MIDDLETOWN, Pa. (WHTM) — It was a whirlwind 24 hours for the Hershey Bears.
At 11:30 Wednesday night they were down 2-0 in game seven, looking like they were going to let their 12th Calder Cup slip from their fingers.
Fast forward to 6:30 Thursday evening… And there’s the cup, firmly in captain Dylan McIlrath’s grasp as the Bears walked off Bear Force One to greet fans anxiously awaiting the champs to return.
“It’s unreal,” McIlrath said. “Obviously we would like to do it at home, but it just shows the support, the rabid fan base that we have, they were the catalyst this whole season.
“We have the best fans in the league and it’s no secret,” McIlrath said. “They helped us win this cup.”
Hershey rallied in that second period of game seven and Mike Vecchione’s overtime goal gave the Bears twice as many Calder Cups as any active AHL franchise. The assistant captain turned a childhood dream into reality.
“We talked about it before the game, we all kind of played the scenario in our heads as kids whether it was street hockey or mini hockey or whatever,” Vecchione said.
“I certainly did as a kid, skating around the backyard as a kid saying game seven, overtime, you score the game winner and you celebrate by yourself,” Vecchione said. “It’s just such a surreal feeling and I’m just so happy we could bring it back to this fanbase.”
Such a special moment for the players and just as impactful for these dedicated fans who waited at the airport for just a glimpse of the champs returning home. This 12th title giving hershey fans a memory they’ll cherish for a long long time.
“My stepdaughter, she became a big Hershey Bears fan this year and it was great being able to experience this with her and at the watch party last night and see her see history being made with bringing home number 12,” Shippensburg resident Curtis Alleman said.
The team will host a fan celebration at the Giant Center Saturday at 3 p.m. Doors open at 2 p.m.