Patrick Williams, Features Writer

Chase Priskie’s career decision last summer mixed a bit of the familiar with a bit of the new.

In 2016, the Washington Capitals selected Priskie in the sixth round of the NHL Draft. But he never signed with the Capitals, instead joining the Carolina Hurricanes in 2019 after four standout seasons at Quinnipiac University.

He went to Florida in the February 2020 deal that sent Vincent Trocheck to the Hurricanes. He signed with Buffalo for the 2022-23 season, and was dealt to Anaheim that March. Four pro seasons, six AHL stops – Charlotte, Springfield, Syracuse, Charlotte (again), Rochester, San Diego.

Last year’s trade to the Ducks organization sent Priskie from a Rochester team that would eventually make the Eastern Conference Finals to a San Diego club on its way to finishing last in the 32-team AHL. But he set himself up well going into free agency, posting seven goals and six assists in just 16 games with the Gulls.

On July 5, Priskie returned to the Capitals organization on a one-year deal, and he is getting a prime opportunity to pursue a Calder Cup in the deepest postseason run he has made. His first two seasons were truncated by the pandemic, and his Charlotte team was bounced by Springfield in the division finals in 2022.

Priskie is soaking up this playoff run – “Big time,” he said – as he and the Hershey Bears open the conference finals against Cleveland tonight at Giant Center. Tied for the league lead among defensemen with six assists and seven points this season, and with a league-best plus-9 rating, Priskie is doing his part to help the cause after he led all Hershey blueliners with 34 points (eight goals, 26 assists) in 69 regular-season games.

Bringing in Priskie last summer made sense for all sides. The Bears had returned much of the same blue line that captured the Calder Cup last year, but Gabriel Carlsson’s departure for the Swedish Hockey League created an opening for an experienced hand on the back end to provide organizational depth.

Priskie fit that need. On a team that can stifle opponents on many nights – the Bears led the AHL in goals-against (2.10 per game), shots-against (25.97 per game), and on the penalty kill (87.7 percent) – he offers the Bears something different. He’s someone who can skate and distribute the puck, but he can also accelerate a power play. He’s not hesitant to shoot, either, with his 104 shots on goal leading Hershey blueliners in regular-season play.

Like any offensive defensemen, Priskie has to play with some risk in his game. The Bears largely play a straightforward game, though. They attack where there’s opportunity. If there isn’t a play, they don’t force one. But the Bears have been able to find the balance of integrating Priskie’s ability to push the play, to perhaps create something that wouldn’t exist otherwise, with that straight-line hockey that the team employs.

“It’s kind of a melting pot,” Priskie said of the Bears’ approach established by head coach Todd Nelson with assistants Nick Bootland and Patrick Wellar. “They set the standard from day one, and then they expect everyone to uphold that standard throughout the season, and we build on that as the games and months progress.

“It’s just being on the same page. The big thing with us is playing our style because you need all five guys committed to playing our system.”

That commitment is increasingly tested as the regular season progresses, however. With each passing playoff round, sticking to those team-wide principles will only become tougher. Cleveland plays a dogged, physical game that will wear down opponents. And should the Bears advance to the Calder Cup Finals, certainly Coachella Valley or Milwaukee will present a significant obstacle.

“From game one to game 72, teams tighten up defensively,” Priskie said. “They tighten up in the neutral zone, and scoring five-on-five becomes harder and harder and harder as the season progresses.

“And I think once playoffs come, the biggest thing is the execution level is raised that much more. The rate of play is that much faster, and it’s more physical. One miscue, one missed execution on a play could lead to a goal in the back of your net. That’s why playoff hockey is so exciting.”

So as the play around him has shifted, so has Priskie’s game. Nelson was an offensive defenseman during his 12 pro seasons, and he understands the importance of letting a gifted player like Priskie use those abilities. But playing for Nelson and the Hershey coaching staff has also allowed Priskie’s defensive game to solidify further, making successful adjustments from someone who can drive offense to someone who can also dig in for the toll of a long playoff series.

“It truly is a game of attrition,” Priskie said of the postseason. “You’re playing against a majority of the same lineup for one, two, three, four, five games [all the way to] Game 7. It’s every shift. It’s every period. It’s every game and you just want to suffocate teams, and I think we do that with our physicality and with our skating.”


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