nathan walker hershey bears-2

Photo: Kyle Mace

After the Hershey Bears’ season-opening loss to the Adirondack Phantoms on Saturday, the Bears auctioned off the retro 1949-50 jerseys they wore. For $1,150, somebody walked out of Giant Center with a piece of hockey history.

Bears forward Nathan Walker, who was quite impressive during Washington Capitals training camp, became the first Australian hockey player ever to suit up for the American Hockey League.

Another AHL, the Australian Ice Hockey League, where Walker played parts of two seasons with the Sydney Ice Dogs, tweeted out their congratulations after the game.

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leggio-chocolate-mt-rushmore-mask

Photos via In Goal Magazine

Goaltender David Leggio spent all of last season with Buffalo’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Rochester Americans. Leggio was dominant, winning 38 games and sporting a .924 save percentage. That performance merited MVP consideration at season’s end.

With Dany Sabourin having left during the offseason in favor of playing in Austria, the Hershey Bears were in desperate need of a veteran goaltender that could share the load and help mentor Capitals prospect Philipp Grubauer. Bears’ general manager Doug Yingst found his man in Leggio and signed the goaltender to a two-way contract for 2013-14.

“Obviously, the Bears are one of the best franchises in the AHL,” Leggio said to The Patriot-News’ Tim Leone during the summer. “They’ve won championships and the arena’s always packed. I’m very excited to come to a place where I feel we’ll have a chance to win a championship. They’ve won championships in the past and have a commitment to winning.”

On Tuesday, the Bears opened training camp and Leggio arrived in style. He just might have the coolest mask in the AHL.

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Photo credit: Capitals Overtime

According to Katie Carrera, the Washington Capitals have assigned Nathan Walker and three other players to Hershey.

During the Caps Convention, Caps general manager George McPhee said Walker has signed a one-year AHL deal with Hershey:

The Australian forward, as Mike Vogel tweeted Thursday, couldn’t be signed to an NHL contract due to what’s known as the “Tomas Hyka Rule”.

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Mark French

Photo credit: Ian iPad

Over the offseason the Hershey Bears saw several key veterans sign elsewhere, such as future AHL Hall of Famer Keith Aucoin, 2011-12 AHL leading scorer Chris Bourque, and fan-favorite enforcer Joel Rechlicz. The team also had to deal with a peculiar problem due to the lockout: two head coaches, Mark French and new Caps bench boss Adam Oates. Capitals general manager George McPhee mandated that Hershey learn Oates’ new system, so that the organization’s minor league players could be used to it by the time NHL games started being played. All this change has seen the team scuffle to a .500 record through 34 games this season (16-16-1-1).

But now things are starting to look up. Before it was announced that the lockout had been lifted, Hershey had been getting its best goaltending of the year from Braden Holtby, who was recently named AHL player of the month for December. Stan Galiev, who had been struggling with his transition from junior hockey, is starting to look more comfortable on the ice and more worthy of his #29 prospect ranking from Hockey Prospectus. The organization also has a surplus of quality goaltenders in the ECHL knocking at the door of the AHL: Philipp Grubauer and 2012 seventh-round pick Sergey Kostenko.

On Saturday, after the Bears’ 3-1 loss to the Binghamton Senators, I asked French if this is the best he’s seen Braden Holtby play, if the sky is the limit for Riley Barber, and if Caps fans should be worried about Galiev’s early season struggles.

My full Q&A with French is below the jump.

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Dmitry Orlov

Photo credit: Jordan Tenenbaum

On December 6th, the Verizon Center hosted the AHL Showcase between the Hershey Bears and Norfolk Admirals. Due to the lockout, it was the first hockey game played in Washington since May 9th, when two current Bears were playing with the Capitals: Braden Holtby and Dmitry Orlov.

While Holtby dominated in the Bears 2-1 victory during the Showcase, Orlov made it through just the first period before leaving the game due to injury. Since then, Orlov has missed ten games– a month’s worth of action. Bears radio announcer and PR man Scott Stuccio told RMNB on Thursday night that the Novokuznetsk-native is not close to returning yet.

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Photo credit: marlies.ca

The Hershey Bears have long been considered one of the elite teams of the American Hockey League. The Bears have won eleven Calder Cups and had eleven of its coaches and players inducted into the NHL or AHL halls of fame. With its rich history and fantastic arena, the Bears have routinely churned out top prospects and cultivated a huge following, leading the AHL in attendance for the past six seasons. But how do they compare to the rest of the world?

On Monday, Sports.ru blogger Viktor Mayorov tabulated the current average attendance numbers for every hockey team in Europe, which included leagues in Russia (KHL), Germany (DEL), Switzerland (NLA), Austria (EBEL), Sweden (Elitserien), and Finland (SM-Liiga).

The results are below the jump.

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During the third period of the AHL Showcase between the Hershey Bears and Norfolk Admirals, Caps fans broke into several “Fire Bettman” chants. It’s especially clear at the 4 second mark above.

Full disclosure: that noise at the 2 second mark is my ferret sneezing.

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Dmitry Orlov

Wheeee!!!!

While Dmitry Orlov is a defenseman who is known more for his offensive instincts, the 21-year-old Russian sure loves to hit too. Last season he crushed Blake Wheeler, Steve Downie, and Lars Eller all with devastating hip checks. And during Hershey’s second game of the season this year, he flipped a dude head over heels. Last night, during Teddy Bear Toss night at Giant Center, Orlov — apparently jealous of the fans — attempted to toss something over the boards too: Norfolk’s Jay Rosehill.

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The lockout is miserable, but at least we get NHL stars participating in silly AHL promotions. Check out Braden Holtby (front row, second to the left) and Dmitry Orlov (back row, dude wearing the hardhat) doing their best to raise money for the American Cancer Society by showing off new pink t-shirts and sticks. The “Pink The Rink” shirts will be available for purchase at the Bears game on Sunday behind section 117, and the pink sticks they use during warm-ups will be up for silent auction behind section 119.

That’s great and all, but where can I buy that hard-hat Dima’s wearing?

Photo credit: Hershey Bears Facebook page.