Bears, fans still roaring over Cup win

Photo: Hershey Bears

📝 by Patrick Williams

HERSHEY, Pa. … The 2022-23 Hershey Bears gathered for one last time at Giant Center on Saturday. And after winning the Calder Cup on the road, they were ready to celebrate with their fans.

Mike Vecchione’s championship-winning goal was scored at 1:17 a.m. EDT on Thursday morning. After a cross-country flight back to Pennsylvania, the Bears and their trophy made their way to local restaurants around the Hershey area, where the team and its fans could revel in it together.

Finally, the Bears staged a formal celebration at Giant Center on a warm, late June afternoon that came complete with a team highlight video, speeches, an autograph session and photo opportunities with the Calder Cup and other hardware.

For the first time since 2010, the Calder Cup was officially back in Chocolatetown.

The next time the Bears and their fans convene at Giant Center, it will be October. Some of these Bears will return then. Others will have scattered, either to the parent Washington Capitals or to opportunities elsewhere across hockey. When the Bears and their fans do reunite, it will be to raise the club’s AHL-record 12th Calder Cup banner to the arena rafters.

Here is the Calder Cup Finals experience in the Bears’ own words, following the Game 7 victory as well as back at Giant Center:


The Bears’ vice president of hockey operations won three Calder Cups as a player, including two with the Bears in 2009 and 2010. This was his first title as an executive.

“I was so nervous throughout the whole [game], but I had a feeling we were going to get it done, and we did.

“I think first it starts with our head coach, and then the players follow along. They believed in each other. They believed they could get it done… And how about Hunter Shepard? He kept us in the game when we needed it. Guys believed in him.

“It’s funny right now. I don’t know if they’re soaking in the moment, but when they step back and see what they did and what they accomplished, they’re going to be proud of themselves and proud of their teammates. I still stay in touch with all the guys I won with, so I’m sure these guys will, too.”

“That’s why I wanted to settle down in Hershey. I love it. Our fans are passionate. They want us to win, and the Cup’s going back to Hershey.”


Hershey’s first-year head coach had previously won the Calder Cup as a player (1994), an assistant coach (2008) and a head coach (2017).

“I said to the guys, ‘Stick with the game plan. Stick with it. It’s paying off for us. We’re starting to come. You guys have to help each other. Don’t look for someone else to do it. Play the system and just stick with it, and good things are going to happen.’

“That’s what I always wanted to see: this group celebrating together and winning a championship, and it’s just what I imagined. A bunch of brothers hugging each other, really enjoying the moment, and I couldn’t be prouder.

“It’s hard to explain. They’re such a tight-knit group. I’ve never seen a group so tight. It’s like a brotherhood.”


The Bears’ captain won his second Calder Cup. He was also a member of Todd Nelson’s championship team in Grand Rapids in 2017.

“He’s my favorite coach by far.”


The Hershey forward and alumnus of the Washington Little Caps youth hockey program lost in the Calder Cup Finals a year ago as a member of the Springfield Thunderbirds.

“‘Game 7’ is just the two best words in sports, and we really knew that it was going to take everything we had to get it done. Man, was it special when it did. That’s a moment that we’ll never forget. Just watching everything, you get chills. This is cloud nine.

“The [Hershey] atmosphere is unbelievable. The second you take the ice, there’s just a different type of energy, and I remember that playing here last year. The crowd just seems like they’re right on top of you. It’s like there’s another player out there. It’s just unbelievable. I love it here.

“These last few days, I can’t even put it into words.”


After setting career highs in goals, assists and points in the regular season, the Bears’ alternate captain scored arguably the most dramatic goal in AHL history.

“I was in shock when I scored. I just bawled my eyes out, because it meant so much to all of us. To battle with everybody for [92] games and see how far we’ve come was something amazing. To know how much every single guy has worked for this — and it took every one of those guys on the stage to get it done — it’s just a very special moment for everybody.

“I was really looking forward to celebrate with the fans. I’m trying not to sleep, because it feels like a dream. It really is a dream come true.

“We obviously didn’t play great in Game 6. We come to the next day’s practice and watch film. [Nelson] said, ‘You know, boys, throw out the film. Don’t need to watch it. Spend time with your families. Enjoy the moment. We’ll come back ready for Game 7.’

“What other coach is going to do that, you know? From top to bottom, when he came in, he had a presence about him. When I look back at this jersey in 10, 20 years, I’ll probably get emotional and be like, ‘That’s the best team I ever played with.’”