The Hershey Bears should know better than to drag their good name through the mud of boastful and insulting marketing schemes.
The Bears, one of the most storied and successful franchises in pro hockey, who will be in Winnipeg for a pair of games today and Saturday with the Manitoba Moose, have been featuring the logos of recent victims on a set of jerseys in a move right out of Wilt Chamberlain's book.
Wilt the Stilt was as famous for announcing to the world he'd been 'friendly' with more than 20,000 women in his life as he was for his hall of fame basketball career.
The Bears can now be known for similar 'notch on the bedpost' bragging.
Back-to-back Calder Cup champions, Hershey put together a jersey with a Moose logo on one shoulder and a Texas Stars patch on the other.
The Stars and Moose are the teams the Bears defeated in the last two Calder Cup finals.
"We're the champs and here are the chumps we left in our wake," is the message the Bears want to convey.
Classy? Not even close.
Lowbrow? Now, you're talking.
Bush league? Reg Dunlop would hold his nose on this one.
It's not hockey and we're glad to tell you it's not the real Hershey Bears. Not the Bears we know. Not the organization men like Frank Mathers and Mike Nykoluk and Willie Marshall and Mitch Lamoureux sweated to build.
Hershey is not some backwater but one of the pre-eminent spots in the hockey world. As no less than Gordie Howe said, "Everybody who's anybody in hockey has played in Hershey."
Hershey is a team and place that matters in hockey. It shouldn't have its reputation sullied with high school stunts like this.
AHL teams regularly borrow one another's logos for ads and other promotions but this is a stretch of that agreement.
Designing, manufacturing and wearing these jerseys is a mistake, an error in judgement and ego run amok. It's not what the Bears have stood for in a glorious history dating back to 1938 with over 5,000 games played in the AHL and a record 11 Calder Cups. There's absolutely no question the Hershey Bears are the flagship franchise of the AHL and such a display is beneath their standard.
"It's not something I would have done. If it was me, I would have contacted the teams and asked them about it, that's what I would have done," said Moose coach Claude Noel, who won a Calder Cup with the Bears as a player back in 1980 and spent five years under the wing of Winnipegger and legendary Hershey builder Frank Mathers. "It's my opinion, but this isn't something Frank Mathers, who was top shelf and a class act and really respectful of the game, would have done. Look, I like Doug Yingst (Bears GM) and I respect Doug Yingst. So, however you're writing this story, I'm not being disrespectful to Doug. It's not a move I would make. But I like Doug and I like that franchise. They do things first class. But this caught me off guard."
Moose captain Nolan Baumgartner was with the team in 2009 when they lost to the Bears in six games of the AHL final.
"They won the Cup so I guess they can do what they want. I don't think it makes the other two teams happy," said Baumgartner. "It's not something I would like to wear. You can gloat in other ways. You know you won and you can win with class. You don't have to rub it in the face of the team that lost. You don't see the Chicago Blackhawks skating around with Philadelphia Flyers logos on their jerseys."
Why the Bears have chosen to "talk the talk" in this case is befuddling. It's bulletin board material for the Stars, the Moose and any team they've ever beaten in a playoff series.
Just as interesting, however, will be their willingness to 'walk the walk' on the road. It's one thing to wear these galling jerseys at home -- another to wear them in Manitoba or Texas.
So we've established the Bears to have been classless in this chapter. Leaving the jerseys at home and not wearing them in Winnipeg will be something else: Gutless.