Alumni at Outdoor Classic prove why Chocolatetown is Hockeytown
Photo courtesy Paul Chaplin / PennLive
The Outdoor Classic was billed as the showcase event of the Hershey Bears 75th anniversary celebration and it lived up to its billing. The events surrounding the Classic, not just the game itself, proved why Hershey is in fact, Hockeytown.
There have been American Hockey League outdoor games that have had bigger crowds than the sellout crowd of 17,311 at the Hersheypark Stadium on Sunday. However, those games could not provide the other surrounding events which accompanied the Outdoor Classic. Why? Simply, no team can match the history of the Hershey Bears.
That history was on full display with the return of the Hershey Bears alumni. When it was announced that there would be an alumni game played the day before the Outdoor Classic, the response from former Bears was overwhelming. Former Bears goalie Frederic Cassivi told the Patriot News that 200 or more players reached out to the Alumni Association to be part of the game. Cassivi, Dave Parro, Mitch Lamoureux and Bears president Doug Yingst had the task of coming up with the 22-man roster (only 20 ex-Bears actually suited up for the game).
The alumni game roster had players from four Calder Cup Championship teams (1980, 1988, 1997, 2006). 63-year old Gary Inness skated a few shifts on defense (was a goalie for the 1980 Calder Cup Championship team). Mark Lofthouse travelled from British Columbia to play in the game. Tim Tookey flew in from Phoenix, Arizona, where is currently located for his job with an Edmonton-based fire protection company. Christian Matte, Mike Gaul, Bruce Richardson, Louis Robitaille and Pascal Trepanier came down from Quebec. Brian Dobbin came from Ontario and Jeff Chychrun left the warmth of Florida to play in the game. Former Bears who have elected to stay in the area were represented as well: Mike McHugh, Marc D’Amour, Cassivi, Parro, Dave Fenvyes and Lamoureux to name a few.
The alumni all-weekend long said that they wouldn’t miss one more chance to don a Bears uniform. Fans rewarded them by standing in line during autograph sessions to meet the alumni. The former Bears gladly signed autographs, took photos and chatted with the fans. 14,000 fans attended the Alumni game at Hersheypark Stadium on Saturday. Clearly, the Bears fans wanted to see their former players take the ice one more time.
The Hershey Bears fans; they were a common theme among the returning alumni. Mike Gaul said he wanted his daughters to know why Hershey has a special place in his heart. Several players in the alumni game program referred to the fans as a reason they wanted to come back and play. Don Biggs, for example, said his "willingness to play in the alumni game stems from his fond memories of the town and people of Hershey." In every interview done during the alumni game and Outdoor Classic game with an alumnus, the former Bear thanked the fans for being the best fans. Clearly, the alumni were as excited to see the fans as the fans were to see them.
That relationship between the players and fans is what makes Hershey unique. Only in Hershey would a 63-year play in an alumni game. Only in Hershey would players come in from all parts of North America to play. The alumni game made Hershey’s Outdoor Classic unique. Even Winter Classic alumni games have a hard time matching the Hershey alumni game. Why? The reason is the accessibility to the alumni for the fans. Only in Hershey would the former Bears be as excited to see the fans as the fans are to see them. This is why, with all due respect to Detroit, Hershey is Hockeytown.