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Posted 2012 December 2
Unlike most Americans, when I hear "Hershey" the first thing I think of is not chocolate. It is hockey. There are two reasons for this.
First, I am a lifelong fan of minor league hockey (admittedly I don't watch much minor league hockey these days, but that's largely because there isn't a team nearby anymore). And Hershey is the oldest minor league hockey team still in existence. In fact, not only are they older than every other team in minor league hockey, they are older than every league in minor league hockey. That includes the league they actually play in: the Hershey Bears were founded in 1932 in the Tri-State Hockey League, and in 1938 they joined the new International-American Hockey League (which would drop the "International-" from its name two years later). In the 75 years that the Bears have been in the AHL, that league has transformed from a league lacking affiliations and concentrated in small-to-medium Northeastern markets into a league where teams are required to have an affiliation and which stretches all the way to British Columbia and includes teams in major cities such as Houston and Chicago. In the process, there have been over 75 cases of another team either relocating, suspending operations, or dropping out of the league altogether. There's only one team in the league (Rochester) that's even one third as old as the Bears. This team defines minor league success. Any self-respecting minor league hockey fan should think of hockey first when they hear the name "Hershey".
There's another reason I don't think of chocolate when I hear "Hershey", which is that Hershey bars don't count as chocolate bars in my book. This isn't (just) the opinion of a cranky chocolate snob. I can prove this. Look at the ingredient list of a Hershey bar. Sure, it says "milk chocolate" as the first and only ingredient, but then it lists the components of milk chocolate. Chocolate is not the first component. Nor is it the second. It is the third component, with milk being the second and sugar being the first. That's not milk chocolate. That's not even chocolate milk. That's milky sugar with a bit of cocoa thrown in as food coloring.
I said for years that milk chocolate was awful, and left it at that. I believed that for a very long time, but a year or two ago I discovered something wonderful: dark milk chocolate. This, my friends, is what milk chocolate is supposed to be: actual, proper chocolate (if you haven't figured it out, "proper chocolate" and "dark chocolate" are synonymous in my book), with some milk added to modify, not overwhelm, the chocolate. Escazú, a local chocolate company whose store front I believe to be the place where earth and heaven meet, has a Dark Goat's Milk chocolate bar which should be all the proof anyone needs that a bar whose name includes both the words "milk" and "chocolate" can actually be a wonderful thing. I know some of you reading this don't believe me. Neither did I until I tried it. Trust me. Check out your local fancy-schmancy grocery store and see if they carry it. You'll be glad you did.
Anyway, getting back to those milky sugar bars masquerading as chocolate: They are, for the record, the source of the hockey team's name. Back when the team was founded, they were known not as the Hershey Bears, but as the Hershey B'ars. Now, I appreciate a good bit of wordplay as much as anyone (if I made a list of my ten all-time favorite hockey team names, "Macon Whoopee" would also certainly be on it), but I can't decide whether I like Hershey B'ars or not. In any case, in 1933 they decided that B'ars was too subtle and changed their name to the Hershey Chocolate Bars. I know I don't like that name. They went back to B'ars a year later, and settled on Bears in 1936. And while I know I don't like a team being called the Hershey Chocolate Bars and can't decide about a team called the Hershey B'ars, I do definitely like the name Hershey Bears. It's hard to not like that one: "Bears" is one of those classic, how-can-you-argue-with-a-name-like-this names.
The logo is good, too: a stylized side view of a brown bear baring its teeth. This is a little bit geographically inaccurate — the bears you will find in the vicinity of Hershey are black bears, which are much smaller — but when you consider the number of teams over the years who put a bear in their logo despite their name having nothing to do with bears, it's not a big deal. Besides, it's not like the team is called the "Hershey Black Bears" anyway. They can put a polar bear in there for all I care. I also give them credit for being anatomically correct in giving the bear a row of five claws on each paw. Most teams can't get that right. (Of the four other teams that currently have a bear in their logo, the only other one that gets it right is the Utah Grizzlies, and even they gave their bear unrealistically long claws). The only real criticism I have here is that I could have done without the hockey stick. But at least the bear isn't clutching it in its teeth or something silly like that.
So, to sum this review up as briefly as possible: The team is 80 years old, and has a great name and a very good logo. In short, Hershey represents everything hockey should be, and everything chocolate shouldn't be. That's why I think of minor league hockey and not chocolate when I hear "Hershey", and it's why you should, too.
Final Score: 14 points.
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