For many teams in the American Hockey League, it’s not uncommon for Monday to be used as a day off for players and coaches after a demanding weekend of games.
The same was the case for the Hershey Bears on Oct. 16 after a busy and emotionally charged opening weekend that saw members of its 2023 Calder Cup team get their championship rings and witness their banner head to the rafters of Giant Center before hosting Belleville on Saturday, followed by a spirited Sunday clash with Cleveland that ended with Hershey picking up its first win of the season.
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) October 14, 2023
But this particular Monday was a little different than most for the Bears. The team assembled in the early afternoon for head coach Todd Nelson’s annual pig roast.
It’s been a recurring tradition for Nelson at most stops where he’s been a head coach, and dates back to his playing days. The pig roast is an opportunity to commemorate the start of a season and give the players, the hockey operations staff and their families a chance to bond and break bread, or perhaps bacon.
“I think it’s very important for our team to get together like that just because even though we have a lot of the same guys back, there’s a lot of new guys and the pig roast is something that everybody gets together and we get to see each other,” Nelson said. “We want to create a family atmosphere here and to do that early in the season; it’s really beneficial. We do it early in this season also because of the weather – you start getting into November and it starts getting pretty cold – it was at a good time.”
But on a team that boasts a sizable returning core in addition to plenty of new blood, the event serves a dual purpose.
“It takes time to build the culture that we want here,” Nelson acknowledged. “The guys that are returning from last year, they know what it’s all about. So they have to tug along and help the guys that are new. The feedback I got from the players – the new guys that have never been to one – they thought it was a great experience. It’s something a bit different and the guys get to see me and the coaching staff and management away from the rink and maybe in a different light. That’s why I think it’s important, because they get to know you as a human being.”
After years of practice, Nelson’s got it down to an art.
“It depends on what your cooking device is. I’ve done pigs on charcoal, I’ve done pigs on propane,” Nelson said. “The way that I do it now, the easiest way, and how we did it here, is where the pig just lays flat and you just cook it; you don’t rotate it or anything.
“We had the temperature gauge in there and made sure everything was fine – I didn’t want anybody getting sick,” Nelson continued with a laugh. “But this is probably my 30th pig to be quite honest. The biggest thing is getting the pig prepped. Once it goes on the roaster with the right temperature, then you just fully close the door and let it cook. That’s the easy part.”
As for the hard part?
“What I do is we stuffed the pig with chickens inside the cavity, put a lot of brown sugar in there with some pineapple rings and I stuff it as full as I can. Then I sew it up and then I inject it with my ‘secret sauce,’ which takes probably 30-40 minutes because you want to get it as bloated as possible. So now it cooks with all those juices and turns out really well.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise that as the team embarked on a grueling three-in-three at Providence and Bridgeport last weekend, the Bears returned from New England with three wins secured.