Sports

Pope pumped to play for Bears

Hershey Bears’ forward Matt Pope fires a puck past Portland Pirates goaltender Justin Pogge during an American Hockey League game last month. Pope, who was with the Bears on a tryout contract, inked a two-year deal with Hershey last week.  - JustSports Photography
Hershey Bears’ forward Matt Pope fires a puck past Portland Pirates goaltender Justin Pogge during an American Hockey League game last month. Pope, who was with the Bears on a tryout contract, inked a two-year deal with Hershey last week.
— image credit: JustSports Photography

Three years ago, Matt Pope watched as the Hershey Bears celebrated winning the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup, defeating the Manitoba Moose, the team for which Pope was playing.

And that championship was not a blip on the radar either, as the Bears have been a perennial contender in the AHL over the past couple of years.

With that success in mind, Pope is elated to have inked a two-year contract with Hershey.

“I’m excited to sign here because it is such a successful organization,” he said.

“Not very often does Hershey have a losing team.”

Pope was in training camp with the Bears and showed very well, but with limited roster space in Hershey, he was sent down to the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays.

The Bears called him up in mid-November — after 19 points in 15 games — and Pope has made an impact.

“He has been a pleasant surprise,” said Bears coach Mark French.

French remembered Pope from the AHL final three years ago and said he very likely could have started the season with Hershey based on his training camp performance.

Since arriving in Hershey, Pope has three goals and five points in 11 games, playing up and down the Bears lineup.

His versatility has impressed the coach.

“He has shown that he has the composite skill level to play with the top-end American Hockey League players,” French said.

“He has been able to generate some production offensively and he has shown us that he is willing to check defensively and do stuff that you need from your fourth line.

“I think his flexibility in both those roles has been what has impressed us and a reason why he has been around with us.”

The Bears inked the 27-year-old to a two-year contract last week (Dec. 31).

Having that extra year on his contract was a big deal.

“The summer will be much less stressful than last summer, which I spent wondering where I’d end up signing,” he explained.

“I’m getting married this summer and it’s nice for both of us to know we will be living together without any uncertainty as to where I’ll be from week to week.”

Pope, 27, played his minor hockey with the Langley Minor Hockey Association and then junior with the Langley Hornets.

Following four years at Minnesota’s Bemidiji State, he turned pro, playing in the ECHL with the Bakersfield Condors.

A better than a point-per-game player at the ECHL level — he has 41 goals and 90 points in 75 career ECHL games — Pope is ready to fill whatever role the Bears need.

“It is going to take a lot of hard work; there is no room to take a night off,” he said. “Success at this level is all about consistency, which comes from proper preparation.”

He said the Bears like his versatility and the fact he can play wing or centre on any of the four lines.

“Rather than focus on my one part of my game — like scoring or defence — I have tried to be a well-rounded player so I’m not a specialist at anything but I am able to help out in every way,” he said.

Pope also gets the chance to take part in an outdoor game tomorrow (Jan. 6) as the Bears face the Adirondack Phantoms at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park.

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