drops Sunday night at 5. If necessary, Game 3 will be back in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Monday, May 9.