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    Pigs, Politics, and Pups as Providence Awaits | NEWS

    October 18, 2023

    Following a busy weekend in the American Hockey League, Monday is typically a day off.

    The same was the case for the Hershey Bears this week after a busy and emotionally-charged opening weekend that saw members of its 2023 Calder Cup team get their championship rings and witness their banner head to the rafters of GIANT Center before hosting Belleville on Saturday, followed up by a spirited Sunday clash with Cleveland that ended with Hershey picking up its first win of the season.

    But this Monday was a little different than most for the Bears, as the team assembled in the early afternoon for head coach Todd Nelson’s annual pig roast.

    It’s been a recurring tradition for Nelson at most stops where he’s been a head coach, and dates back to his playing days. The pig roast is an opportunity to commemorate the start of a season and give the players, hockey operations staff, and their families a chance to bond and break bread, or perhaps bacon.

    “I think it’s very important for our team to get together like that just because even though we have a lot of the same guys back, there’s a lot of new guys and the pig roast is something that everybody gets together. We want to create a family atmosphere here and to do that early in the season is really beneficial. We do it early in this season also because of the weather – you start getting into November and it starts getting pretty cold – it was at a good time.”

    But on a team that has a sizable returning core as well as a host of new blood, the event serves a dual purpose.

    “Well it takes time to build the culture that we want here,” Nelson acknowledged. “The guys that are returning from last year, they know what it’s all about. So they have to tug along and help the guys that are new. The feedback I got from the players – the new guys that have never been to one – they thought it was a great experience. It’s something a bit different and the guys get to see me and the coaching staff and management away from the rink and maybe in a different light. That’s why I think it’s important, because they get to know you as a human being.”

    After years of practice, Nelson’s got it down to an art.

    “Well, it depends on what your cooking device is. I’ve done pigs on charcoal, I’ve done pigs on propane…the way that I do it now, the easiest way, and how we did it here, is where the pig just lays flat and you just cook it; you don’t rotate it or anything,” Nelson said. “I’ve done ’em on rotisserie –  it seems like they maybe are done a bit juicier, but it all depends on the cooking device.

    “The one we did [Monday], we had the temperature gauge in there and made sure everything was fine – I didn’t want anybody getting sick,” Nelson continued with a laugh. “But this is probably my 30th pig to be quite honest. The biggest thing is getting the pig prepped. Once it goes on the roaster with the right temperature, then you just fully close the door and let it cook. And that’s the easy part – just prepping the pig.”

    As for the hard part?

    “What I do is we stuffed the pig with chickens inside the cavity, put a lot of brown sugar in there with some pineapple rings and I stuff it as full as I can. Then I sew it up and then I inject it with my ‘secret sauce,’ which takes probably 30-40 minutes because you want to get it as bloated as possible. So now it cooks with all those juices and turns out really well.”

    Bears visit Pennsylvania State Capitol

    Following practice on Tuesday, Bears players, staff and leadership from parent organization Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Co. were feted by both the state’s House of Representatives and Senate, with both chambers issuing citations for the team’s playoff achievement this past June.

    “That was my first time doing something like that. I’ve had maybe mayors talk with the team and give them the key to the city, but that was different for me. I think the players, it’s something that they haven’t seen probably,” Nelson said. “Just to see how it works in the House and Senate and all that stuff and talking to the senators…they were really gracious towards us and very complimentary. One senator walked by, and said ‘Great job last season, you made us proud,’ so I think the guys felt proud about that moment, but also just going through the process of seeing what the [politicians] do in those situations.”

    Shepard Nears Return, Bears Juggling Lineup Decisions

    When the Bears took the ice last Saturday for their home opener, they did so without Hunter Shepard between the pipes, as the 2023 Calder Cup Playoffs MVP was sidelined for the weekend with an illness that had the netminder’s status as day-to-day.

    But Shepard was back in his crease at practice on Wednesday, opposite Mitch Gibson, re-assigned to the Bears by Washington from the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays. At times, Bears video coach Adam Purner donned the mask and chest protector to give one a breather as well. Despite Shepard getting eased back into his practice routine, all indications point to Shepard making his season debut this weekend.

    “We’re shooting for Friday with him,” Nelson said. “He says he feels good out there.”

    Having Purner in the practice rotation among Hershey’s two goaltenders is a creative solution to balancing their workload.

    “[Purner’s] a jack-of-all-trades. It doesn’t matter if it’s Gibson, Shep, or [Clay] Stevenson. We have six forward lines and 10 defensemen, and in order for the lines and the defense to get the reps in, that’s a lot of shots coming at one goalie. So [Purner] is in there in relief just to give them a bit of a breather.”

    That last quote from Nelson highlights another major task ahead for Nelson this weekend, aside from the possible six standings points up for grabs against Providence and Bridgeport, as Nelson also conceded that he and his staff have some decisions to make with respect to the lineup.

    “We have a lot of bodies here; we can start plugging guys into the lineup that have not played yet,” Nelson said. “That’s my goal this weekend: it’s to try to find ice time for the guys we bring and who knows what can happen due to injuries or for possible call-ups. The goal is to try to get everybody playing and playing the right way. So if we get into a situation just like we did in the playoffs where [Mike] Sgarbossa gets hurt, a guy like [Henrik] Bostrom comes in and we don’t even miss a beat.

    “That’s what I want to get to – where it doesn’t matter who we have in the lineup, if we play the same way. If you get to that point, that means that you have a very deep hockey team and it gives me the luxury of moving guys in different spots, seeing how they do in different situations and different roles. That’s the goal this weekend still – we’re getting better, we’re ahead of them where we were last week at this time, but, there’s always areas of the game that you have to clean up. And so I’m looking for the guys to play the system.”

    One player who is likely to make his season debut (as well as skate in his first professional game) this weekend is Washington Capitals 2021 draft pick Ryan Hofer, who has primarily been skating as a center in drills throughout training camp and the early weeks of the season. The 21-year-old scored 40 goals last season as an over-ager in the Western Hockey League.

    “I’m looking at [Hofer] to play this weekend. I want him to get in,” Nelson said. “It’s just a tough situation when you have this many bodies and you can only dress 18 skaters. I’ve gotta get Garrett Roe some action, you name it, [Strome], [Napravnik]…We’re trying to find ice time for everybody, but right now, everybody’s healthy, both us and Washington.”

    UDS Dogs Visit Bears Practice

    Wednesday’s practice was capped by a visit from some four-legged friends, with dogs from United Disabilities Services Foundation on hand to participate with Bears players in a photoshoot for an upcoming calendar. Stay tuned for more information!

    Written by Jesse Liebman, Bears media specialist.



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