By Ian Oland
HERSHEY, PA — The 2022-23 Hershey Bears found their inner grizzly this season and are fully embracing their nickname both on and off the ice. After goals, some courageous and bold Hershey players do their best standing bear pose, raising their arms (and one leg) while showing their teeth. Then they let out a big roar as they approach the bench for fist bumps.
“I don’t know really the story behind it but it’s definitely contagious,” Bears forward Sam Anas, the AHL’s 2019-20 scoring leader, said laughing when I asked how it all began. “It fires the boys up on the bench. It’s just a fun thing.”
When I asked around, a majority of players and staff pointed me toward one guy: Mike Vecchione.
Vecchione is a first-line forward on the Bears, making up one of the most dangerous trios in the AHL along with Michael Sgarbossa and Ethen Frank. During the 2022-23 campaign, Vecchione finished second on the team in points. His 23 goals, 32 assists, and 55 points were all career highs. He also is a part of the team’s leadership group and an alternate captain.
“I just started joking around with it,” Vecchione said. “The first time I did the ROAR was when I scored in a shootout in the preseason against one of our own goalies. I came around and just roared like that and it just kind of caught fire.”
Catching fire, in this instance means that Vecchione could not NOT do it after goals moving forward.
“I was asking [the voice of the Hershey Bears, Zack] Fisch and a couple of guys around the locker room, ‘Nobody’s ever done that before?'” Vecchione was told no.
So Vecchione, urged on by the laughter and chirping of his teammates, made his behind-the-scenes celly public at Giant Center. The first known regular-season ROAR happened on October 16, 2022, against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms per the team. Vecchione scored 9:23 into the third period to give Hershey a 2-1 lead in front of its home fans. Vecchione did the goal hug and then, as he skated back to the bench, it happened.
ROAR no. 1 was born.
“It just kind of caught on from there,” Vecchione said. “I would just roar after a goal or coming back into the locker room – stuff like that.”
That includes the team’s postgame award in the locker room that includes a brown bear head that looks like a cheap rip-off of the team’s logo. It’s believed (but not confirmed) that a Bears’ equipment guy found the random mascot bear head that best resembles the character from the movie Ted.
The bear head ended up in the hands of Hershey’s leadership committee and quickly became a permanent fixture of the 2022-23 team.
“Every team has something, you know, they have a vest or a chain or a cowboy hat or whatever it is,” head coach Todd Nelson said. “Apparently the guys just found the bear head somewhere and it stuck. And so kind of over the course of the year, when you put the bear head on you have to do the big ROAR, right?”
That included Nelson, the Bears’ 53-year-old, Calder Cup-winning bench boss. Ethen Frank gave the coach the Player of the Game award after Nelson won his 500th career AHL game — a 6-2 W over the Springfield Thunderbirds on January 14.
“This thing stinks,” Nelson said after putting it on.
He then gave the people what they wanted, the ROAR, to the absolute joy of Vecchione.
“Guys have fun with that and it’s nice seeing, you know when they give it to a player that’s not necessarily the person that got First Star of the Game, that scored three goals, maybe it’s someone that blocked a shot or made some big save at a key moment,” Nelson said. “I think it means a lot to the guys.”
In my one-on-one interview with Vecchione inside Hershey’s media room, he explained from a chair across from me that the ROAR came from his childhood growing up in Saugus, Massachusetts. He fell in love with hockey early and loved the hometown team.
“It really stems back to being a Bruins fan growing up,” Vecchione said. “I grew up in Boston, I used to go to the Garden all the time to watch the games. They had almost the same bear head. At the end of their intro before they hop on the ice there’s a big bear roar and I’d be on the balcony just like roaring.
“Years down the road and being a Bear and seeing the history all on the walls,” he continued. “The atmosphere we have every night is one of the best I’ve ever played in front of. Having that ROAR, it’s like elevated everybody.”
The celebration has caught on with several Bears players that you’d never think would be that ridiculous on the ice.
“Mason Morelli does it, Connor McMichael does it, Henrik Borgstrom does it,” Vecchione said proudly.
“We would talk, me and Mikey, before games and be like, ‘Yeah I really want to roar tonight’ and I’d be like ‘Yeah same here,” Vecchione said. “One of us would score, if he scores he’s roaring on me leaning over the bench and vice versa when I score. All the boys just over the bench ready to go.”
The ROAR has become so popular that it has become part of the Bears’ marketing for the postseason.
We've been hearing you ROAR, so let's not gatekeep this any longer….
Use password ROAR to score pre-sale tickets before the public on-sale tomorrow at 10 AM→ https://t.co/L9EQmmUdc0 pic.twitter.com/4mSwcgqdLJ
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) April 24, 2023
The players were even asked who did the best celebration by social media guru Kyle Mace before their first playoff game against the Charlotte Checkers on Friday.
Who has the best ROAR on the team? We asked our players for their answers in today’s Question of the Day! ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/peAF6D5h9k
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) April 22, 2023
As the Bears finished out their final practice at home on Tuesday, Vecchione’s friend and center, Michael Sgarbossa, stressed that the celebration was so important to the team because of how much Vecchione meant to the group as a whole.
“He’s just a genuine, good person,” Sgarbossa said. “The ROAR celebration and all that stuff is just a way for him to keep the room light and over the course of the season when you’re going through a lot of back-to-back games, three-in-threes are really tough.
“I don’t think people truly understand how difficult that is not just on your body but mentally and he’s able to keep it very fresh and very fun for everyone so that you’re not just thinking about that all the time. He’s brought a lot to the team and for myself, a lot to our line.”
So Capitals fans and Bears fans watching the Bears on AHL TV during the postseason will not only have the joy of watching more playoff hockey, but, if the Bears are doing well, will perhaps get to see some really fun goal celebrations.
“It’s just another aspect of the game, we’re all brothers in there and we all see something special,” Vecchione said. “When we’re scoring goals and having fun like that, it’s contagious and everyone wants to do it.”
Headline photo: Tori Hartman/Hershey Bears
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.