HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) – The first day of the reigning Calder Cup Champions the Hershey Bears’ training camp is in the books with the start of the 2023-24 season inching closer.
“Every year is exciting,” said Hershey Bears defenseman Aaron Ness. “Everyone’s always excited for a new year. It’s another opportunity to show what you can do out there.”
This new season brings a lot of changes to the Bears who have lost players from the Calder Cup roster and brought in fresh talent. Although they are embracing the change, Head Coach Todd Nelson anticipates it will be a difficult transition.
“It’s going to be a challenge all year,” Nelson said. “We know when we play against teams, we’re going to get their best game and that’s fine. It’s just going to make us better.”
Nelson believes that with this new roster, although it is deep with talent, there will be difficult times for the Bears this season. Nelson thinks the problems could even show up within the first month of play, but he’s not worried.
“I kind of invite that, because . . . it kind of puts us in our place and gets us back to playing hockey the right way [and] doing all the little things right,” Nelson said. “But it’s going to be tough.”
Part of the issue will be that the Calder Cup Champion roster was a very tight knit group. Ness noted that he believes that bond was part of why they were able to win the cup. Now, it’s back to the beginning and it will take time for the new roster to gel.
“As far as growing that [bond] again, I think it happens naturally with good people in the room,” Ness said.
Luckily for the Bears, Nelson is confident that they have added those “good people”.
“The guys that are new are blending in and actually a lot of the players that we’ve signed to play here have good leadership qualities,” Nelson said. “It’s one thing to sign a good hockey player, but we want to sign good people.”
Nelson went through this same experience when he was a player himself in Portland. After his team won, the following year the roster was a blend of new players and veterans who stayed. Nelson noted they did well in the beginning but struggled once they reached the playoffs again, losing in the first round.
Nelson at least now has the knowledge from his prior experience of how to handle this upcoming post-cup campaign.
However, Ness said that the teams focus is not on their past success, but what lies ahead of them.
“I think the biggest thing for us is kind of turning the page now,” Ness said. “We’re not thinking too far into winning another cup or defending a title or any of that right now. We’re just going to get through training camp and kind of go from there, day by day.”
The duality for Ness however is that because he’s tasted victory, he’s craving another bite.
“I’m hungrier now than I was last year,” Ness said “I want to win again. Once you get a taste of it, it’s nothing like it. I want it more this year than I wanted it last year.”