The Greatest

10 greatest Hershey Bears alumni

John Carlson Hershey Bears
Two-way defenseman John Carlson graduated to the NHL after helping the Hershey Bears to their most recent Calder Cup. He has since carried over the excitement to Washington. (Photo by Just Sports Photography)

The Hershey Bears have a collection of banners and legends to rival almost any Original Six NHL franchise. But like any succesful minor-league franchise, they have also let a few legends get away to the top level.

In all but seven of their first 80 seasons, the Bears have partnered with at least one NHL team. Hershey graduates have variously joined the Bruins, Red Wings, Penguins, Sabres, Capitals, Nordiques, Flyers, Avalanche and Lightning.

The Bears’ influence was palpable on Boston’s championship teams in 1970 and 1972. Ditto Colorado’s in 2001 and Washington’s earlier this year.

Previously, in a 12-year alliance with the Flyers, one former Bear stood out when Philadelphia fell one win short of the Cup in 1987.

For International Chocolate Day, a day for the community’s “other” claim to fame, here is a look at Hershey’s greatest gifts to the NHL. Whether they honed their skills there as prospects or stopped in on rehab, every candidate’s career after their last Bears game is the main thrust on this ranking.

All statistics and award information are according to Hockey Reference.

10. Alex Tanguay
After exhausting his eligibility in major junior, Tanguay finished the 1998-99 season with five games in Hershey. He made five more appearances in the Calder Cup playoffs, then made the Avalanche out of training camp.

After finishing fifth in the 2000 Calder Trophy vote, Tanguay enjoyed 16 full seasons with five NHL teams. With Colorado and Calgary, he finished second to Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla in team scoring twice apiece.

By the time he retired in 2016, Tanguay had logged 863 points in 1,088 NHL regular-season games. Of his 59 points in 98 Stanley Cup playoff contests, one was the 2001 championship-clinching goal.

Sheldon Souray Hershey Bears

Veteran Sheldon Souray’s NHL comeback did not last long. But after starting his road back in Hershey, he made an impact in Anaheim after the 2012-13 lockout. (Photo by Just Sports Photography)

9. Sheldon Souray
When Souray arrived in Hershey for the 2010-11 season, he appeared to have tapered off beyond redemption. He was coming off 12 NHL seasons, but was now being loaned by Edmonton after an injury-plagued winter.

After spending the whole year with the Bears, Souray rebounded when Dallas signed him on the first day of free agency. Precisely one year later, the Anaheim Ducks took a chance on him, and he rewarded them in the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign.

Together with fellow defenseman Francois Beauchemin, Souray led the Ducks with a plus-19 rating. He placed second on the club in nightly ice time, and 10th in the league with a 3.4 defensive point share. Unfortunately for him, a subsequent offseason injury derailed his career for good.

8. Flash Hollett
Hollett was as good as an NHL fixture by the start of the 1936-37 season. He would play every game for the next four years with the Bruins.

In 1940-41, he briefly returned to the minors for five conditioning games with the Bears. After that, normalcy was restored, and two years later he was a second-team NHL all-star.

Hollett scored a career-high 19 goals in those first two seasons after his stint in Hershey. He eclipsed that with 20 in 1944-45 for Detroit. Adding 21 assists that year, he made the first all-star team and finished fourth in the MVP vote.

7. John Carlson
After helping Hershey to its second consecutive Calder Cup in 2010, Carlson became a permanent Capital. He would finish fifth among Calder Trophy candidates in 2011, and dressed for every game his first five NHL seasons.

Carlson has since garnered votes for the Norris Trophy on two occasions, finishing among the top 10 both times. He was most recently No. 5 on that board in 2017-18. Appearing in every game again, he tallied a career-high 68 points, followed by 20 in the playoffs en route to Washington’s Stanley Cup.

6. Mike Green
As a first-year pro in 2005-06, Green was a two-way force for the Calder Cup champion Bears. When the Capitals failed to make the 2007 playoffs, he returned to Hershey to join another run to the final.

But the next winter, he was an unquestioned NHL staple, briefly emerging as a clutch performer in 2007-08. He then finished second in Norris Trophy voting in both 2008-09 and 2009-10, appearing on the Hart ballot as well.

Green has cooled off since then, but has not lost a regular position in the NHL. He earned a few votes for the Norris again in 2013, and has scored at least 33 points every year since.

5. Wayne Cashman
Coming up Boston’s pipeline, Cashman played 21 games for the Bears in his only AHL season. For the rest of that 1968-69 slate, he dressed for 51 Bruins games and never looked back.

Beginning with the team’s run to the 1970 Stanley Cup, Cashman totaled 964 regular-season games for the B’s. He scored 269 goals and 489 assists over those 14 full NHL campaigns. In the postseason, he added 88 points in 145 games.

Cashman was also among the league’s top 10 point-getters in 1970-71 and 1973-74. He made the second all-star team in the latter year.

4. John McKenzie
When McKenzie failed to stick after two-plus NHL seasons, Hershey was his first stop back on the development circuit. He would log 105 regular-season and 15 playoff games there between 1960 and 1962.

By 1965, McKenzie was a staple at the top level again. In his post-Hershey career, he played 584 NHL and 477 WHA games.

At his peak, McKenzie posted 17 playoff points for Boston in its run to the 1970 Stanley Cup. He matched that total en route to another Bruins championship in 1972. The next year, he posted a career-high 50 assists and 78 points for the Philadelphia Blazers in their only WHA campaign.

Subsequent sterling seasons with Vancouver, Minnesota, Cincinnati and New England would land McKenzie in the WHA Hall of Fame.

Braden Holtby Hershey Bears

In 2010, Braden Holtby was the backup goalie for the Calder Cup champion Bears. By 2018, he was a starting sensation for the Stanley Cup champion Capitals. (Photo by Just Sports Photography)

3. Braden Holtby
It is now hard to believe Holtby was the backup when the Bears won the Calder Cup his rookie year in 2010. Two seasons later, he cemented his graduation from the AHL by backstopping Washington to a surprise appearance in Game 7 of the second round.

He has not looked back since, and now enters 2018-19 with a career NHL record of 225-89-35. Winning the 2018 Stanley Cup was likely a sound consolation prize to the end of three straight years of Hart Trophy candidacy.

In each of those three years before the Cup run, Holtby led the league in at least one category. He logged the most games (73), minutes (4,247) and saves (1,887) in 2014-15 in 2014-15. The next year, he posted a peerless 48 wins en route to the Vezina Trophy.

He was the first runner-up for the honor in 2016-17, again leading the league in wins (42) and shutouts (nine). His effiency was enough to split the William Jennings Trophy with backup Philipp Grubauer.

2. Fernie Flaman
After 38 gams in Hershey, Flaman joined the Bruins for the rest of their season in 1946-47. He broke into the NHL permanently the next year, and went on to 14 full seasons with Boston and Toronto. (Minus a brief 11-game return to the AHL with the Pittsburgh Hornets in 1950-51.)

For the Bruins faithful, Flaman’s gritty and effective stay-at-home defensive play made him reminiscent of Eddie Shore. Soon after returning from the Leafs in 1954, he assumed Boston’s captaincy and started getting league-wide recognition for his work.

Three times between 1954-55 and 1957-58, he was the Norris Trophy’s No. 3 finalist and a second-team all-star. He also placed fifth on the Norris ballot in 1955-56 and 1959-60.

Three decades later, he went back to Toronto for more delayed gratification. He would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990.

1. Ron Hextall
Hextall debuted in The Show in 1986-87 after spending the better part of his first two seasons in Hershey. There he had won the Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL’s top rookie.

By the end of his first big-league season, he surprisingly did not duplicate that with the Calder Trophy. He did, however, nab the 1987 Vezina and Conn Smythe. With the latter, he was only the fourth of five playoff MVPs on a losing finalist in NHL history.

That breakout was also Hextall’s first of three straight Flyers MVP runs. Somewhat surprisingly, those would be the last of his accolades. But save one conditioning game with Hershey in an injury-plagued 1989-90 season, Hextall never returned to the minors.

All he did was log a 296-214-69 record over 13 seasons with the Flyers, Nordiques and Islanders. He received Vezina votes in four of the 12 seasons following his victorious campaign.

That, and he scored 34 career points, including one goal in the regular season and one in the playoffs.

For his achievements in Philadelphia, the Flyers enshrined Hextall in their hall of fame in 2008.

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