Hershey Bears head coach Troy Mann trudged into the interview room after the Bears lost in the 2018 Outdoor Classic, 5-2 to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The bench boss was uninspired by the result but resolute in the process.
“Well, you know, it’s more disappointing that we didn’t get two points, because that’s what we need the most,” Mann said. “But, it was a fun experience and I was really excited for the guys.”
Outdoor hockey games are unlike any event in sports. That is not lost on the players and coaches that participate in them. The novelty may have worn off since that first Winter Classic 10 years ago, but everyone agrees they are still special for the teams lucky enough to play in one.
“It’s been unreal,” Nathan Walker, who had a goal in the losing effort. “I’ve never been in anything like this. It was really special, and it’s something that I’ll definitely take to the memory bank, for sure.”
“This was my third one, but it doesn’t really matter how many you play in, it’s still so cool,” said the other Hershey goal-scorer of the night, Travis Boyd. “Just everything that comes along with it, let alone the game tonight, but the previous days leading up to it, walking out before the game started tonight, it really doesn’t matter how many you play in. It’s always such a blast to play in these.”
Sometimes lost in the splendor of outdoor games is the fact that they are still worth just two standings points, like any other regular season game. A loss here, though it hurts, did not end the season. A win here, though it would have helped, wouldn’t have won the Calder Cup. The Bears took the loss in stride, recognizing what they need to fix but not making this game out to be bigger than it was.
“I thought we did some good things,” Bears captain Garrett Mitchell said. “I thought we played well. I think that’s a little bit of the frustrating part, maybe. The thing that stings the most is that we’re there, we have opportunities… we’re getting opportunities. It’s when you’re not getting opportunities that you need to start hitting the panic button.”
“I’ll be honest, there’s no need to hit the panic button,” Walker said. “We’re only six points out [of a playoff spot]. Last year, we were kind of in a similar position, I think.”
Even with the tough-luck loss Saturday, Hershey made the most of this event. They’ll take the memories with them, as well as the things they need to work on. At the end of the day, experiences like this help a team form a single, cohesive unit.
“I think we’ve got a great group, definitely very resilient,” Walker said. “Everyone battles hard… hopefully down the stretch here we can get some points on a roll.”
Headline Image: JustSports Photography
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