Hockey world rich with Hershey tradition

Old Hershey Bears do not die.

They just head up to the press box, behind the bench and out on the road in the chase for the next generation of young hockey talent or the next hockey job.

The list of scouts in a press box on some nights reads like an old 1980s- and 1990s-era Bears player roster.

The titles and job descriptions can vary a bit, but the bottom line is a number of hockey people with solid Hershey connections make the hockey rounds each season. Even a partial, cursory list is impressive.

Former Hershey forward Al Hill is a pro scout for the Philadelphia Flyers. His colleague, former goaltender Ron Hextall, is the director of pro hockey personnel for the Flyers. Both are regulars on the AHL circuit.

Bears alumni now coaching elsewhere make up a solid list, too. So are those who scout.

Hockey Hall of Fame member Bill Barber had two coaching stints in Hershey during the 1980s and 1990s. Paul Fixter, who coached the Bears up until the end of last season, now makes the rounds as a Colorado scout.

Barber now heads up the Tampa Bay Lightning’s player personnel department, making him part of a very solid Hershey-Tampa Bay connection that has developed over the years. His boss, Tampa Bay general manager and vice president Jay Feaster, has extremely strong Hershey roots, serving as GM of the Bears’ 1997 Calder Cup championship team.

Look behind the benches in the NHL and AHL, and find ex-Bears like Claude Noel, John Stevens, Ryan McGill, Tom Rowe, Bob Hartley, Bryan Murray, John Paddock, Kevin McCarthy and Dave Farrish.

Cast the net out a little further, and the likes of Mike Eaves could be included. The former Bears head coach now does likewise for the University of Wisconsin.

The Hershey ties trickle right down to the Canadian Hockey League. Former Bear Don Nachbaur handles head-coaching duties for the WHL’s Tri-City Americans. Popular Bears tough guy Mike Stothers runs the bench with Owen Sound of the OHL, where he goes head-to-head in OHL battles with Mike Foligno, yet another former Hershey bench boss and one who now handles coaching duties in Sudbury.

What is more, some of those folks annually make return visits – and then several more – back to Hershey with their job duties, where they’re usually given a hearty welcome. Others are Hershey regulars.

For scouts and front-office types, Hershey’s proximity to the goings-on in the AHL and the NHL make it an ideal location to go work.

Just reaching Hershey is easy. No traffic, no fuss, no muss. Easy come, easy go, as it were.

Radiating out from Chocolatetown, Philadelphia and Washington are nearby NHL markets. The three New York teams and Pittsburgh all are within an easy drive.

AHL-wise, there are the Bears, of course, along with Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and that is just within Pennsylvania’s borders. ECHL talent is right down the road in Reading, Johnstown and Trenton.

Of course, every AHL locale can boast of its own group of non-playing alumni who have headed off to other corners of the hockey world and are doing solid work elsewhere.

But Hershey fans are a demanding, knowledgeable group, making it a great environment in which to develop young talent, both on and off the ice and both for now and for down the line, even if down that line happens to extend 10 or 20 years past Hershey playing days.