Friday, May 28, 2010

Who are the Texas Stars?

The Texas Stars are in the inaugural AHL season and are the first AHL team since 01-02 to make the Calder Cup Finals in their first season.

They finished the regular season in 2nd place in the West Division behind Chicago. After sweeping Rockford in the first round of the playoffs they have since gone to 2 game 7s in beating the league's #3 team in Chicago and the league's #2 team in Hamilton.

And now they get the league's #1 team in Hershey.

If they do end up winning the cup at least you know they earned every bit of it by playing the top 3 teams in the league in the playoffs.

During the regular season they scored 238 goals (Hershey had 342) and allowed 198 goals (same as Hershey). Not exactly an offensive juggernaut but definitely played well at the defensive end.

In the playoffs to date they have scored 56 goals (Hershey has 55) and have allowed 47 (Hershey 39). They have also played 3 more games than the Bears this postseason.

Their regular season scoring leaders were:
  • C Aaron Gagnon with 27 goals and 31 assists for 58 points
  • C Travis Morin with 21 goals and 31 assists for 52 points
  • C Perttu Lindgren with 14 goals and 33 assists for 47 points
Overall they had 9 players with double digit goals and 6 players with 40+ points. Like I said...not an offensive juggernaut but they got the job done.

The postseason has been a bit different though:
  • F Jamie Benn has 14 goals and 10 assists as he leads the Stars and the AHL in goals and points in the postseason.
  • D Andrew Hutchinson is 2nd on the team in points with 15 (4g and 11a).
  • C Perttu Lindgren is 3rd with 6 goals and 8 assists.
  • C Travis Morin is 4th with 3 goals and 10 assists.

You might recognize one name on that list. Travis Morin is a former South Carolina Stingray who played 5 games for Hershey over the previous two seasons. He was picked up by the Stars this past summer and played well for them all season. I always wanted Travis to get his shot in Hershey but unfortunately the center depth in the organization worked against him.

Another former part-time Bear is RW Mathieu Beaudoin who played 7 games during the 07-08 regular season and added a playoff game that year as well.

And former Bear forward Paul Jerrard who played parts of 3 seasons for the Bears from 94-97 and was on the 96-97 Calder Cup winning team. He is currently the assistant coach for the Stars.

Here are a few other players you might recognize from Calder Cup Finals past...
  • D Maxime Fortunos played for the Manitoba Moose last season and faced the Bears in the Calder Cup Finals. He will surely be called upon over the next week to help dissect exactly what the Bears do.
  • RW Raymond Sawada also played against the Bears during last seasons Calder Cup Finals as a member of the Manitoba Moose. He scored 1 goal in the series.
  • C Greg Rallo was yet another of the 08-09 Manitoba Moose. He played in 4 games against the Bears in the finals but did not record a point.
  • D Dan Jancevski was a member of the 06-07 Hamilton Bulldogs team that beat Hershey in 5 games.

That is who the Stars are.

So how will the series go? How do the Bears match up?

Check back early next week and I will have a good series preview ready to go. I will say this...I want Hershey to win in 6 because I want to see a clinching game on home ice.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bears will play Texas Starts in finals

In what can only be described as at least a slight surprise the Texas Stars managed to beat the Hamilton Bulldogs twice at Copps Coliseum to win the Western Conference Championship. Now they get the other top team in the league, the Hershey Bears.

The series schedule looks like this...

Thursday, June 3 - Hershey - 7:00
Saturday, June 5 - Hershey - 7:00
Monday, June 7 - Texas - 8:30
Wednesday, June 9 - Texas - 8:30
Friday, June 11 - Texas - 8:30 (if necessary)
Monday, June 14 - Hershey - 7:00 (if necessary)
Wednesday, June 16 - Hershey - 7:00 (if necessary)

Fair schedule. Only one two day break after the start and considering the travel that is pretty good.

It will be 12 days between games for the Bears which in this situation might be okay because that was a physical Manchester series that left multiple Bears nursing injuries. Most notably right wing Andrew Gordon who will likely be back for the the finals.

I will have plenty more about this unknown team in the coming days so check back often.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Suspense, Record, McNeill, Kane, and the Calder Cup Finals!!!

WOW! What a game!

Hershey got timely goaltending, solid defense, and just enough offense to finish off the series with the Manchester Monarchs and now await the Western Conference winner in the Calder Cup Finals!!!

It didn't start out so good though. Manchester took a 1-0 lead into the first period thanks to a mistake by Bears goalie Michal Neuvirth and some miscommunication between the rest of the team. An icing call was upcoming until Neuvy left his crease as he debated playing the puck. Whether or not he played it or not doesn't matter, the linesman waived off the icing (with plenty of time left for Hershey to know it) but the Bears didn't see that and played the puck like they would a touch up.

But Manchester didn't stop and converted the mistake into a 1-0 lead. With less than 20 seconds to go in the period, that is a tough goal to take.

It seemed to effect Hershey in the second as well as they seemed a little slow and unfocused while the Monarchs came to play. There were numerous close calls in the 2nd including a Monarch missing a wide open net and Patty McNeill doing his best Neuvy impersonation with what was probably the save of the night. The puck was about to cross the goal line after getting by Neuvy but McNeill swept it away to keep the Bears within striking distance.

Overall the Monarchs outplayed the Bears for much of the game. But in the third Hershey came to play. They doubled their shot total from the first two periods with 13 in the third period alone and scored twice.

Really the difference seemed to be that Manchester didn't block as many shots. The Giroux goal came on a rebound and the McNeill goal was really just a weak wrister that didn't get knocked down and Bernier likely never saw.

Not sure if it was the depth or just more determination from Hershey but they owned the third period and overtime.

And Boyd Kane was the hero in overtime. After a McNeill shot went wide, Kyle Wilson picked it up, went around the back of the net and fed the puck to Kane's stick where he put it behind Bernier and ended the Monarchs season.

Much of this week I bashed Kane's offensive prowess as he was playing on the top line but he managed to be the offensive hero last night. Playing on the third line for the last 2 games seemed to fit him better and the entire team seemed to benefit from it.

The other player that really seemed to key some offensive play was Cody Eakin. He played on the 4th line with Joudrey and Rome and for the first two periods that line was probably Hershey's best.

Getting a little more offense on the 4th line was key to keeping them on the ice more. During games 4 and 5 it seemed like the 4th line was barely used. Thanks to the Gordon injury the depth that carried the Bears for much of the season seemed to diminish due to players having to move up onto other lines. So bringing Eakin back from summer vacation seemed like a good move and it proved to be just that last night.

The return of McNeill to the lineup was also huge. Sure he made it back in game 4 but that was the game with 7 defensemen and I am not sure how much he actually played. He took the place of Greg Amadio last night and he provided a much needed offensive spark from the blue line. Prior to last night John Carlson was really the only d-man pushing the puck and jumping into the play. Which for many teams, like Manchester, that wouldn't change much. But Hershey, like Washington, relies on their defense to pinch in, keep pucks in the zone, and jump up on the rush.

So not having that for a few games was part of the offensive struggles. Last night McNeill added that element to a 2nd line. And it paid huge dividends.

Now comes the waiting part. Hamilton took a 3-2 series lead last night in Texas. The series now heads back to Hamilton for games 6 and, if necessary, 7. Obviously Texas is up against it here and odds are Hamilton will face Hershey in the Calder Cup Finals.

Seems familiar doesn't it?? 3 years ago Hershey beat Manchester to advance to their second straight Calder Cup Finals where they ran into the Hamilton Bulldogs and lost in 5 games.

This is a different, more talented Bears team and a different outcome is expected.

For those of you at the game last night you might have heard the public address announcer make the announcement that games 1 and 2 will be in Hershey. Which is how it should be. But because of the circus coming to town from the 26-31 that isn't necessarily how it will be.

It was reported in Hamilton a few days ago that if Hershey and Hamilton were to square off in the finals that the series would go 2-3-1-1. Meaning games 1,2 in Hamilton followed by 3 straight in Hershey, game 6 in Hamilton, and back to Hershey for game 7.

So Hershey COULD actually be the top seed and start a series on the road. It wouldn't be exactly optimum but if they were able to split those 2 games it surely would make things extremely difficult for the Bulldogs.

But that is a discussion for another time. Congrats to the Bears for winning their 4th Eastern Conference title in the past 5 seasons. What a stretch of hockey it has been!!


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Bears can win series tonight!

What a game on Thursday night! 0-0 through 2 periods, 3-2 Bears victory in overtime. I really though Bernier was going to steal his first game of the series but Francois Bouchard, and before that Chris Bourque, managed to keep that from happening.

Down 1 with a minute to go Hershey pulled Neuvirth and thanks to some very good passing and puck control Chris Bourque scored the tying goal with 50 seconds to go.

Hershey was extremely close to heading back home down 3 games to 2. But instead they are up 3 to 2 and Manchester will have to do what no combination of AHL teams have done in 2 games in Hershey!

At the beginning of the series I thought that Jonathon Bernier was probably the reason that Manchester was doing as well as they were. But the more I see of them I would say that isn't entirely accurate. In the last 2 games I can't remember a single time where Hershey had an odd man rush.

When Hershey brings the puck through the neutral zone there are always 2 Monarchs in their own zone. And once Hershey gets possession in the zone the Monarchs have all 5 players deep and in passing lanes. Which allows them to block shot after shot from anywhere outside the faceoff circles.

I think that while Bernier is definitely very good his numbers this postseason have more to do with the playing style than his exceptional play.

In fact it reminds me of another team in this years hockey playoffs that has done the unthinkable...the Montreal Canadiens. They have been playing excellent defensive hockey and it has them in the Eastern Conference Championship.

Don't get me wrong...both Bernier and Halak are playing great hockey. But when your defense is always in position and you block lot of shots a goalie doesn't have to be 'perfect'.

After game 1 the Monarchs mentioned that the large, loud crowd kind of rattled them a bit. Well I can guarantee that tonight's crowd will be larger and louder than that one was. And having played the last 3 games in their building with a grand total of 7,761 fans they will surely need to readjust to a building with 10,500+ fans!!

Fortunately for the Monarchs it is looking questionable if Andrew Gordon will be able to return this series. It was looking like he might make it back for tonight's game but in the paper yesterday it mentioned that he is doubtful for the game and the series.

Hopefully he can return if Hershey makes the finals.

Another sign that he won't be there is the return of Cody Eakin. They had sent the junior eligible winger home for the summer earlier this week but changed their mind recently and called him back.

The kid can flat out score goals. In 4 games for Hershey this season he scored 2 goals and in his junior season he scored 47 goals in 70 games!! And he added another 44 assists in those games.

While Jay Beagle was definitely an upgrade over Boyd Kane on the top line a kid like Cody Eakin could make some noise there or maybe on the third line. More than likely he was brought back for depth purposes only but I would like to see him get a shot.

Personally though...I would rather just see Andrew Gordon on the right side of Giroux and Aucoin.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Bears can't beat Bernier, drop game 4

Well at least we get to see the Bears play in Hershey again this weekend!! See there is a bright side to everything.

Last night Manchester controlled play from the opening faceoff and finished the night with a 1-0 victory to tie the Eastern Conference Finals at 2 games a piece. And it wasn't that difficult either as the Bears managed a whopping 18 shots on the night and had no more than 7 in any period.

Now Hershey needs to figure out how to regain momentum and create some offensive pressure, which has mysteriously disappeared in the last 2 games.

Can all of that be attributed to Andrew Gordon missing from the lineup? Or is this just Hershey getting complacent after going up 2 games to none?

I think it is probably a little bit of both. Hershey won game 2 and was up 2-0 in game 3 without Gordon so it isn't all that. But they would be better equipped to weather this storm if he was there.

No, I think this is more a little complacency from the defending Calder Cup Champs. They won the first 2 games and then were up 2-0 in the 3rd period of game 3 before letting Manchester back in the series. Now Manchester has all the momentum and Hershey is questioning their play.

Not good.

So how do they fix it? Well...dressing 7 defensemen is not the answer. If you are struggling offensively I don't see how that makes any sense. And dressing a kid making his AHL debut who isn't known for his offensive output is also questionable. Della Rovere is going to be a solid player but he is not going to score a lot of goals.

In my opinion one of the big problems the Caps had and now the Bears are having is teams are able to shut down 2 good players on one line but they can't stop 3. That explains why, with Gordo in the lineup, the Bears are much better because if you are the opposition, who do you stop on that line?

But when you put Boyd Kane on that line he is no threat so you focus on Giroux and Aucoin and let Kaner run around wild.

Washington had the same problem in the playoffs. No offense to Mike Knuble but the Canadiens were not afraid of him. So they shut down Ovi and Nicky and let Knuble run wild. They were able to do that to every line on the Caps team.

Right now the Monarchs can do that to Hershey. Except the second line has been impressive the past 2 games. Bourque, Perreault, and either Bouchard or Beagle have been very good in both ends I thought. But it obviously isn't enough.

So what would I like to see tomorrow night? Well if he is available get Gordon into the lineup but if he needs another day don't rush him.

After that do 2 things...shuffle the lines and dress Michael Dubuc. Dubuc can score and play offense. Playing defense is generally considered his weakness.

The lines:

Giroux - Aucoin - Bourque
Dubuc - Perreault - Bouchard
Beagle - Wilson - Pinner
Rome - Joudrey - Kane

That will help the offensive game. I know Bourque is a left wing and Beagle would rather play center but something needs to change. Without Gordon, Hershey is weak on the right side so you have to move someone over for a game.

I am sure Bourque can handle right wing for a game or two.

Now if you are the Monarchs...who do you stop on the top two lines? You can't possibly shut down everyone on the top line and if they let Dubuc alone he can surely score. And the third line is good too with Wilson getting some offensive help.

Any way you look at it Hershey HAS TO PLAY BETTER UP FRONT. If they don't get more shots and more goals soon this is going to be a bad way to end the season. Sure much of the problem has been the Monarchs ability to block shots but with 3 scorers on the top 2 lines you will have more options and more open lanes.

I watched the game on AHL Live last night and followed along with some of the chatter that was going on in the chat window.

Why does everyone seem surprised that Manchester is a good team? They had won 16 of 20 games coming into the series and had only allowed more than 3 goals twice in that time. Sure they didn't win the division but in 05-06 neither did the Bears!

And remember that while Hershey was decidedly better record wise in the regular season they also achieved those numbers against a weaker than usual East division. While Manchester played in the much more demanding Atlantic division and still managed to get to 95 points which would have been good enough for 2nd in the East division.

Manchester did not sneak into this round like Providence did last year. This team is for real.

I am as surprised as anyone about how the Bears have been playing the past 2 games but remember that I did say this series would go 7. So at some point Hershey was going to lose some games. Honestly I thought it would be more of a result of Bernier playing out of his mind while in reality it has been Hershey's lack of offensive push causing the problems.

Tomorrow nights game 5 is obviously big for both teams. If Hershey wins the Monarchs would then have to beat Hershey twice at home. Not has only been about 6 months since Hershey's lost 2 at home but still it is possible. But if Manchester wins they would only need to win one game in Hershey which while still difficult (only one other team has won a game in Hershey since November) is definitely easier to accomplish.

But in the end I only know this....

I still believe and I will be there on Saturday to root for the Hershey Bears on their quest for Calder Cup number 11!!


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bears fall apart in 3rd, drop game 3

Well that was surprising. Hershey controlled the play for much of the first 2 periods and for the first 5 minutes of the third. Then Manchester took over and out Beared the Bears scoring twice in the third to tie it and then scoring the game winner 3 minutes into overtime.

Hershey started out great, getting a late first period goal from Alexandre Giroux and an early third period tally from Mathieu Perreault. Manchester had shown little in the way of actual offense up to that point.

But it was funny. As soon as Hershey went up 2-0 people started getting confident. John Walton made a reference to Hershey being up 3-0 and the chat room on AHLLive seemed like the game was over.

Got to wonder if the Bears players started to feel that way too? It sure seemed like it.

From that point on Manchester controlled the play. With the exception of a late Bears power play in the third Hershey lacked any sort of real offense.

Although truthfully that seemed to be a problem all game as Hershey finished with just 25 shots. Manchester supposedly had 40 but most of those were poor shots from the outside and didn't cause much trouble.

I mentioned this Sunday and I will mention it again....what is Boyd Kane doing on the top line? That line was a non-factor last night and I personally believe it had more to do with the personnel than Manchester's D.

The newspaper mentioned something about putting some grit on the top line in place of Andrew Gordon. That's fine but is Boyd Kane truly the best option? I still think Pinizzotto would be the right fit as he is still contributing offensively this season. Kane has scored only 5 goals since the beginning of February while Pinner has 2 this series.

I don't know. I am not at practice or in the meetings so who knows how everyone feels about it. I also understand the desire to keep the remaining lines intact if possible but the top line is the most important offensively. Adding a guy like Kyle Wilson would be okay but he probably isn't going to go to the front of the net. Jay Beagle would be good but he is playing center elsewhere. Personally I would rather see Ashton Rome on the top line than Boyd Kane.

Don't get me wrong, Kane is a very good player. He had a tremendous season but right now Hershey NEEDS offense. You can't expect to beat Bernier and the Monarchs by scoring 2 goals, not with the way Neuvirth is playing in the third period so far.

Kane had 1 shot last night. 1. If you are playing on a line with Aucoin and Giroux you better produce more offense than that.

Everyone knew Manchester was going to come hungry to win last night. We knew that Hershey would have to give their best to go up 3-0. Unfortunately Hershey didn't give their best and Manchester came to win and they did.

Now the series is 2-1 and everything is different. Manchester now has some momentum. They have 2 more games in their building. Don't think for a second that they aren't good enough to be in this series. Don't think for a second that the Monarchs can't win the next 2 at home.

Hershey needs to show up more determined then ever tonight. Play like its game 7 of the Calder Cup Finals. Throw everything you have at the Monarchs and knock them down early. Because if this series goes to 2-2 tonight....all bets are off.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bears take 2-0 series lead in overtime

Let's clear this up now...was it a goal?

Yes it was. I unfortunately was unable to attend the game last night but managed to see the end of the game online and the one replay was perfect. That puck was absolutely across the line prior to the net coming off. But just barely. Remember it isn't when the puck hits the net but rather when it crosses the goal line.

Here you be the judge....

And according to the AHL rule book it honestly wouldn't have mattered. The referee is permitted to allow the goal even if the goal is off.

For the 7th time in 11 postseason games the Hershey Bears came from behind in the third period to win the game. Last night Manchester played very good hockey. Some timely saves by Neuvirth helped the Bears stay in the game and eventually win.

I didn't think Hershey did as good a job last night as they did Wednesday as far as getting in Bernier's way and crease.

That might have had something to do with Andrew Gordon leaving due to injury in the 1st period but still there are other players who can do that.

Obviously I am not a coach so I don't know what happens in practice BUT out of all the players on Hershey's roster, WHY would Boyd Kane be selected to take Gordo's spot on the top line?

Nothing against Kane, great player, great leader, and definitely talented. But let's be honest, he isn't fast and he isn't a prominent goal scorer. Obviously you don't break up the Perry, Bouch, and Bourque line so that eliminates 3 guys. And while Andrew Joudrey is an amazing player he is even less of a scorer so he is out. But that leaves 4 other players that I would rather see on the first line...Beagle, Wilson, Rome, or (my personal favorite) Pinner.

Steve Pinizzotto has come to play in this series. He has 2 goals, a fight, and loads of hustle. He is a better offensive weapon than many people realize and he would be PERFECT for the top line if Gordo can't go. He is a pest who can score. You put him on the first line and let him play his game and the Monarchs will pay more attention to him allowing for more open ice for Giroux and Coiner.

That being said, making a change mid game due to injury I can see Kane getting the spot due to him being there before and being able to play multiple styles. But heading into Monday's game, if Gordo can't go (listed at day to day which can mean anything in the playoffs) then I hope to see Pinner take his spot.

Hershey has placed the Monarchs squarely on the chopping block now. The next 3 games come in New Hampshire which is surely a benefit for the Monarchs but Hershey is guaranteed another home game. Whether it is this series or the next Hershey will play in the GC again this spring.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Game 2 tonight

Hershey showed everyone on Wednesday night that they are the team to beat no matter what the circumstances, long layoff, hot goaltender, anything. But there is still plenty of work to do.

Tonight's game isn't quite as big as game 1 for Hershey but it is huge for the Monarchs. If the Bears can win tonight they would be up 2-0 in the series as they head for Manchester and would at least guarantee that they wouldn't lose the series without coming home first.

But if the Monarchs can somehow beat the Bears at Giant Center, which is extremely rare (more on that in a second) then they could conceivably win the series without returning to Hershey.

I know, I know...Hershey looked really good on Wednesday night. All the fears and concerns I expressed on here leading into game 1 were found to be unwarranted. Surely all you Bears fans are now confident that Hershey can win this series in 4 games and be well rested for the Calder Cup Finals.

I will admit that I am definitely more confident in Hershey's chances but remember this...(if you read my game review write up you saw this already) Jonathon Bernier and the Monarchs gave up 4 goals in a game 1 loss to Worcester in the last round. Do you know how many goals he gave up in the next 5 games?


6 goals in 5 games and the Sharks were heading to the golf course. Don't be fooled by Bernier's 'perceived' troubles on Wednesday night. He is very very good and he can win games for the Monarchs.

Now, that being said I really think Hershey is positioned well to win this series. Maybe in as few games as 5. But in order to do that they would have to win tonight. They win tonight and I think this series could be over before next weekend. They lose tonight and I would say the series will return to Hershey next Saturday night.

But can the Monarchs win in Hershey? Can anyone beat the Bears in Hershey???

In the playoffs Hershey is 6-0 and has outscored the opponent 25-14 at Giant Center. Impressive. Now check this out...

Through the first 10 home games (up until Nov 28) Hershey went 5-5 at home. Since then they have gone an astounding 29-1 and have not scored less than 3 goals at home in any game.
Want more?
  • scored more than 3 goals 27 times
  • are 27-0 when they score 4 or more
  • scored more than 4 goals 20 times during the regular season stretch
Combine the regular season and postseason and this is what you get...
  • 35-1 since Nov 28
  • scored 3 goals (no fewer) in every game
  • scored 4 goals or more in 32 games
  • have a 32-0 record when they score 4+ goals


Friday, May 14, 2010

Photos from Game 1

I told you yesterday to check back for some Game 1 photos and surprise...I actually posted them!! Here are some photos from Game 1 against Manchester....

First up...Who is more flexible?? I vote for Neuvy!

Some shots during warmups...Coiner and Bourque seemed to be pretty loose!

Everyone helping Neuvy get ready for the Monarchs offense

Talking some strategy right before the opening faceoff

Pinner right after he schooled Bernier in the 2nd

Gordon and Coiner getting some pressure

Neuvy making one of his 24 saves

Bernier showing off some of his talent during the 2nd period

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bears take game 1 from Monarchs

Well I was wrong...and it feels good to be wrong. The Bears did not have any kind of letdown last night as they won 4-2 in game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.

16 seconds into the game Sean Collins scored and honestly that was the closest Manchester would come all night.

Andrew Gordon added his 10th of the playoffs with 10 minutes to go in the first. Steve Pinizzotto in the 2nd and Karl Alzner in the 3rd period completed the scoring for the Bears.

It was 3-0 after two and while they played better in the 2nd and 3rd periods the Monarchs were unable to get closer than a 2 goal deficit.

Michal Neuvirth played exceptionally through 2 periods before letting in a couple that he should have had. But he played great through the first 2 periods.

Overall it was a very good game for Hershey in all facets of the game. Goaltending, defensively, offensively, and on special teams, the Bears controlled the play. They did appear to tire late in the 2nd and in the 3rd but were able to continue to play solid positional hockey even though they weren't getting to lose pucks and were routinely making poor passes.

Jonathon Bernier played well I thought for the Monarchs and while I do think Hershey could end this in fewer then 7 games I still think it might go the distance. In game 1 against Worcester he allowed 4 goals and then proceeded to allow 6 goals the next 5 games so don't read too much into one game.

Last night Hershey did what they needed to, they got traffic in front and made sure he couldn't see pucks. But he still made plenty of big saves.

The Monarchs (and all the other teams for that matter) have not faced a team like Hershey until they face them. The depth and talent is phenomenal.

And I will say this too....

If Neuvirth can play every game like he did in the first 2 periods last night...Hershey is legitimately unbeatable.


My Three Stars of the Game:
  1. Chris Bourque - he had a single assist but I thought he played as well as anyone on the ice last night.
  2. Mathieu Perreault - like Bourque he also had but a single assist but again he played exceptionally.
  3. Steve Pinizzotto - a goal and a fight...the goal was great as was the fight

Grading the Performance:
  • Offense | A | I thought they played very well. At times maybe they made some silly plays and passes but overall they scored 4 times and got lots of traffic in front of Bernier. They came out strong and the early goal set the tone.
  • Defense | B+ | For the first 2 periods they had an A+ and then they got tired it seemed. They still played well positionally but they couldn't get the Monarchs out of the zone and it ended in 2 goals. Hopefully it was just a side effect of 2 weeks off and an intense opening period.
  • Goaltending | A | For 2 periods he was as good as it gets and then the third period he looked a little suspicious. He needs to play like the first 40 minutes for a full 60 and no one will beat the Bears.
  • Power Play | B+ | Only short of an A because of not converting the 5 on 3 in the 2nd. Sure they only had 20 some seconds I think but they were too passive in that time frame. GREAT job by Andrew Gordon for parking himself in front of Bernier...I was shocked that the Monarchs D just let him stand there.
  • Penalty Kill | A | Never let the Monarchs get setup and kept them on the outside when they did. 3 chances...3 kills.
  • Overall | B+ | Late in the second and throughout the third the Bears seemed to tire. It didn't hurt them that much obviously but it was a problem as they allowed 2 goals. I think they did what they needed to though...push hard in the first and feel the layoff effects late. There was no rust that I could see and hopefully they will get back into 60 minute game shape for game 2.

**I will have some pictures up from the game sometime tomorrow...check back to see them**

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

5 reasons Hershey will win series...and 2 reasons why they might not

Yesterday you saw my series preview. So today, game day, I wanted to give you my top 5 reasons why Hershey will win this series. But to be fair I am also giving you 2 reasons that they wouldn't.


I have been telling anyone who would listen for the last year that this is the deepest team in the AHL and not many teams can compete. And that is still true. Manchester is a good and relatively deep team BUT they don't have the quality of players Hershey has on its 3rd/4th line.

Hershey's 3rd/4th lines consist of players like Jay Beagle, Andrew Joudrey, Ashton Rome, Steve Pinizzotto, and Boyd Kane. Even Kyle Wilson and Francois Bouchard spend time on the 3rd/4th lines on this team. Most, if not all, of those guys would be at least 2nd line players for other teams in the AHL.

Hershey's depth will prove to be an advantage again in the third periods and late next week when the teams get to games 5-7. Game 5 is next Thursday which will make it a 5 games in 9 days for the two teams with 6 and 7 coming back to back next weekend (if necessary). Overall these teams could play 7 games in 12 days.

And Hershey's depth gives them a distinct advantage.

Aucoin, Giroux, Gordon

Is there a more dominant line in the AHL? I don't think so. Not even the MAG line last season was as good as these guys are.

During the playoffs they have combined for 20 goals and 24 assists in 9 GAMES!! Giroux has 10 while Gordon has 9 in the goals department and Coiner has 12 assists by himself. All of these guys are producing better than a point per game with Giroux at almost 2 points per game.

And they are not even the top 3 scorers on the team! Chris Bourque actually has more points than Aucoin.

This line has to figure out a way to beat Bernier for the Bears to win. I think they will.

A Complete and Healthy Defense

For part of the Albany series Hershey was without Patty McNeill, Greg Amadio, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson. Add to that Grant Lewis' injury and Sean Collins being out sick and you see that for the first couple of rounds Hershey has had an issue on the blue line.

Nothing against Dylan Yeo or Johann Kroll but there is a reason they spent most of the 09-10 season in South Carolina. They played well for the games they were in but if Hershey is going to win the Calder Cup they need their defense to be better.

Getting Carlson back is absolutely huge. In my opinion he is one of the best defenseman in the AHL currently. And Karl Alzner isn't far behind him. Neither player will spend much time in Hershey next season and both are critical pieces to the Bears Calder Cup aspirations.

Add to Carlson and Alzner a soon to be healthy McNeill and Amadio and the defense looks much better.

Healthy Goaltender

Entering the playoffs Michal Neuvirth had missed substantial time with injuries. And then hurt himself again against Albany. So having 13 days off will definitely help last seasons playoff MVP.

And honestly Hershey needs him because Braden Holtby has been below average in the playoffs so far. Holtby can not be relied on this year so it is Nuevy's job so long as he stays healthy.

So far Neuvy has been average in the playoffs with the exception of record where he is 6-0. But he is giving up 2.42 goals a game and is only stopping 89% of the shots he faces. He needs to be better.


This team has been here before. It's honestly as simple as that. Last year Hershey won the Calder Cup and there surely were challenges along the way including a 7 game series against the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins.

The Monarchs didn't even make the playoffs.

Sure, Manchester has now played (and won) 2 playoff series but the Eastern Conference finals are different. Now you are playing a team that you probably don't know very well (these teams played twice and not since early November) and can only go off of scouting and video.

But Hershey has the advantage of doing this 4 of the past 5 years. They know what they need to do to prepare for a team in the Atlantic division. They understand that it will be different than it was in the first 2 rounds.

They have been here before.


And now for 2 reasons why the Bears could have some trouble...

Jonathon Bernier

Okay so maybe I am beating a dead horse here as I keep mentioning the Monarchs young goaltender. But when you put up great numbers in 3 NHL games (3-0, under 2 gaa), a great regular season, and then you put up unconscious numbers in the playoffs you deserve all this respect.

A hot goaltender can do amazing things for a team. Think about it...Cassivi, Price, Neuvirth...they were all playing very well and carrying their teams during their runs. You have to have a goalie who can step up and win you some games.

The question for Bernier is, can he keep up the pace? He has given up 15 goals in 10 games! At some point the ice has to begin to tilt in the other direction. Can he hold up against the Bears attack? Can he win when the pressure is on in an elimination game?

The Monarchs can't answer those questions yet but they will likely need him to do that.

The Schedule

With the 2-3-2 format, the first 2 games become even more important. And with Hershey's long layoff these games could be much closer than they would like. If Hershey were to lose game 1 they would be in almost a must win situation for game 2 which all of a sudden puts all of the pressure on a team that has played one game in 17 days.

Not good.

Tonight's game is potentially (minus a game 7 anyway) the most important of the series. If Hershey wins they overcome what might be their biggest disadvantage early in the series, rust. Then the pressure is on Manchester because they don't want to go down 2-0 even with 3 straight at home.

If Manchester wins then Hershey will have 4 straight high pressure games before returning to Hershey for games 6-7. They would all but have to win game 2 and then still win at least 1 in Manchester.

In my opinion this schedule absolutely favors the Manchester considering the long layoff and then 3 straight in New Hampshire. BUT they still have to win 4 games before Hershey does which is not going to be easy.


There you go. Hershey is the more talented team in this series. They are favored to win. On paper they should absolutely win.

But you still have to play the games. And a hot goaltender can absolutely level the playing field immediately...just ask the Capitals.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bears/Monarchs series preview and my prediction

Tomorrow night the Hershey Bears finally get back to playing hockey against guys wearing different uniforms. After completing a 4 game sweep of Albany on April 29th the Bears have only been able to scrimmage against each other. It will have been 13 entire days since Hershey last took the ice when they host Manchester tomorrow night.

The questions that arises due to this is...

'Will there be rust?' and if so...'How much?'

We can only hope that they are used to not playing for a couple days/weeks and will therefore fall right back into their structure and winning ways. But 2 weeks is a long time.

I am legitimately worried that Hershey could be heading to Manchester on Monday with the series tied at 1 and 3 straight games in New Hampshire.

Back in December they had consecutive weeks where they didn't play for 5 days and both times they lost to Albany that first game back. Since then the coaching staff made some adjustments to practice times and styles to combat long layoffs.

BUT 13 DAYS?!?!

Hopefully I am wrong but I would say if you are going to, listening to, or watching the game tomorrow night don't be surprised to see or hear about Manchester controlling the play for the first 10-20 minutes.

More than likely the strategy for the Bears will be to weather the 1st period storm so to speak and expect to dominate the 2nd and 3rd periods.

Which in all honestly is exactly what they have been doing in the playoffs anyways so this really shouldn't affect them all that much.

Don't kid yourselves either...Manchester is good. This is not the same team that Hershey swept in the 06-07 Conference Finals (before running into the fighting Carey Prices' in the Finals). This Manchester team is very good and is getting even better goaltending right now.

Only 3 players remain on the Manchester roster that played in the 07 Calder Cup playoffs against the Bears, Kevin Westgarth, Gabe Gauthier and John Zeiler.

Hershey is different too as only 5 of the current Bears faced the Manchester team in 07. They are Giroux, Bourque, Wilson, Joudrey, and Sean Collins. And I don't think they all actually played but they were on the roster, more than likely some were just practicing with the team.

But this is a Manchester team who has been playing very well of late. Going back to the regular season this team has won 16 of 20 games and has only given up more than 3 goals twice in those 20 games (both losses by the way).

Remember that in the playoffs a team can achieve amazing things with a hot goaltender. Surely I don't need to remind you all of Carey Price (although I already did a few seconds ago) but without Price that series would have been MUCH closer and in my opinion it would have had a much better outcome.

This years hot goaltender...

Manchester's Jonathon Bernier. He came into the playoffs with a rock solid 2.03 goals against average and a .936 save percentage. And he has actually gotten BETTER after the first two rounds of the playoffs, allowing a ridiculous 1.48 goals against and sporting an insane .952 save percentage.

That means that on average you only score 2 goals on 40 shots. There aren't many teams that can manage to overcome those kind of numbers. Even the high powered Bears would likely struggle shooting that kind of a percentage.

What makes those numbers even more impressive is that the Monarchs have faced off against the Portland Pirates and Worcester Sharks so far. The #1 and #2 playoff seeds in the Atlantic and coincidentally the #1 and #2 teams in goals scored in the Atlantic.

Oh it gets more impressive...Worcester managed to score a whopping 10 goals in 6 games against Bernier and the Monarchs. This is the SAME Worcester team that finished SECOND in the AHL in goals for during the regular season behind your Hershey Bears.

This team could cause Hershey all kinds of problems. If you were or are of the mindset that this Hershey team was just going to skate into the Finals with their scoring...think again. This Manchester team could be a significant challenge.

If I was a betting man, I would say expect a return trip to Hershey before this series sees its conclusion. (my final prediction is at the very bottom of this post)

A few more notes, mentions, and analysis for the series:


Manchester is not nearly as good as Hershey in this regard but they are solid. They have scored 30 goals in 10 games compared to Hershey's 40 in 9 games. **when you only allow 15, as the Monarchs have, you don't have to score much**

Then again Hershey's defense hasn't been exactly dominant this postseason either giving up 27 in 9 games. If you play the numbers out then you would see that Manchester will average their standard 3 goals per game while Hershey will average only about 2.

But that's why they play the games on ice and not paper.

Top Scorers:

  • LW Bud Holloway (9) | He has 6 goals and 5 assists in their 1o games this playoff year. He also led them in points during the regular season with 47 and was second in goals with 19.
  • RW Trevor Lewis (11) | He is second on the team this postseason with 5 goals and has an additional 2 assists for 7 points.
  • There are a bunch of players with 2 or 3 goals and overall they have 14 guys who have at least one goal.
  • LW Alexandre Giroux (12) | 10 goals, 7 assists, almost 2 points per game in 9 playoff games...absolutely obscene.
  • RW Andrew Gordon (10) | 9 goals of his own, along with 5 assists puts him 3rd on the team in points with 14.
  • LW Chris Bourque (17) | He only has 4 goals this playoff year (only...ha!) but he has 11 assists which gives him a 2nd on the team 15 points.
  • Overall Hershey has 12 players with at least one goal. Surprisingly two fewer players than Manchester.


Defensive numbers are tough to make sense of as there really are no telling categories. They have +/- but in my opinion that only means something if there are a couple players that are way off the team average.

I will say this though. If you have a defenseman that was playing on the #1 pairing for a Stanley Cup contender (or so they thought) then he is probably pretty good. John Carlson is that player and add in to the mix another likely NHLer for next season Karl Alzner and you could get the impression that Hershey's defense is pretty good.

And it is. As for Manchester...they don't have anyone quite like that on their team. But Joe Piskula is tied for the team lead with a +8 so I would have to say that opposing teams don't score too much when he is on the ice.

Special Teams:

Hershey during the regular season was dominant on special teams, finishing 1st in both power play and penalty killing. But Manchester was pretty good too finishing 5th in both categories.

After looking at the stats I can say this...Hershey is a great power play team...on the road. At home Hershey is actually 13th in the league on the power play while they are 1st on the road converting almost 40% of their tries. This will help them when they play 3 straight in Manchester next week.

Overall though I would say this is a wash. Hershey is slightly better on the power play while Manchester is slightly better penalty killing. Neither team is great but neither team is awful either.

Although I will say this...Hershey needed to be that good on the power play on the road because they are only 14th (out of 16) in road penalty killing...allowing a whopping 30% success rate.


This will be the most interesting segment in the series. Last years playoffs MVP, Michal Neuvirth, versus this years top goalie to date, Jonathon Bernier. Bernier's numbers, mentioned earlier (1.48 gaa, .952 save %) are absolutely ridiculous. Overall the Manchester goalie has allowed more than 2 goals only twice in the postseason and both were losses.

Hershey hasn't had the same stability this year as Neuvirth has been unable to stay healthy but when he plays he is playing okay. He has a 2.42 gaa and a .890 save percentage. They aren't especially good numbers but when your team is averaging almost 4.5 goals per game you have a little more wiggle room.

But I am afraid that Neuvy is going to have to step up his game this series. More than likely the final scores will be closer to 3-2 than 5-4 and the way Bernier is playing Hershey's blueliners and Neuvy better be ready to protect 1 goal leads.

And now for the prediction....

I am a Hershey fan (obviously), a positive thinker, and an eternal optimist but this series scares me a lot more than it did two days ago now that I have looked at the numbers. This might be the toughest series for Hershey since the 05-06 Portland series which went 7 games.

I think Hershey wins but just so you know...I intend to be in Hershey next Saturday and Sunday (22nd and 23rd) for the 'if necessary' games 6 and 7.

Just for those of you who can't put all that together....

Hershey in 7

(and by the way I don't want the stress that I will surely be feeling if this goes 7 so I hope it is over next Tuesday night with a Hershey sweep)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Bears know opponent and schedule

The Hershey Bears finally have an opponent for the Eastern Conference Finals. The Manchester Monarchs defeated the Worcester Sharks last night in overtime to take the Atlantic division series 4 games to 2.

Here is the schedule:
  1. Manchester at Hershey - 5/12
  2. Manchester at Hershey - 5/15
  3. Hershey at Manchester - 5/17
  4. Hershey at Manchester - 5/18
  5. Hershey at Manchester - 5/20 (if necessary)
  6. Manchester at Hershey - 5/22 (if necessary)
  7. Manchester at Hershey - 5/23 (if necessary)

It is a 2-3-2 format which generally favors the lower seeded team in my opinion but in order to keep travel costs down this is the more favorable style in the AHL.

The trip from Hershey to Manchester is about 7.5 hours. So taking a bus trip up there on Sunday and staying until Friday isn't too bad. If they had to go back up again it would be a lot. And while flying is an option it is cheaper to take a bus.

But still I am not thrilled with the set up. This really favors Manchester at this point. Hershey is going to be coming into Game 1 having not played in 2 weeks and then after 2 home games they have to travel to New Hampshire for 3 straight.

No matter how you look at it though you still have to win the games on the ice. Whether they are here in Hershey or up in New England the Bears need to win 4 of the next 7 games to advance to the Calder Cup Finals.


Friday, May 7, 2010

2 weeks with no Bears hockey.....

Well the first couple games of the Eastern Conference Finals have been set....well the game dates have been set. The opponent will be known tonight or tomorrow night as the Manchester Monarchs are up 3 games to 2 over the Worcester Sharks with game 6 tonight and 7 tomorrow night if necessary.

Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals will be Wednesday night with game 2 scheduled for Saturday.

The question is...why wait so long for the games to start?

Hershey hasn't played since Thursday the 29th and there is sure to be some rust come Wednesday night. I mean in theory there would still be rust on Sunday or Monday but at least the opposition would be tired.

If Manchester were to win tonight the series COULD start Sunday night with game 2 Tuesday/Wednesday. Instead Hershey wants to make as much money as possible and is giving the opposition a chance to rest for a few days.

Now there are other factors that would have played into this decision....
  1. Starting the series this way means that game 5 (if necessary) will probably be around the 21st which is another weekend game for Hershey.
  2. The Western Conference finals won't be starting until about the same time so by delaying this round it keeps the Calder Cup Finals on a better schedule.
But I still think they could have started the series Monday with game 2 Thursday and still reached some of their goals.

Either way the dates are finally set. We will actually see hockey again in Hershey this season and I for one am seriously hyped.

If you are scoreboard watching....
  • Worcester @ Manchester - 7:30 tonight
  • Chicago @ Texas - 8:30 tonight (series tied 2-2)
  • Manchester @ Worcester - 7:05 tomorrow (if Worcester wins tonight)
  • Hamilton @ Abbotsford - 10:00 tomorrow (series tied 2-2)