HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) – The Hershey Bears made history on Wednesday night by extending their Calder Cup titles to 12 in total, the most of any AHL team to ever exist.
This legacy of the most-winning team in AHL history started when Milton Hershey and John B. Sollenberger, the chocolate master’s entertainment and amusements chief, decided to sponsor a team. Mr. Hershey then established the Hershey Bears Hockey Club, originally the Hershey Hockey Club in 1932.
Out of the organization came the Hershey B’ars, an amateur hockey team that was part of the new Tri-State Hockey League. This lasted only one season (1932-33) before the group morphed into the Eastern Amateur Hockey League which consisted of seven clubs.
Hershey played in the group first as the Cholate B’ars (1933-1934) and then as the B’ars (1934-1936). Eventually, the club was named the Hershey Bears and played in the league as so from 1936 to 1938.
The name change was in part due to ridicule from sports writers who said the B’ars was not an imposing nickname.
Up until Dec. 19, 1936, the Bears played in the Ice Palace, which was a cramped rink. They finally moved into the new Hershey Park Arena, formerly known as the Hershey Sports Arena. In 2002, the Bears began using the Arena only for practices.
Hershey got their first sweet taste of victory in 1937, winning the EAHL championship.
In 1938, the Can-Am and IHL joined into one league, the IAHL, and one of the first things they did was grant an expansion to the Hershey Bears. This league eventually became the AHL. By this point, the Bears were three-time regular season champions. However, the Bears weren’t ready to part with the EAHL and the club operated the Hershey Cubs in the older league.
Hershey was successful in the IAHL, winning their division a total of 16 times. Their first season in the league they made it to the Calder Cup finals but were defeated by the Philadelphia Ramblers. In 1947, the Bears won their first Calder Cup behind Don Penniston’s coaching. Hershey defeated the Pittsburgh Hornets in game seven for the title.
This started a long history of success for the Bears.
The Bears won their second cup in 1958, defeating the Springfield Indians 4-2. They hoisted the cup again the following season, taking down the Buffalo Bisons 4-2. Nine seasons later, they capture their fourth in 1969, winning 4-1 over the Quebec Aces.
The Providence Reds were the next Calder Cup victims for the Bears as they mauled them 4-1 for the 1974 championship. Their sixth came in 1980 against the New Brunswick Hawks after taking the series 4-2.
No. 7 came in 1988 after a perfect playoff run for the Bears. They stopped the Fredericton Express in their tracks with a series sweep of 4-0. The eighth Cup was awarded after demolishing the Hamilton Bulldogs 4-1 in 1997.
The first of the 2000s came in 2006 when they overtook the Milwaukee Admirals 4-2.
Back-to-back victories came again in the 2009 and 2010 seasons when they grabbed the cup in finals wins over the Manitoba Moose 4-2 and the Texas Stars 4-2, respectively. It was then a 13-year wait before they hoisted the Calder Cup again this season.
The Bears have only not qualified for playoff games 13 seasons in the 84 seasons in which solid data is available about the AHL. The seasons include 1949-50, 1954-55, 1955-56, 1959-60, 1977-78, 1983-84, 1984-85, 1989-90, 1992-93, 2003-04, 2004-05, 2013-14 and 2017-18. There were no playoffs from 2020-2021.
In total, the Bears have made it to the finals 69 times.
Throughout their tenure, the Bears have had nine parent teams. The history of their affiliation is as follows:
|1957-1962||Detroit Red Wings||NHL|
|2003-2004||Tampa Bay Lightning||NHL|
The Hershey Bears have been led to victory by many different coaches. The coaching history is as follows:
- Herb Mitchell, 1938–1941
- Ralph Weiland, 1941–1945
- Don Penniston, 1945–1950 (1 Calder Cup)
- Johnny Crawford, 1950–1952
- Murray Henderson, 1952–1956
- Frank Mathers, 1956–1973 (3 Calder Cups)
- Chuck Hamilton, 1973–1979 (1 Calder Cup)
- Fred Stanfield, 1979
- Gary Green/Doug Gibson, 1979–80 (1 Calder Cup)
- Bryan Murray, 1980–81/1982
- Gary Inness, 1981/1982–1984/1985
- Frank Mathers/Bill Barber, 1984–85
- John Paddock, 1985–1989 (1 Calder Cup)
- Kevin McCarthy, 1989–90
- Mike Eaves, 1990–1993
- Jay Leach, 1993–1995
- Bill Barber, 1995–96
- Bob Hartley, 1996–1998 (1 Calder Cup)
- Mike Foligno, 1998–2003
- Paul Fixter, 2003–2005
- Bruce Boudreau, 2005–2007 (1 Calder Cup)
- Bob Woods, 2007–2009 (1 Calder Cup)
- Mark French, 2009–2013 (1 Calder Cup)
- Mike Haviland, 2013–14
- Troy Mann, 2014–2018
- Spencer Carbery, 2018–2021
- Scott Allen, 2021–2022
- Todd Nelson, 2022-present (1 Calder Cup)
Because of the Hershey Bears’ history as the oldest AHL team, many great players passed through the organization who went on to play or coach in the NHL, including Mike Nykoluk, former Toronto Maple Leaf head coach, and Gordon “Red” Henry who was called up to play with the Boston Bruins. The most recent alum of the team with success is Vegas Golden Knights forward Chandler Stephenson who was instrumental in the Knights earning their first Stanley Cup this season.
Besides their winning mentality and history, the Hershey Bears are best known for their gigantic Teddy Bear Toss. The event usually takes place in early December and has been happening since 2001. The charity event involves fans tossing teddy bears onto the ice when the home team gets its first goal of the game. All of the stuffed animals are donated to hospitals and charities.
In 2018, the Bears broke the world record for most bears collected with 34,798 in total. The numbers keep going up, with the most recent count in 2023 being 67,309 stuffed animals following the Bears’ 2-0 loss to the Bridgeport Islanders.
The Hershey Bears hosted the 2013 and 2018 AHL Outdoor Classics. In 2013, the Bears played the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Jan. 20 for the Capital Blue Cross AHL Outdoor Classic. The Penguins won in overtime at Hersheypark Stadium
In 2018, Hershey faced the Lehigh Valley Phantoms at the stadium for the Bears’ 80th anniversary season. The Phantoms downed the Bears 5-2.
It’s been a long road for the Bears to get to their 12th Calder Cup. Hershey’s history is full of exciting times, of course, some lows and lots of lifting of the trophy. The 2023 Hershey Bears have continued the rich legacy of the franchise by bringing home the cup once again.