Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Caps sent qualifying offers...and other news

Before the Monday deadline the Caps sent qualifying offers to their 9 restricted free agents. They include Jay Beagle, Chris Bourque, Andrew Gordon, Patrick McNeill, and Zach Miscovic.

That does NOT mean they will all be back within the organization but it does mean the Caps can match any offer they bring in.

If Bourque signs in Russia, which has been reported and he confirmed that he is TALKING to them, the Caps have no options as there is no agreement between the NHL and KHL for that type of thing.

I would be shocked if the other 4 weren't back in the organization next season and would be really surprised if more than 1 of them weren't in Hershey next year. But you never know.

In other news, Caps GM George McPhee says the team will be active in free agency but don't expect any big news. He also discussed the prospects:
  • He hinted that Perreault could be NHL ready and might get the opportunity to play on the 2nd line with Semin. I think that would be the right move.
  • He mentioned that the organization thinks Marcus Johannson (09 1st rounder), Cody Eakin, and Evgeny Kuznetsov ('10 1st rounder) might be ready for the NHL in the next season or two.
  • He confirmed that the Caps will go with Neuvirth and Varlamov in goal next season. (Again the right move) So in Hershey we will see Holtby and someone Hershey brings in to share the load....hopefully that will be Bacashihua but we will have to wait and see.

Free Agency starts tomorrow...lots of the questions will be answered early on as far as the Caps are concerned. But most of the Bears questions will not be known until later in the month and summer.

One more thing...are you interested in watching the Calder Cup Finals again?? You can this Saturday from 10-6 on NHL Network. They are showing games 3-6 back to back starting at 10am.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Could Hershey lose more players this summer?

I finally managed to get through all the photos we took at last Monday's Calder Cup clinching game. Unfortunately I have been unable to get the uploaded here. If you go to the Facebook page (link on the right) and visit the photos section you can see them.

We already know (all but definitely) that John Carlson and Karl Alzner are likely to be playing in Washington next season on a permanent basis. And it looks likely that Michal Neuvirth will join Semyon Varlamov in a Capitals uniform as well. That's 3 Bears that won't be in Hershey next season.

Will there be more?

I would say the answer to that is likely to be...yes there will be more.

As of this moment the Caps have 8 forwards, 6 defensemen (including Alzner and Carlson), and 2 goalies (including Neuvy).

So that leaves an opening for anywhere from 4-6 forwards and 1-2 defensemen to make the roster next fall.

But most important to the Capitals is probably a second line center. Tomas Fleischmann and his agent are hoping the Caps think he is the missing link. But he is going to have to improve on his 43% faceoff win percentage.

And he is going to have to agree to a contract. While the two sides are talking there appears to be nothing imminent. However, if a contract is not agree upon it is expected that Flash would choose arbitration in order to get a one year contract.

So while it is likely that Flash is in Washington next season, unless he is traded, the question he the answer at center?

I think Flash is as talented as anyone but he seems to lack the killer instinct that makes all the greats great. He doesn't seem to have an overwhelming need to be the best. He has surely worked extensively on his game and had his best season in the NHL with 23 goals and 28 assists in 69 games. But there is still need for improvement.

Sure he could be the answer at center but personally I think there is another player in the organization that deserves a shot.

Mathieu Perreault had a great year. In Hershey he played 56 games, scoring 16 goals and adding 34 assists during the regular season. In the playoffs he added 7 more goals and 12 assists in 21 games. Add to those numbers 21 games played in Washington where he totaled 4 goals and 5 assists.

He didn't exactly light the league on fire with offense but he proved that he does have the ability to contribute there. Part of his problem then was how he was used and experiencing an unknown. He is a playmaking center that needs to be on one of the two top lines. He isn't going to be effective as a 3rd line center. It was also his first taste of the NHL which for a 22 year old, 5'8", 166lb 6th round draft pick that is pretty big.

In Hershey he was at times dominant. No one on the Bears was as good at handling and controlling the puck like Perry. He seems to be able to do just about anything he wants with it.

He is willing to dig in the corners, rarely takes big hits, can maneuver away from anyone and in the playoffs showed a willingness to go to the front of the net looking for rebounds and deflections.

His size is the main thing standing in his way. But small forwards have thrived in recent years, Patrick Kane and Martin St. Louis come to mind immediately. I think Perry could be another one.

If he spends the summer getting a little thicker and stronger and works on his shot and goal scoring I really think Perry could get extensive time in Washington next year.

That would make 4 players from the Bears in Washington next season...will there be others?

It is surely possible.....

Friday, June 18, 2010

Change is in the air

Well the season is over and free agency begins in less than 2 weeks so it is already time to start discussing next season.

Who is under contract and who isn't for 2010-11? Well let me tell you:

First lets look at players who are unrestricted free agents...meaning they can sign anywhere they want on July 1:
  • Alexandre Giroux
  • Bryan Helmer
  • Kyle Wilson
  • Andrew Joudrey
  • Boyd Kane
  • Greg Amadio
  • Jason Bacashihua
  • Simon Ferguson
  • Dylan Yeo
  • Michael Dubuc
Not too bad a list but some big names. The two biggest (offensively speaking) are Wilson and Giroux.

First lets talk about Giroux...

I know I was saying this last year and he came back but I don't see Giroux in Hershey next season. Why? Because the Caps aren't interested anymore. He got to play 9 games for the Caps this season and they weren't very impressed. If he wants to play in the NHL I think it will have to be with someone else. He has said that if it was all about money he would already be in Europe so maybe he stays to win again.

Now to Wilson...

One of my favorite players honestly. A very good offensive player and has been in Hershey for parts of 4 seasons now. Unfortunately for Kyle he is now considered a Vet. He has played in 291 regular season games in professional leagues. AHL teams are only allowed to dress 6 players on any given night that have played 260+. But Hershey only has 1 under contract right now, Keith Aucoin, that is a vet so that doesn't hurt too much at this point but considering other free agents they want to sign who knows. The bigger issue is does Washington want to keep him around? He would have to clear waivers to go up and down and he plays center...a position of depth within the organization. He got to play in his first 2 NHL games this season and had 2 assists. I wouldn't be surprised to see him go either way.

Names most likely to see return next season from that list:

Helmer, Joudrey, and Kane. None will be 2 way deals but I think all 3 would be happy to return to Hershey. Kane and Helmer are both veterans which would hurt other veterans like Wilson and Amadio. Joudrey is just a great defensive forward who will add a goal from time to time. Constant hustle and great penalty killing likely get him another go in Hershey if he wants it.

The team would surely like to have Bacashihua back but he is looking to be a number 1 goalie somewhere and that won't happen in Hershey unless there are injuries.

Now lets look at the restricted free agents. If these players are offered qualifying offers by the 28th of June they can still sign with another team but the Caps have the right to match any offer and would receive compensation for them if they sign elsewhere. If they do NOT receive qualifying offers by the 28th they become unrestricted free agents:
  • Chris Bourque
  • Patrick McNeill
  • Andrew Gordon
  • Jay Beagle
  • Zach Miscovic
I can all but guarantee that McNeill, Beagle, and Miscovic will be back. Neither Beagle or Miscovic would have to clear waivers so they can go up and down freely and McNeill showed a lot of growth this year and I don't think the Caps will let him get away.

The other two though are more interesting. I think Gordon gets an offer because he has a legitimate shot at making the Caps next season but he has to clear waivers to come to Hershey so don't be surprised if we don't see him in Hershey again.

Bourque is the most interesting case though. First of all he is a veteran, having played in 352 games so far in his career. Second he had an outstanding year in Hershey. The question the Caps think he can play for them? If so then you can watch him play for the Caps but it isn't likely you will see him Hershey because he probably won't clear waivers. The other possibility with Bourque is trade-bait. His value will probably never be higher than it is right now so the Caps might sign him to trade him at the draft.

So who is left for the Bears next season?

These players are under contract with Hershey/Washington for 10-11:
  • Braden Holtby
  • Michael Neuvirth
  • John Carlson
  • Sean Collins
  • Karl Alzner
  • Keith Aucoin
  • Steve Pinizzotto
  • Francois Bouchard
  • Mathieu Perreault
  • Stefan Della Rovere
  • Anton Gustafsson
  • Trevor Bruess
  • Josh Godfrey
  • Joe Finley
  • Dmitry Kugryshev
  • Cody Eakin
  • Dustin Stevenson
  • Jake Hauswirth
Who is most likely to make the Caps from that list...Carlson, Alzner and Neuvirth are probably locks assuming the Caps don't sign a goalie. But after that Perreault or Coiner could get a shot but not likely both of them if either. Everyone else (except Eakin) will see time in Hershey next season. Eakin is not yet 20 which makes him ineligible to play in the AHL until after his junior season ends.

I will have much more on this list next week.

And finally here are the players under contract with Hershey next season...they are not 2 way deals with the Caps:
  • Johann Kroll
  • Ashton Rome
  • Grant McNeill
  • Patrick Wellar
  • Nikita Kashirsky
Those players will likely spend time in Hershey next season. Kashirsky, for those of you that don't know (like me), is a forward that spent time in South Carolina last year and was loaned to Syracuse and Manitoba for parts of the season.

I will have much more about the players on Hershey's roster and potentially on Hershey's roster next week. It is a very intriguing offseason because the Caps actually have some spots open this season unlike last year.

In addition to that the Caps have alot of players becoming free agents after next season so that has to factor into their decision this year on players like Bourque, Gordon, Beagle, and Wilson. They might need a couple of them in 2011-12.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


What a season! From the first drop of the puck back in October until the Cup was raised on Monday night the Bears completed what is arguably the greatest season ever for an AHL team!

I didn't get down to Giant Center last night for the celebration but I found the below picture to be quite amusing. The goalie just looks out of place! (I borrowed this picture from and Patriot News photographer Chris Knight)

It was definitely a championship season to celebrate! Hershey was picked to win before the season started and managed to follow through on all the hype and all the potential.

All season long they broke records and separated themselves from the other teams in the league.

Overall the Bears broke 11 club records and 6 AHL records.

Here are the records that were set this season (records with * are also AHL Records):
  • 60 Wins*
  • 123 Points
  • 34 Home Wins*
  • 26 Road Wins
  • 12 Consecutive Wins
  • 24 Consecutive Home Wins*
  • 2 100+ point scorers (Alexandre Giroux and Keith Aucoin)
  • 8 Overtime Wins in the Playoffs*
  • 3 Overtime games in one playoff series (Albany and Manchester)
  • 8 Consecutive playoff series won*
  • 380,791 Regular Season Attendance

the 11th Calder Cup in Franchise History...still more than any other franchise in AHL History!!

They also became the first team in AHL history to lose their first 2 games of the Calder Cup finals at home and still win the Cup!

AND they are the first team to repeat as Calder Cup Champs under the current playoff format which requires a team to win 4 series and 16 games.

Can Hershey become the first team since the 59-62 Springfield Indians to win 3 straight Calder Cups???

Who knows but one thing is certain...we will all be around to see them try next season!!


**Check back later this week as I promise to get all (or some) of the pictures I took on Monday night up on the site.

**And definitely keep checking in as our focus turns to the 2010-2011 season and what that team might look like. Lots will be happening in the coming weeks so stay tuned.

Monday, June 14, 2010

That's 11!!!


Wow...what a game, what an atmosphere!!

11,002 fans in the building tonight and it sure sounded like it. I have never heard that building that loud and I have seen musical acts in there too!

Earlier today I was talking to my dad and I said it would be 3-0 after 1 period and I wasn't far off. In 05-06 and in 08-09 they jumped out to big leads and took much of the suspense away.

Thankfully they did that again tonight. Not sure how many of us would have liked seeing a close game. It was perfect just how it was.

4 goals...all by defensemen (Alzner, Carlson and 2 for McNeill)! Neuvirth was amazing yet again making 22 saves and earning his FIRST shutout of the postseason in the biggest game of the postseason!

Without question that was the most dominating performance of the postseason for the Bears. From the opening faceoff they controlled the play and honestly the outcome was rarely in question. In the first period alone Hershey outshot the Texas Stars 17-4!

This was the same team on the same ice that 9 days ago couldn't get 3 shots in the first period of game 1!!

I would challenge anyone to recall a game this entire SEASON where the Bears dominated like they did in period 1 tonight. And to do it in the biggest game, with all the emotion in the building and the expectations.....unreal!

Getting to see the Cup given to Helmer on home ice was special. Seeing all the players pass it around and spend time with their families...awesome!

This team just completed the unquestioned single greatest season in AHL history!!

Let that sink in for a while.....

Congrats to the Bears!!! Enjoy the celebration!!!


**I will have plenty more analysis, celebration, and pictures in the coming days...between my wife and I we took something like 500 pictures so there will be plenty to sort through**

Bears can clinch tonight!

Let's start this off right...

Does that get you pumped up?

No...then consider this...


11,000 fans...many of which wrote the Bears off after game 2...will fill the Giant Center!

Just stop and think about what it will be like in just over 9 hours tonight. Hell it will probably start around 5 this evening!!

Personally I am getting chills just thinking about the atmosphere. I will be in section 105 tonight and I hope I can't talk by the end of the game!

THIS could happen again tonight...except this time in front of 11,000 screaming Bears fans....

Tonight we chant....

Tonight the Bears complete the single greatest season in AHL history!!


Saturday, June 12, 2010

What a game!

Now that was playoff hockey! If you watched game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals and enjoyed the 6-5 game then you probably didn't like last night's game too much. But personally a great 1-1 game with back and forth action, big shots, big saves, and big hits is much more entertaining.

And that is what last night produced. Hershey trailed yet again in the first period 1-0 and while they were getting a good number of shots they couldn't seem to get anything by Matt Climie. Then in the 2nd coming out of a power play, Francois Bouchard beat Climie to tie the game up at 1.

From then on it was back and forth hockey. Both teams sustained pressure, both teams got some good chances, and both goalies came up huge on more than one occasion.

Hershey seemed to be getting more and many times better chances throughout the third period but couldn't quite get the winner.

The teams played into overtime for the first time this series where Hershey was actually out shot 9-6 but ended up getting the winner from Alexandre Giroux.

Honestly I thought Giroux was forcing things too much this series...trying to beat guys with skating and stick handling instead of getting shots or getting the puck deep. I think this explains why he has been held scoreless against a goaltender.

Until last night.

A puck bouncing around and knocked up in the air twice was corralled by the winger as he came in uncovered and put the puck through Climie's 5-hole for the game winner.

Awesome goal...Awesome game.

The Bears are now 8-1 in overtime games this postseason and their 8 game winning goals have been scored by 8 different players. Giroux, Andrew Joudrey, Chris Bourque, Kyle Wilson, Mathieu Perreault, Jay Beagle, and Francois Bouchard are the 8 guys with game winners in OT.

That is impressive.

Now the series shifts back to Hershey on Monday night with both teams trying to complete historic series wins.

If the Bears win the Cup they will be the 1st team in AHL history to lose the first 2 games of a Finals at home and still come back to win.

If the Stars are to win the Cup they will become only the 2nd team in AHL history to lose a game 5 when the series is tied 2-2 and still manage to win the Cup.

Who knows. Both teams have a shot. So far every game in the series has been won by the road team which favors Texas. Hershey is not your typical home team having only lost 3 times at Giant Center since November but Texas obviously isn't worried about that as they are responsible for 2 of those.

The Stars have been in this situation before. In the Western Conference Finals they were trailing 3 games to 2 when the series shifted to Hamilton for games 6 and 7. Well they obviously managed to win those 2 games because they are here now.

Can they do it again...this time for the Calder Cup? Or will Hershey win their 11th Cup?

All I know is that last Saturday's home game in Hershey was probably the quietest sold out crowd ever in that building.

Do you think it will be louder this Monday?

Hershey has a chance to do what they haven't done since the Calder Cup on home ice in front of their home fans.

The past 4 games of the series have seen new records for attendance at each building. Last Saturday stands as the highest attendance in Giant Center and each of the 3 games in Texas was a new record.

I am pretty sure you can count on a new record on Monday. EVERYONE will be there.


Friday, June 11, 2010

How important is game 5?

What makes a game big? Aren't they all big in the Finals? And what makes a game 'must win'?

Why are some games considered more important than others?

Obviously the current status of the series is a deciding factor. If a team is down 3-0 then game 4 is obviously must win.

But I think the main deciding factor has been the urgency of any particular game.

Coming into the series Hershey was confident. They had home ice and had only lost 1 time at home since 2009. They had just beaten a good Manchester team that gave them fits. And they surely read all the previews and paid attention to what was being said.

They thought they could win.

Texas came into the series knowing how good Hershey was. They knew Hershey was great at home. But they also knew that they had beaten 2 very good teams in Chicago and Hamilton.

So both teams wanted to win. Both teams knew it was a big game.

But the urgency level was higher for Texas. They knew that in order to win the series they are going to have to do what few other teams have done this in Hershey.

Winning game 1 was vital to their success in the series. They did it too. And they looked damn good doing it, shutting down the Bears vaunted offense in Hershey.

So then we moved on to game 2. In this game the 'urgency' should have been higher for Hershey. No one wants to go down 0-2 in a series, especially when both those games are being played at your home arena.

But remembering back to the game I still think the Stars treated the game with more urgency. Hershey came into the game saying things like...we didn't win 60 games for nothing; if we play the way we need to we will be okay...and feeling confident because, like all the fans, they knew they hadn't lost 2 at home since November.

Texas though knew all that too and came out strong and won game 2.

So now the series was 2-0 and headed to Texas. There were plenty of Bears fans leaving Giant Center last Saturday saying goodbye to ushers and saying Hershey was the way I hope none of you that were confident the series was over are coming to game 6 on Monday.

All of a sudden the 'urgency' was the feeling Hershey finally had. Last year they had this feeling in the Wilkes Barre series when they lost 3 straight and needed to win 2 games at home to advance. Up until they were down 2 games to none I don't think Hershey was playing with 'urgency'.

At the same time Texas was sitting comfortably. They were up 2-0 in the series and had the next 3 at home. The 'urgency' was gone.

Hershey won game 3.

And heading into game 4 the urgency was still there for Hershey as they couldn't go down 3-1.

So they won again.

But now the question is...who has more urgency to win game 5?

Hershey has some because they would love to put this series away as soon as possible but they also know that they have 2 games at home if needed.

Texas has a lot of confidence that they can win in Hershey but they have to be worried about having to win 2 there when facing elimination.

I would have to say that Texas definitely has more urgency tonight. If they lose this game then they have to win both games in Hershey. Not impossible but surely not optimum.

No matter what it will be an interesting game tonight. If Hershey can pull out the win, Giant Center will be rocking on Monday night in hopes of seeing the Bears win the Cup on home ice for the first time since 1980. If Texas wins there will be some worried fans in Hershey throughout the weekend and Monday.

One thing I do know...I won't use the word 'urgency' again in this post.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bears win creates a best of 3

So basically what you are telling me is the first 4 games of this series have meant....nothing.

We are right back where we started. Series tied. Bears have home ice.

The only differences now's a 3 game series and game 1 is in Texas. Oh and Texas is questioning their game a bit now while Hershey has found theirs.

Let's look back at last nights game for a second though...

First...the good:

French kept the lines the same and it worked again. Not quite as well as Monday night but 4 goals is still better than what they were doing. In addition to Bourque and Giroux still switched French also inserted Cody Eakin into the lineup. My only problems with that move were that it was for Ashton Rome and that Eakin disappeared from the ice after the 2nd period. But it worked out for the Bears.

The power play was great for the first time in a long time. 3 goals on 5 chances will stymie any defense and it definitely happened to the Stars last night. Texas is now the team taking questionable penalties and it cost them last night.

Much of last nights game was pretty even I thought. Hershey got on the board first, Texas answered with 2 goals before Beagle tied it up late in the second period. Then a too many men on the ice call gave Hershey a power play with less then 3 minutes to play in regulation. Hershey didn't squander the opportunity. John Carlson scored his first goal of the playoffs to give Hershey the win.

But not everything Hershey did was good...

Too many bad penalties still. What the hell was Amadio thinking on the interference call in front of Neuvy in the 2nd? I was watching on AHL Live and there wasn't a replay but Walton and Gregg Mace sure agreed with the call.

The too many men on the ice call almost cost them dearly but they overcame that thanks to bad Texas penalties. Pinizzotto took another useless penalty early in the game as well.

Overall it was better but still not perfect. If the Bears could manage to not take one bad penalty in a game they would likely win 4-1 against Texas. But that seems to be to difficult at this point.

The only other thing that seems to be hurting the Bears is the defensemen jumping up too much. This has been less of a problem in the last 2 games but guys are still getting caught. Last night I saw Amadio, Helmer, McNeill, and Carlson all get caught up ice at least once. Carlson does it multiple times a game and it cost him in game 3 but usually he can get back.

I like their aggressiveness and many of the goals are the result of guys keeping the puck in the zone but if you are going to make the play you better not miss. And Hershey blueliners miss a little too much.

It is like a good cornerback in the NFL...if he goes for the pick when the receiver runs the 10 yard out pattern he better at least get part of the ball. Because if he doesn't....the other team is dancing in the endzone.

Calculated risks. It is good to take them some times but you have to be careful. Now that we are down to a first team to 2 wins series a play like that can cost you the Cup.

Now a brief not about game 5. Hershey's fans are expecting a win. The Giant Center sold out of tickets for game 6 in less than 5 hours!! Why...because people are hoping (expecting) to see the Bears clinch the Cup on Monday night.

But don't count your chickens before they hatch. Hershey is back in control of this series and Texas has found themselves again backed into a corner. This has to be considered a must win for the Stars. Sure they won the first 2 in Hershey but the odds of them winning games 6 and 7 in Hershey are slim.

So Texas will give Hershey everything they have in game 5. And let's be honest...the last 2 games weren't nearly as important for them. Texas didn't HAVE to have those wins....Hershey did. But now Hershey doesn't HAVE to have game 5...Texas does.

Hershey needs to be ready for everything in game 5. Texas is going to push for some goals which could turn into some odd man rushes for the Bears but I have seen possible odd man rushes turn into defensive zone turnovers by Hershey this series...too many of those will see Hershey returning home having to win 2 for the cup.

The Bears have to be on their best behavior (Pinner that is for you) and they have to be cautious with their passes. Not to the point that they don't push the limit but make sure you are ready if it doesn't work.

I think they will be okay!


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Is French serious or is this playoff posturing?

Just got done reading the article from the Patriot News' Bob Flounders who is in Austin covering the Bears for the paper. He talks about how the line changes on Monday night seemed to have a real effect on the team.

And then he interviews Coach Mark French who said this...
"There's in game adjustments that you make, and they're more situation driven than anything else. We'll look at our line combinations and see what we want to do. I don't know if it did anything particular other than at times, it shakes things up."

So basically French is saying that maybe he will go back to the first period lines from Monday night for tonight's game 4.


Hopefully this is just the traditional playoff posturing that goes on in all sports. He is just trying to keep the Stars from making changes to combat the line adjustments.

We will find out in 10 hours.

Personally I think the changes had more than just a 'shake up' effect. It actually evened out the lines by giving the top two lines a playmaker, a grinder, and a scorer. That gives you the balance for these lines to compete no matter what the defense does.

In addition to that the move of Ashton Rome to the third line in place of Boyd Kane was great. Rome is a good hard player who brings some offensive skill. Mostly though he is more likely to keep up with Bouchard and Wilson than Kane was.

I can't help but feel that if he does go back to the original lines the Bears are likely to regress back to their old tricks and try to beat the Stars with cute passes and stick handling. Maybe I am wrong but personally I would rather not find out.

Tonight's game is a must win for the Bears. Technically they are still alive with a loss but that would mean they would have to win 3 straight to win the Cup. Not impossible but definitely not optimum.

If they win tonight however they regain home ice and only have to win a best of 3. Two of those games would be in Hershey...which aren't guaranteed wins anymore but I am pretty sure Hershey would come out swinging in those games.

Right now I would say that Texas is still the favorite to win the series but if Hershey wins tonight I can guarantee you that Hershey would become the favorite.

Remaining patient, staying out of the box, and playing a slow but effective game of dump and chase will result in a Hershey win.

It really is that simple.


Some other news that came out yesterday:
  • Giant Center will be open this Friday night for a free admission, free parking viewing party for game 5. Do you think we can get more fans to watch on the big board then the Stars building can even hold (6,700)???
  • Development camp dates were announced. July 12-17 at Kettler Capitals Iceplex with the camp scrimmage on July 17. This event is open to the public.
  • Rookie camp will begin Sept 11 and run until the 18th before the veterans report for training camp.
  • The AHL has announced that its six most senior cities will kick off the 2010-11 75th Anniversary season against each other. Hershey will play Rochester, Springfield vs Providence, and Syracuse vs Lake Erie (Cleveland). Throwback uniforms will be worn by the teams as well.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Relax...Bears aren't out of woods yet

I just read Tim Leone's write up in the Patriot News from last nights game and he seems to think that Hershey will win the next 3 games and end this series in 6 games. It surely is possible but I would say that is a long way off.

Remember...this series can still end in Texas this week.

Yes the Bears won 6-3 after trailing 3-1 after one period. Yes they dominated the last 3o minutes of the game. Yes Hershey seems to have found their legs and scoring ability.

But there are still 2 games in Texas and Hershey is still down 2 games to 1. Texas still dominated the first 30 minutes last night. And Hershey still has players who insist on taking bad penalties.

Things aren't that much different as they were after game 2 in my opinion. I didn't think Hershey was that far from winning games 1 and 2. But last night had to affect both teams confidence levels.

Ask any hockey person and they will tell you that the worst lead in hockey is a 2 goal lead.

Why? Because the team in the lead relaxes just a bit and the team trailing throws caution to the wind and goes for broke.

That could have been part of things last night. Texas was up 3-1 after the first period and you know their confidence level was through the roof at that point. And Hershey was down 3-1 and on the verge of going down 3-0 in the series so you know they were putting it all on the line.

Was that the only reason Hershey won? Absolutely not. The Bears have more talent and offensive ability than any other team in the league, no one can argue that. The biggest problem Hershey faced in games 1 and 2, as well as the first period of game 3, was their own stubborness. They insisted on doing things their way instead of doing things the BEST way.

They seem to have figured that out.

I never stopped believing after game 2 so I still believe Hershey can (and will) win the series but I also think it is a mistake to think Hershey has definitely turned the corner. My main fear now is that their confidence grew so much in the last 2 periods that they will lighten up going into game 4 and give Texas hope.

Sure they made the necessary line changes...Bourque to the top line and Giroux down to the 2nd and Rome to the 3rd line...but Texas will be ready to go Wednesday night. Hershey has to stick with what is working....get the puck in deep and get it to the middle.

Leone did make one excellent point in his piece this morning...Texas has to get tired at some point. They are coming off of two 7 game series and are in a physical battle with Hershey. Are they at that point like Leone suggested? I am not convinced but they are surely approaching it. Once they hit that point Hershey should have full control of the series. Was that last night? We will see on Wednesday.

Hershey still needs to work hard and be more disciplined. No more bad penalties. Amadio was taking them last night as was Helmer and Pinner. It is time to stop. You can't win this series if you are sitting in the penalty box.

The line changes made after the first period last night MUST REMAIN. You can't put them back unless there is an injury. Bourque adds a level of energy to the top line that they didn't have before and Giroux adds a scoring element that didn't exist on the second line before.

Sure Gordon and Perreault capitalized last night and they weren't part of the changes. So you might think that it had nothing to do with the line changes. And if you think that, you haven't been paying attention.

Goals scored with original lines = 5 in 7 periods
Goals scored with new lines = 5 in 2 periods

The energy and styles of both lines changed when French switched Bourque and Giroux. By far the best (and probably toughest) decision he has made this season.

Game 4 is still a must win for the Bears though. They win that and they regain home ice advantage as the series turns into a best of 3 with 2 games in Hershey.

Tim Leone thinks Hershey could actually win both remaining games in Texas and I agree. But they better play like they did in the 3rd period of last nights silly penalties and no frills hockey.


Monday, June 7, 2010

Hawks did it...How About Hershey?

Read yesterday's post by clicking here before reading this.

Last night I watched the Flyers/Hawks game and couldn't help but think...that is EXACTLY what the Bears need to do.

The Hawks were struggling in Philly to get much offense going until the 3rd period of game 4 when they adjusted all their lines.

They decided that they didn't want to have their Stanley Cup dreams end without trying everything. So they took their top line and broke them up. And they didn't just switch a player here or there...they took Byfuglien, Kane, and Toews and put them on 3 separate lines.

And guess what....IT WORKED!

The other strategy they employed was what the Hershey players can't seem to execute...getting the puck in deep. When you cross the red line fire it in around the boards and go get it.

That does 2 things. 1, it gives you the chance to get the puck deep in the zone and create. And 2, it pulls the Stars out of the middle of the ice which opens up passing and shooting lanes.

Chicago used those approaches perfectly last night in their 7-4 win in game 5. They had the advantage of actually winning their home games before being dominated in 2 games on the road.

But Hershey was not dominated by any stretch. They were in both games until the end and honestly had chances to win the games.

Will line changes work for the Bears? Who knows. Will keeping the lines the same work? Maybe.

The benefit of switching the lines is, because of lack of playing time as a unit, you force them to go back to basics. Get the puck in deep, shoot more, crash the net.

Right now Hershey's problem is that guys like Aucoin and Giroux have been playing together for so long (2 seasons) that they know what each one does well. The problem....Texas knows that too and they are built to stop it.

Hershey is up against it now. They have to win at least 2 in Texas over the next 5 days or they will be golfing by the weekend.

No team in AHL history has a team lost games 1 and 2 at home in the Calder Cup Finals and still won the cup. None.

Hershey has been rewriting the record books all season. Whose ready for one more?


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Fool me once, shame on you...Fool me twice....

It is truly this simple....

Hershey can not defeat the Texas Stars playing their game.

That's it.

They need to adapt their style to combat the team they are up against and to date they have been unwilling to do so. If you want to know the style they need to play look no further than Andrew Gordon's goal last night. They got the puck in deep, cycled it around, got it to the point for a shot on goal, and got the rebound.

Simple. But boring and not a lot of fun. And surely not what Hershey has been doing for the past 7 months.

Hershey CAN still win this series. They only have to win 4 out of 5. Not an impossible task, they did it against both Albany and Bridgeport earlier this spring. But it will be difficult.

There has to be a change in philosophy by the entire team. Only one line has produced consistent pressure and that is the Chris Bourque, Mathieu Perreault, and Jay Beagle line. You know why? Because they get the puck in deep and cycle.

Why does that work? Because it pulls defenders away from the middle of the ice which opens up passing and shooting lanes. Now that line hasn't executed perfectly either. They hesitate to shoot because there isn't a true shooter/scorer on the line but they have had opportunities.

The Kyle Wilson, Boyd Kane, and Francois Bouchard line has done a solid job but let's be honest...Kane is out of his element. He isn't going to produce goals or assists. Wilson is a former 30 goal scorer for the Bears who isn't getting anything going on this line. He needs another element here...some energy.

The biggest problem right now is the top line. They still insist on doing the things they did all season. It is straight stubbornness right now. Alexandre Giroux thinks he can beat any defenseman one on one but in this series he continues to turn the puck over shortly after entering the offensive zone. Keith Aucoin continues to try to make cute passes to set up Giroux and Andrew Gordon instead of just shooting the puck and getting rebounds. Gordon is playing okay but he is still getting his legs back.

So it's time for some changes and they need to be drastic. Certain players need benched and lines need broken up.

First let's go over the lineup changes, who dresses and who doesn't.

I like Greg Amadio. He is a tough and physical defenseman but he is hindrance on this blue line. Sean Collins played like crap in game 1 too. Bench both players and start Zach Miscovic instead. You need defenseman who will get shots to the net and create opportunities. Give another guy a shot.

Sit Kane. I know he scored the winning goal against Manchester and he is a hero from 05-06 but this is 09-10. Put Cody Eakin back in with Joudrey and Ashton Rome on the 4th line. This will help the energy level and these guys might even produce a goal or two.

Sit Steve Pinizzotto down and tell him to stop being stupid and start playing hockey. No more dumb penalties. And then put him on the third line with Wilson and Bouchard. He will be the energy and grinder to help those two scorers get opportunities.

Now for the biggest change.

Break up the top line. I know it is late in the season to mess with chemistry but this line will NOT PRODUCE against Texas doing what they do.

Drop Giroux to the 2nd line and move Bourque up. This is a huge risk but I think it has to be done NOW.

Bourque will dig pucks out of the corner and get it to Aucoin to make plays. Giroux is not as good at that skill as Bourque is and neither is Gordon. Currently the top line has 2 scorers and a playmaker. What they need is a grinder which Bourque has been for much of the playoffs.

That move also helps the 2nd line. Now you have a scorer to help Perry. Perry IS the best stick handler on the team but without a scorer on his line he has limited ways to produce. Beagle will play the grinder role, digging pucks out of the corners and getting the rebounds.

Something has to be done and personally I think this needs to be done soon.

Hershey can still win this series. They have been making history all season...this is just one more opportunity.

But things have to change and they have to change now.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Bears lose game 1

Well that didn't go according to plan. Hershey managed just 2 shots in the first period, struggled for much of the game offensively, and lost 2-1 to the Texas Stars.

And if it wasn't for Michal Neuvirth making some big saves the game likely would have been much more lopsided.

Overall I would say that Hershey underestimated the Stars a bit. They came out slow in the first period and continued the unsuccessful attempts at cross ice passes for the entire game. The Stars defense is very good positionally and at blocking shots but the shots that were getting through were creating rebounds. Yet Hershey didn't try to shoot when they had open looks...they waited until a Stars player was standing in front of them.

I understand the idea of getting a screen in front of the goalie. And that did work for parts of the game but for the first 30-40 minutes Matt Climie looked very uncomfortable in net. He wasn't seeing the puck well and was giving up rebound after rebound. Unfortunately Hershey couldn't get the puck past him.

And then the physicality started. And it started with Climie. In the 2nd period there was a minor collision with the Stars goalie who took the contact personally. Can't remember who exactly was involved but I am pretty sure Alexandre Giroux had a part in it. Either way Climie was a better goalie after that happened.

Then the 3rd period came and emotions picked up more. Andrew Gordon threw what looked to me anyways to be a fairly questionable hit on Stars defenseman Andrew Hutchinson at the Stars bench. Hutchinson had his back to Gordon and was slightly bent over when Gordon plowed into him sending the Stars defenseman into the boards awkwardly.

No penalty was called on Gordon for the play which did not sit well with the Stars. And I can't blame them one bit, that hit occurs on John Carlson or Karl Alzner and fans might have rushed the ice in was a little dirty.

Matt Stephenson tried to take matters into his own hands. He almost immediately left the bench (not sure if there was a legal change or not) and him, along with the other Stars on the ice, were making a beeline for Gordo. And the Bears knew it was coming too. All the Hershey players on the ice formed a wall between the Stars and Gordon which caused a 10 player scrum for a few minutes.

It doesn't seem to take long for bad blood to surface during a Calder Cup Finals series and it surely didn't take long last night. Even though these teams have never faced off against each other there is plenty of animosity to go around.

Now let's get back to what Hershey did wrong...

Too much passing and stick handling. Every time down the ice they wanted to make the perfect pass instead of shooting. I am not one to yell shoot at the players but last night it would have made sense. And the stick handling complaint goes mainly to one player but plenty had a problem with it. Chris Bourque played phenomenally at both ends of the ice for much of the game but on MORE THAN ONE OCCASION he passed up a shot and tried to make a move around a guy only to get the puck poke checked away. The other players would have been Giroux, Mathieu Perreault, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson.

Defensemen getting greedy. More so than at any other time during the playoffs I thought the Hershey defensemen jumped into the offensive zone too much. Texas is an opportunistic team with good speed and excellent positioning. When a player like Carlson or Patty McNeill jump into the play and turn the puck over it leads to an odd man rush. The game winning goal was scored because Sean Collins tried to jump up into the play but missed the puck and it was a turnover going the other way. Stay back and stay in position, keep pucks in the zone, and take shots at the net when you receive passes at the point.

Trying to skate puck into the zone. One of the most frustrating offensive styles to watch is the dump and chase method but it can be effective. Hershey last night tried almost every time to skate the puck through the neutral zone and get it deep while in possession of the puck. The problem was that Texas either stood them up at the blue line or poke checked the puck away as they were skating to the dots. The times when Hershey actually played dump and chase they seemed to be successful. In the Manchester series this style didn't work because Jonathon Bernier was an excellent puck handling goalie but Climie does not seem to be as talented. Get the puck deep, start cycling, get shots from the point and be ready for the rebounds.

Honestly I thought Texas played outstanding hockey last night. But they aren't Manchester. I know the Stars fans and Tim Leone think they are similar and probably better than Manchester on defense but I disagree. Manchester gave up few odd man rushes through the entire series while Texas gave up multiple last night. Manchester always had 2 guys back and all 5 players would bunch up in front of Bernier when the puck was in the zone. The Stars defense jumped into the play often and they played more traditionally in the defensive zone. What Texas does so well is block passing lanes. If Hershey shoots instead of passes on half of those attempts they end up with 40+ shots in the game. You won't beat the Stars by passing it from one side of the ice to the other.

Game 2 becomes a must win for the Bears in my opinion. With 3 games in Austin coming next week being down 2-0 would be tough to overcome.

The goaltending was phenomenal for the Bears last night. Now the offensive and defensive games have to catch up.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bears/Stars Series Preview

We are about 57 hours away from the opening faceoff for game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals. Hershey is playing in their 4th Calder Cup Finals in the last 5 years and their 22nd overall. The Texas Stars are playing in their first.

How Did Both Teams Get Here?


Hershey was the #1 overall seed in the AHL this season after accumulating 123 points during the regular season. They scored 342 goals and allowed only 198 while winning 60 games. They finished 29 points ahead of second place Albany in the East division.

During the playoffs Hershey is 12-3 with 55 goals for and 39 goals against. They have gone 8-0 at home and 4-3 on the road. And they are 7-1 in overtime games during the 2010 playoffs. They have come from behind in the third period to win in 9 of their 12 victories.

In the playoffs Hershey needed 5 games to eliminate the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the first round and only 4 games to eliminate Albany in the East division finals.

Then in the Eastern Conference Finals they faced the Manchester Monarchs in what ended up being an epic 6 game series that saw 4 overtime games and only one game decided by more than 1 goal. Hershey won 3 of those overtime games.


Texas finished 2nd in the West division, 6 points behind the division champ Chicago Wolves. They scored 238 goals and allowed 198 while going 46-27-3-4.

Overall the Stars are 12-6 during the playoffs. They have scored 56 goals and have allowed 47. They are 5-2 in overtime games, 6-2 at home, and 6-4 on the road.

In the playoffs they started it off with a 4 game sweep and beating of Rockford in the first round as they outscored the Ice Hogs 15-5 in the series.

Then they faced off against the AHL's #3 seed, the Chicago Wolves, in the West division finals. That series ended up going 7 games with 3 overtime games. Early in the 2nd period of game 7 Texas was down 4-2 on the road before scoring 4 goals to Chicago's 1 which resulted in a 6-5 overtime win.

Which got them a date with the AHL's #2 overall seed, the Hamilton Bulldogs. Another 2-3-2 series format kicked off with Hamilton winning the first 2 and Texas taking the next 2 before game 5 and the final game in Texas for the series. I thought Texas had to win that game to win the series. They lose game 5 and they have to win 2 straight in Hamilton.

Well they lost game 5 in Texas but won games 6 and 7 in Hamilton to end the Bulldogs season. In fact they needed more dramatics in game 7. Yet again they were down 2 early in the 2nd period before storming back with 4 goals. This time they were all unanswered goals and no overtime was required and Texas was headed to Hershey.



Michal Neuvirth is the man in Hershey again. Overall he is 10-2 with a 2.17 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. In the Manchester series he went 4-2 with a 1.85 goals against average and a .936 save percentage. He always seems to step up in big games and is as clutch as any goaltender in the league.


Brent Krahn started 10 games early in the playoffs before suffering an injury and giving way to Matt Climie. Climie started one game against Chicago (filled in for 2 other games too) and in all 7 games against Hamilton. Overall he is 5-3 with a 2.62 goals against average and a .922 save percentage in the playoffs.



Incredibly deep unit with guys like Amadio and Miscokic not even dressing for some games. Karl Alzner and John Carlson lead the blue line and are as good as any pairing in the league. Next season they will likely be blue line mates in Washington.

Bryan Helmer leads the team with a +11 rating while Alzner leads the defensemen in scoring with 2 goals and 4 assists in his 14 playoff games. But Patrick McNeill was the hero late in the Manchester series with an assist, goal, and huge save in the clinching game 6.

Overall they are as good a unit as their is in the league. There are guys who can jump up on the rush and become wingers, Carlson and McNeill, and guys who are as sound positionally as anyone, Alzner and Helmer. Add in players like Ammo, Wellar, Sean Collins and Miscovic and they truly go 8 deep.


Defensive numbers are hard to quantify. Especially when you don't see a team play. Texas has 4 defensemen in the top 9 playoff scorers. Leading the way and 2nd on the team in points is Andrew Hutchinson who has 4 goals and 1o assists in 18 games. Dan Jancevski, who has 1 goal and 9 assists, is the team leader in plus minus with a +12.

Offensively they have 4 defensemen with 7 or more points which is 4 more than the Bears have. But again that doesn't say too much considering I have yet to see Texas play.



Is there a better offense in the league? No. You don't score 342 goals during the regular season unless you are the best. They have since added 55 more in 15 playoff games. And they will be fully healthy for game 1 with Andrew Gordon coming back and Mathieu Perreault getting over his injuries as well.

For much of the Manchester series the Bears depth advantage was non-existent due to Gordon being out and the lines getting shuffled around. There were a couple games, when Hershey dressed Della Rovere and/or 7 defensemen, that they Hershey 4th line barely saw any ice time. While that is common place in the AHL it has been extremely rare for the Bears who have have run 4 lines each and every game for the last 2 postseasons.

It is a distinct advantage for a team if they continue to do that. Obviously it has helped the Bears late in the 3rd periods as even when they are trailing they are still likely to win it seems.

While Texas has the overall scoring leader in the playoffs Hershey boasts 3 of the top 10 goal scorers in the playoffs, Bouque, Giroux and Gordon. Add assists to the topic along with Aucoin and Hershey has 4 of the top 7 in points during the playoffs.

Basically it comes down to this....Hershey's top line is an all-star line. Gordon has 10 goals, Giroux 12, and Aucoin has 18 assists during the playoffs. Then you look at the 2nd line and see Bourque who actually leads the team in points with 23 (7g, 16a) along with Perreault who has 5 goals and 8 assists.

You still have Wilson (4 and 6), Pinner (4/2), and Bouch (2/4) in their spots. Guys like Beagle and Kane are skating on the 3rd/4th lines for Hershey that would spend time on many teams 1st/2nd lines. The depth is unbelievable and it will be a difference maker again.


Texas does have one thing Hershey doesn't...the AHL goal and point scoring leader. Jamie Benn, the NHLer I might add, has 14 goals and 10 assists to lead all players. He played in all 82 games for the Dallas Stars this season totaling 22 goals and 19 assists this season.

There is apparently some rule that allowed Benn to play in the AHL playoffs even though he did not spend a minute there during the regular season. Not sure what it is but I am pretty sure it would have to do with junior eligibility but whatever.

After Benn there are a bunch of role players it seems. Like the defensive analysis it is kind of tough to really give proper analysis when you have never seen a team play.

As mentioned in my post last week, Travis Morin, the former Bear and Stingray, is in the top 5 in points for the team with 3 goals and 1o assists. Add to him and Benn other players (mainly centers) like Perttu Lindgren (6/8), Aaron Gagnon (6/3), and Warren Peters (4/3) and you see that while they don't have a dominating top line they do have depth.


Before the Manchester series I offered up a Bears in 7 prediction. It ended up close to that as Hershey won in 6 but it was definitely a closer series than many people thought it would be. But that was close because Manchester had the league's best goalie and a defense that blocked as many shots as anyone.

Does Texas have that? Not sure about the defense but considering they have allowed 47 playoff goals I would say they aren't. And they definitely don't have Bernier in goal.

Hershey has been here before, they are rested and healthy, and they are ready. Texas is talented don't get me wrong but they have already played two 7 game series against the #2 and #3 team in the AHL. They are not as rested and let's be honest...not as talented as the Bears.

Now if it all came down to paper we would all be getting rich betting on sports. They play the games for a reason. I haven't seen Texas this is kind of a tough pick to make. The Stars are obviously resilient having one 2 straight 7 game series on the road. But if the NHL is any indication their road ends here.

Montreal won 2 game 7s on the road in the NHL this season and I heard this stat. Every team that had done that before failed to win the following series.

Hopefully that translates to the AHL.

I think it will. While I would love to see Hershey win the game in 6 on home ice I am not certain it will get that far.

My pick...Hershey in 5.