New Bears enjoy introduction to Hershey’s teddy tradition

Photo: Tori Hartman

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

“First, you’re celebrating the goal, and then you start getting pelted with bears. You don’t really know what to expect until you’re in that moment.”

That was Hershey Bears defenseman Chase Priskie’s introduction to a Chocolatetown tradition.

The Bears re-established a new hockey record by collecting 74,599 stuffed toys during their annual Teddy Bear Toss on Sunday afternoon. The 22nd such event in team history will see those toys donated to more than 35 local charities as part of the Hershey Bears Cares program. The Sweigart Family Foundation also donated $55,000 to Children’s Miracle Network Hershey to recognize the efforts of local fans. In all, 464,107 stuffed animals have been donated via the event since it began in 2001.

“A lot of people wanted that first goal,” Priskie said.

Priskie instead helped to set up that goal, collecting a puck for a neutral-zone regroup and dishing it to defenseman Hardy Häman Aktell, who delivered a beautiful stretch pass to rookie forward Bogdan Trineyev at the Lehigh Valley blue line. Trineyev broke through the right circle and snapped a shot past Lehigh Valley goaltender Cal Petersen 4:15 into the second period.

Then came the deluge of toys – hundreds and then thousands of them pelting the ice and not letting up for several minutes.

“You’re trying to take cover a little bit,” Priskie smiled, “but it’s just a phenomenal atmosphere when tens of thousands of bears start raining down on you.”

Hershey head coach Todd Nelson took in the bear barrage from behind the bench.

“It is shocking,” Nelson stated. “You see it on video, on YouTube, but when you’re actually part of it, it was amazing. Just an incredible sight. The players had a lot of fun with it, and it was for a great cause.”

Of course, the Bears also had a hockey game to play. When the game resumed after a 50-minute delay – clearing nearly 75,000 stuffed toys takes time even with the players joining a small army of team staff members to help – the sell-out crowd of 10,765 fans saw the home team fall behind before a third-period rally set up a 3-2 overtime win. The defending Calder Cup champions reached the midpoint of their season with a league-best 29-7-0-0 record.

“There’s a lot of hype that goes around the event,” Priskie acknowledged. “You don’t want to get too caught up and forget that you actually have a game to play and have two points on the line.”

Alex Limoges, another newcomer to Hershey this season, won the game in overtime. A product of Penn State who grew up in Virginia, he knew of the tradition even before arriving in Hershey.

“It definitely lived up to the hype,” Limoges said. “Every season I would see it on social media. Growing up around this area, it was always talked about when it was happening. They’d beat the record. They’d beat it again and again, so it was definitely something I was looking forward to.”

Signed by the parent Washington Capitals in the offseason after dividing last season between Rochester and San Diego, Priskie quickly came to grasp the event’s tradition and significance.

But it is something that has to be seen in person.

“It’s always talked about,” Priskie continued. “It’s just an absolutely incredible feat by our fans first and foremost. It’s one of the cooler moments that I’ve been a part of.”