When many of us think of Hershey, Pennsylvania it immediately conjures up images of chocolates and candies eponymous with the confectionary company that is based in the city. Hershey has also long been home to one of the most successful minor league franchises in all of sports – the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League.
Hersheypark Arena opened in 1936.
From 1936 to 2002, the home of the Hershey Bears was the Hersheypark Arena. When built in 1936, the Hershey Sports Arena (as it was originally known) was the largest monolithic structure in the United States in which not a single seat suffered an obstructed view. In total the Arena has a capacity of 7,286 people and over 8,000 when including standing room tickets.
The Bears are the longest continuously operating member of the American Hockey League still playing in its original city. The team is widely known for its financial success, but have also had ample on ice success winning a record 11 Calder Cups. As Hall of Famer Gordie Howe once commented:
The Bears have had many memorable seasons in Hershey. The most successful season was in 1942-43 when the team lost only 13 games. In that season, future NHLer Wally Kilrea scored 99 points and led the Bears to their first AHL title. During the 1987 – 88 season, when the Bears became the first professional club outside the NHL to reach the half century mark, the Bears went on an unprecedented 12 – 0 run to win the Calder Cup playoffs.
The Hersheypark Arena has also been home to minor league soccer and basketball. In fact, perhaps the most noteworthy sports event ever to occur in the arena was a NBA game between the New York Knicks and Philadelphia Warriors on March 2nd, 1962. In that game, Chamberlain scored an NBA record-setting 100 points, a record that still stands today.
Like many arenas of its vintage, the old barn has also hosted its fair share of Ice Capades, Disney on Ice, and WWF matches, including an epic tag-team match featuring Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant against Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy. Unlike many of its peer arenas, though, the Hersheypark Arena also once hosted an extravagant birthday party for President Dwight D. Eisenhower whose farm and “weekend White House” was nearby.
In 2002 the Hershey Bears moved to the modern Giant Center, which was constructed less than half a mile away. Despite this move, hockey remains alive and well in the Hersheypark Arena as it currently houses two collegiate teams, Lebanon Valley College and Shippenburg University, and many youth hockey festivals.