The Hershey Bliss saw their disappointing season wind to an end this week. The players have long since resigned themselves to the fact that they won’t have a chance to defend their title. As a result, they weren’t consumed by sadness or anger as the regular season drew to a close; rather, they were possessed by a feeling that C Justin Valentine described as “a really deep, deep weirdness.” That weirdness boiled over on Saturday in a most unusual rest stop.
All of Hershey’s games this week were on the road, so the team spent the week flying from one Eastern city to another, including two separate trips across the border and back. “We were all pretty punchy this week,” admitted Bliss C Spencer Kirkpatrick. On Thursday night, they flew back in from Quebec. Rather than heading to Washington, site of Saturday’s finale, the Bliss went home to Hershey to participate in an autograph session scheduled at a local mall on Friday.
Then on Saturday morning, the team boarded a bus down to DC. “Somehow, it felt like our season in a nutshell,” said Valentine. “Instead of getting ready for the playoffs, here we are rolling through the countryside in a bus, on our way to a meaningless game against our supposed rivals, who aren’t making the playoffs either. I think something kind of snapped for us on that ride.”
When the bus got to Thurmont, Maryland, the team insisted on stopping. The bus pulled into the Sheetz just off of US Route 15, and the team descended on the convenience store. “We get a lot of buses through here,” said Sheetz clerk Alvin Clark, “but something about the way these guys came in told me they were going to be trouble.”
As the Bliss wandered the aisles, they began behaving (in Valentine’s words) like “a bunch of four-year-olds on a sugar high.” Valentine and his fellow “Love Line” mates Lance Sweet and Christopher Hart grabbed sodas out of the case, snuck up on their teammates, and poured the sodas over their heads. The team’s defensemen grabbed a 24-pack of beer and engaged in a drinking contest. Kirkpatrick and RW Noah Daniels monopolized the Made-to-Order food screens, trying to top each other with increasingly elaborate custom orders.
LW Trevor Green cleaned out the store’s entire supply of jerky, reasoning that “maybe we’ll get in a crash, and this will buy us a day or two before we have to resort to cannibalism.” Meanwhile, RW Sven Danielsen (known as the team’s “den mother”) bought one of every medicine on the shelf, saying that “you can’t be too careful on the road.”
Goalie Brandon Colt took things to another level when he grabbed a couple of donuts out of the pastry case and used them to play Frisbee with his backup, Milo Stafford. The pair knocked over display racks left and right as they dove for donuts.
After about 15 minutes of this madness, coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber (wondering where his team had gone) came into the store. As he took in the chaos around him, the coach’s eyes bulged and the veins on his forehead throbbed. “What the hell is going on here?!” Barber shouted, as his players froze. After a couple of them mumbled attempts at an explanation, the coach held help his hand. “Never mind, I don’t want to know. You’ve got two minutes to clean this up and get out of here.”
The players sighed and obeyed the coach’s orders. Just as the bus was about to pull away, however, Stafford came running out of the store, hollering after his colleagues. As he got on the bus, Stafford explained that he’d found something he had to buy. He reached into his pocket and pulled out an inflatable water toy in the shape of a rubber duck. “I love rubber ducks!” Stafford said by way of explanation.
“I don’t know if I’m a coach or a zookeeper,” sighed Barber. “Those guys were basically looting that poor store. And they didn’t even grab any chocolate bars!”
Somehow, in spite of all the craziness of the morning, Hershey managed to win the game that night, defeating rival Washington 4-3 in overtime. For the Bliss, it was a day to remember at the end of a season to forget. “It was a cathartic experience, and I’m glad we did it,” said Sweet. “Even though they’ll probably never let us in that Sheetz again.”