Saturday, October 29, 2011

Last week I was playing roller hockey and our team went up 7-2 or something like that just after halftime.  As expected, we let our guard down and started goofing around too much only to see the other team come back and get 3 goals to make it 7-5.  Luckily we steadied out and finished off with an 8-5 win.

It would appear last night that the Bears fell into a similar situation.  Midway through the 2nd period the Bears found themselves up 3-0 after goals by Chris Bourque, Garrett Mitchell, and Jacob Micflikier. 

And then they apparently stopped playing their game.  I am sure they weren't goofing around like we were, but over the next 30 minutes they gave up 3 power play goals and eventually lost in overtime 4-3 against the Springfield Falcons.

Obviously the Falcons had a plan and stuck with it.  I didn't see the game or listen to it but based on the game sheet you can gather that the Falcons were likely running Braden Holtby throughout the game.  He ended up with 2 roughing calls in the 3rd period.  The tying goal came on the 2nd one.

Overall the Falcons took advantage of the Bears miscues.  Hershey gave them 5 power plays (all after they opened up a 3-0 lead) and Springfield took advantage.

Now its on to Glens Falls to face off against the Adirondack Phantoms. 

The Phantoms are coming off consecutive home losses (to Norfolk and Connecticut) and are finishing up a brief 3 game home stand against the Bears tonight.

The baby Flyers are 5-3-0-1 on the season and are currently sitting in 2nd place in the Northeast Division with 11 points. 

Tonight is the first of 4 meetings between the recent division rivals with the next game coming outside at Citizens Bank Park on January 6th.  It will be different not seeing the Phantoms so much each season now that the clubs are in different divisions.

So far this season the Phantoms boast a solid offensive team.  They have scored the same number of goals as Hershey, 33, albeit in one additional game.  33 goals puts the teams tied for second in the AHL, behind only Norfolk's 40 goals.

Denis Hamel leads the team in goals, 7, and points, 11.  2 other players, Eric Wellwood, and rookie Harry Zolnierczyk (how the hell do you pronounce that) are averaging over a point per game as well.  Braydon Schenn was averaging 2 points a game but has since been recalled to Philadelphia.

Unfortunately for the Phantoms they have also allowed 28 goals on the season.  And that is somewhat surprising considering they have Michael Leighton and Jason Bacashihua in net.  Leighton has seen the majority of the action, playing in 7 games compared to 3 for Cash, but both guys are solid veterans.  Leighton got the start last night so I wouldn't be surprised if Cash is in net tonight to face the Bears.

At the opposite end, Dany Sabourin, will get his 4th start of the season, looking to go 4-0 on the young season. 

The Bears will surely be looking to return to Hershey with a win tonight.  Hopefully they can make it 3 straight home losses for the Phantoms.


Friday, October 28, 2011

GameDay Preview: Bears @ Springfield Falcons

The Hershey Bears are in Springfield, Mass tonight for the first game of another 3 games in 3 nights that will see them travel about 800 miles this weekend.  Tonight will be the Bears only game in Springfield for 2011-12, unless of course the teams meet in the postseason.  After tonight the Bears travel to Glens Falls, NY to face the Phantoms before returning home to Hershey for a Sunday evening matchup with the Senators.

Former Bears Andrew Joudrey and Alexandre Giroux are both members of the Springfield Falcons.  Although, Giroux has spent the majority of the season with the Columbus Blue Jackets.  He was on the opening night roster with Springfield and played in 2 games before getting recalled to the NHL.  He hasn't been back since and he has played in 5 games with one goal so far for the Jackets.  Joudrey has played in all 9 games for the Falcons and has one assist on the season. 

The Falcons have been a bit Jekll and Hyde this season.  They started the season going 3-2 with 21 goals for and 19 goals against.  But over their last 4 games they are only 1-3 and have scored a combined 4 goals.  They have done better defensively though, allowing only 10 goals in those games.

Who knows which team shows up this weekend. 

Goaltending was obviously a concern after the first few games and it was addressed.  The Falcons started the season with rookies Allen York and Paul Dainton as their netminders.  That didn't work out so well.  Manny Legace and Danny Taylor have started the last 5 games and have allowed a total of 13 goals in those 5.  Taylor is the star right now.  He has 3 starts, is 2-1, and boasts a 2.00 gaa and a .941 save percentage. 

Unfortunately for the Falcons the improved goaltending and defensive play hasn't translated to wins.  And that is possibly because of recalls to the NHL.  Giroux only played in 2 games before getting recalled, Cody Bass, the former Binghamton Senator, played in the first 5 games (when the team scored 21 goals) before getting recalled to Columbus, and defenseman John Moore played in the first 4 games before being recalled for a couple stints.

None of those players are back in Springfield as of right now. 

Hershey comes into the game having not played for 4+ days.  Not since they put up 7 on the Syracuse Crunch last Sunday evening at Giant Center.

But despite the time off, they still have injury concerns heading into the weekend. 

Due to an injury to Mike Green, defenseman Sean Collins was recalled by the Capitals and won't be available for the weekend as he traveled with the club on a road trip across Western Canada that runs into the weekend.  In response to that the Bears recalled Paul Baier from South Carolina.

Otherwise Graham Mink and Danny Richmond are all listed as day to day while Ryan Potulny and Kyle Greentree are listed as week to week at best.  None of those players are expected to travel with the team for the games this weekend.

The one thing you don't see here though is any goaltending injuries to discuss (quick...knock on wood).  Both goalies in Washington are healthy, which means both Dany Sabourin and Braden Holtby will be dressed in Chocolate and White this weekend.  Braden is expected to start tonight in Springfield with Sabourin getting the go tomorrow night.  As of now the Sunday starter is to be determined, but I would imagine Braden will get the start.

So far this season the Bears are 4-0-0-0 on the road while their opponent tonight is only 1-3-0-0 at home.  Just sayin'.

Hershey Bears

record ~ 5-1-1-0 | 11 points
standings ~ 1st in East Division
most recent game ~ 3-1 Loss vs Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 10/22
last 5 games ~ 3-1-1-0
road record ~ 4-0-0-0
goals for ~ 30
goals against ~ 19
power play ~ 34.2% (2nd)
penalty kill ~ 89.7% (5th)

Springfield Falcons
record ~ 4-5-0-0 | 8 points
standings ~ 3rd in Northeast Division
most recent game ~ 2-1 Win @ Manchester, 10/26
last 5 games ~ 2-3-0-0
home record ~ 1-3-0-0
goals for ~ 25
goals against ~ 29
power play ~15.2% (20th)
penalty kill ~ 80.4% (17th)

last time teams met - This is the first of 2 meetings between the teams this season.  The Falcons will visit Giant Center on March 4, 2012.

Players to watch:


LW Chris Bourque (17) - he continues to lead the team in goals (5) and points (13) and is tied for the team lead in assists now too (8).  He has recorded a point in every game so far this season.
RW Matthew Ford (23) - he wasn't at practice Thursday but is expected to meet the team in Springfield today.  He is expected to take Mink's top line spot so he may benefit from playing with Bourque and Aucoin and expand on his 3 goals and 2 assists.
F Jacob Micflikier (18) - he started out slow (kind of) as he didn't register a point in the first 2 games.  Since then (5 games) he has 3 goals and 5 assists.


LW Nick Drazenovic (10) - leads the team in assists (8) and points (10).  He also has 2 goals this season.  9 of his 10 points came in the first 5 games of the season.
C Martin St. Pierre (39) - leads the team in goals (4) and is second in points (7).  He has scored in each of the last 2 games.
LW Dane Byers (34) - tied for second on the team in goals with 3.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Bears Handle Crunch

At one point in the 2nd period I looked up at the scoreboard and saw Hershey, Shots - 14.

The score was 5-0 Bears at that point.  It was that kind of night.

The game finished up 7-0 Hershey as the Bears picked up their first shutout of the season and their first until late January of last season. 

It started out close as the Bears were up only 2-0 at the end of the first and the Crunch had actually outshot the Bears 11-7 at that point.  The 2nd goal came with less than 4 seconds remaining in the period and it seemed to be a critical point for the Crunch last night. 

Seven different Bears scored goals last night.  Dmitry Orlov, Julien Brouillette, and Mattias Sjogren all picked up their first goals of the season (it was Sjogren's first North American goal) while Jacob Micflikier, Keith Aucoin, and Christian Hanson picked up their 3rd goals of the season and Chris Bourque scored his team leading 5th.

Bourque, Micflikier, and Brouillette also added 2 assists, as did Cody Eakin.  And while Andrew Carroll only recorded an assist it was his attempting to fight an entire line of Crunch players that endeared him to the crowd last night.  Midway through the 2nd there was a minor scuffle behind the Bears net after a whistle and I am pretty sure that Carroll managed to punch all 5 Crunch players.  It was impressive.

As for the rest of the game, once that first period ended there seemed to be little the Bears could do wrong and little the Crunch could do right.  Penalties, turnovers, and questionable goaltending doomed Syracuse over the final 40 minutes. 

The Bears had 6 power play opportunities (all in the final 40 minutes) and they converted 4 of those.  In turn they gave the Crunch 7 power plays and kept them from scoring on all of them (obviously).

It was good to see this type of performance from the Bears after the game Saturday night.  I know that the Crunch aren't the Baby Pens, at least in terms of rivalry, but they are a good team.  Kyle Palmieri, Patrick Maroon, and Nick Bonino came into the game with 13 goals in only 5 games this season.  Hershey held them to zero. 

Dany Sabourin was a big reason why.  He got the start in goal after being reassigned by the Capitals earlier in the day.  He faced 36 shots and stopped them all.  While I wouldn't say it was a particularly hard night for Dany, many of the saves he made were important and impressive. 

Overall the Bears, as a team, played very well.  Considering they came into the game winless at home this season it was good to finally see a (mostly) complete effort from the team. 

But don't let last night fool you.  Just like the Caps 7-1 win over Detroit on Saturday night is an indication on how good the Red Wings are, last night does not mean the Crunch are an easy opponent.  They will be good this year and I expect the remaining 5 games between the clubs to be very good games between two very talented teams.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

GameDay Preview: Bears vs Crunch

Well last night sucked.  It felt just like 2010-11 as the Baby Pens came into Hershey, controlled the play, and left with a solid victory. 

Hershey couldn't solve Pens goalie Brad Thiessen, 27 saves, until late in the 3rd period when the game was pretty much over.  The Pens solved Braden Holtby early as they scored 3 times in the first 31 minutes on their way to a 3-1 victory.

Considering the Bears couldn't beat the Penguins on home ice last year it was a tough game to watch.  Hershey did manage two victories over the Pens in 2010-11 but both came on the road (one in Pittsburgh and another in Wilkes-Barre). 

Boyd Kane picked up the lone Bears goal on a night that all in Hershey are hoping to not see again. 

But enough about last night...what's done is done.  Let's turn our focus to tonight's tilt against the Syracuse Crunch.  By the end of the season the Crunch could be Hershey's biggest obstacle to an East Division crown.

Last season the Crunch finished 6th in the East Division, 15 points out of the final playoff spot.  Last season the Crunch struggled to both score goals (2.71 per game, 24th in AHL) and keep them out of their own net (3.11 per game, 23rd).

They were a young team last season when 4 rookies finished in the top 6 in team scoring.  Many of those players and some additional youngsters are expected to take the next step.

Kyle Palmieri, Nicolas Deschamps, and Nick Bonino were rookies in 2010-11 and all finished in the top 5 in scoring on the team.  Peter Holland and Rick Schofield were late season additions after juniors and college, respectively, who both produced while in Syracuse.  Holland had 3 goals and 3 assists in his 3 games while Schofield had 3 goals and 4 assists in 7 games.  Add to that group rookie Kevin King, a teammate of Cody Eakin's last season with Kootenay, and you have a very young lineup ready to make some noise.

Patrick Maroon is also on the team.  And surprisingly he is still just a young prospect.  It feels like he has been around for years, but while he is already in his 4th AHL season he is only 23 years old as he was drafted out of the NAHL and not a CHL league making him AHL eligible immediately.  Maroon, after coming over from the Phantoms early in the season, scored 21 goals and added 27 assists in 58 games last year.

Add to that Dan Sexton, 9 goals and 8 assists in only 17 games, and Matt Beleskey, 11 goals and 13 assists in only 27 games, and you have another group of players that only spent partial seasons in Syracuse but are definitely offensive forces.

And they didn't rest on these players in the offseason either.  They added veterans Mark Bell, a former 25 goal scorer in the NHL, Nathan Smith, Troy Bodie, and Jean-Francois Jacques to an already deep forwards core.

Defensively they also added pieces...and good ones. 

Kyle Cumiskey, the NHL veteran, Bryan Rodney, Charlotte's captain last year, and Mathieu Carle, from Hamilton, were all brought in to the fold.  They join young Mat Clark and veteran Nate Guenin to make a fairly formidable blue line.

Goaltending is probably the biggest question mark for this team.  Last season Jean-Philippe Levasseur and Timo Pielmeier manned the pipes for most of the season.  Neither goalie had a goals against average under 3 and their save percentages were barely over .900.

Enter Iiro Tarkki and Jeff Drouin-Deslaurius for 2011-12.  Last season Tarkki spent the season playing in the Finnish Elite League and compiled a 22-22-9 record, a 2.44 gaa, and a .919 save percentage in 58 games.  Drouin-Deslaurius was in Oklahoma City, going 17-13-4 with a 2.81 gaa and .906 save %.  Both players could be considered upgrades from 2010-11.

The Crunch have not made the playoffs since 2007-08 but appear determined to do so in 2011-12.  The lineup might lack the depth of some of the other division rivals but the talent is definitely there.  It will be an exciting game tonight and an exciting 5 more between the clubs this season.

Hershey Bears
record ~ 4-1-1-0 | 9 points
standings ~ 1st in East Division
most recent game ~ 3-1 Loss vs Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 10/22
last 5 games ~ 3-1-1-0
home record ~ 0-1-1-0
goals for ~ 22
goals against ~ 19
power play ~ 28.1% (6th)
road penalty kill ~ 87.5% (6th)

Syracuse Crunch
record ~ 3-0-1-1 | 8 points
standings ~ 3rd in East Division
most recent game ~ 3-2 OT Loss vs Lake Erie, 10/22
last 5 games ~ 3-0-1-1
road record ~ 1-0-0-1
goals for ~19
goals against ~15
road power play ~23.5% (9th)
home penalty kill ~ 82.6% (14th)

last time teams met - This is the first of 6 meetings between the teams this season.  In 2010-11 the teams split their 6 games with the road team winning each game.

Players to watch:

LW Chris Bourque (17) - the team leader in goals (4) and points (10) needs to come ready to play tonight.
LW Boyd Kane (12) - the captain and veteran is being asked to step into a bigger role with Greentree and Potulny out of the lineup.  He has 2 goals this season, both on the power play.
C Keith Aucoin (11) - he sits at 2nd on the team in points (9) and leads the team in assists with 7.
RW Kyle Palmieri (21) - leading the team and the AHL in goals with 8 in only 5 games. 
LW Patrick Maroon (19) - second on team in goals with 4 and 3rd in points with 8.
C Nick Bonino (13) - leads the AHL and the team with 8 assists and is 2nd on the team in points with 9.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

GameDay Preview: Bears vs Pens

Last night in Albany the Bears came away with a 4-1 victory over a team they have dominated for the past year or so.  Braden Holtby made 18 saves while the Bears managed 23 shots and got goals from Cody Eakin (3rd), Matt Ford (3), Christian Hanson (2), and Boyd Kane (1). 

That's a win when you are expected to win. Exactly what good teams are supposed to the games you are supposed to win.

Now the Bears return home to face a team that dominated them for the past year or so, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. 

These teams have already met once this year when Hershey won 3-2 two weeks ago up in Wilkes-Barre Township.  This is the second of 12 meetings this season. 

Like the Bears, and most AHL teams, this Baby Pens team will look a little different than they did last year.  Last season they finished as the #1 seed in the AHL and were considered a top contender for the Calder Cup.  As we all know, they came up short losing to Charlotte in the East Division Finals (2nd round), but they had a good campaign leading up to that.

But some things changed up in Northeast PA.

Gone are leading scorer Brett Sterling and 20 goal scorers Tim Wallace and Nick Johnson.  Dustin Jeffrey and his 17 goals also left Wilkes-Barre, but he didn't go far and could return depending on Pittsburgh's health (he has only dressed for 1 NHL game this season). 

Otherwise many of the top names return.  Ryan Craig, Keven Veilleux, Eric Tangradi, Bryan Lerg, Geoff Walker, Zach Sill, and Ben Street were all double digit goal scorers for the Baby Pens last year and all are back with the team this season.  Veilleux hasn't played yet this season due to injury though.

The offense also gets some help in the form of Colin McDonald, rookie Brian Gibbons, and NHL veterans Jason Williams and Niko Dimitrakos.  McDonald scored 42 goals last season playing alongside Alexandre Giroux in Oklahoma City.  Jason Williams played in his first game of the season last night while the other 3 have combined for 4 goals and 6 assists in 6 games.

The defense will look similar as well.  Gone are Andrew Hutchinson, Robert Bortuzzo, and Corey Potter.  Bortuzzo, like Jeffrey, is up in Pittsburgh, but he hasn't seen any game action to date so he could return in the future.

Joining the club on the blueline are NHLer Alexandre Picard (played for Montreal last season) and rookies Philip Samuelsson and Simon Despres.  Picard hadn't played in the AHL since 2007-08 before this season started.

They lost some veteran players on the blueline, but kept a talented bunch in place.  The likely won't allow a ton of easy goals this season.
The strength of the 2010-11 Baby Pens team was the goaltending. John Curry and Brad Thiessen both had great seasons for the Baby Pens.  Thiessen was particularly stellar posting a record of 35-8-1 with a goals against average below 2 (1.94) and a save percentage of .922. 

Curry moved on but Thiessen returns.  So far he isn't having as much success this season as he has a save percentage under .900 and a gaa over 2.50.  But he is always a threat to steal a game away.  He will be joined this season by AHL veteran Scott Munroe who spent last season in the KHL.

In many of the previews I have read it mentions the Baby Pens as one of the teams moving downward in the division.  Much of that talk has to do with teams in Norfolk and Syracuse getting that much better, but until I see it I have a hard time believing it.  This is a very talented team that could easily make a run for another division crown.

The Pens will still be in every game they play and once the big Penguins get healthy the Baby Pens could see a return of some very talented players.  Considering all the callups they had last year that team could have been even better.  I remember the game they destroyed Hershey (7-1 I believe), the top 7 scorers on their team were ALL recalled to Pittsburgh. 

Tangradi only played 42 games for Wilkes-Barre while Jeffrey (40), Johnson (48), and Street (36) didn't play full seasons in the AHL either.  The Pittsburgh Penguins were decimated by injuries last year...making what the Baby Pens did (with a recall depleted lineup many nights) even more impressive.

So far the Pens have recorded 6 points in 6 games.  They are 2-2-1-1 (they didn't lose in OT, the third # in that record, a single time last year) and have scored 18 while giving up 17. 

Tonight they visit Giant Center for the first time in 2011-12.  Fresh off a road win in Springfield.  They have been better on the road than at home in the early going.  2 road games, 2 road wins, outscoring their opponents 8-1 in those games. 

Should be a good one tonight at the GC.

Hershey Bears
record ~ 4-0-1-0 | 9 points
standings ~ 1st in East Division
most recent game ~ 4-1 Win @ Albany, 10/21
last 5 games ~ 4-0-1-0
home record ~ 0-0-1-0
goals for ~ 22
goals against ~ 16
power play ~ 30.8% (3rd)
road penalty kill ~ 87.0% (8th)

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
record ~ 2-2-1-1 | 6 points
standings ~ 4th in East Division
most recent game ~ 3-0 Win @ Springfield, 10/21
last 5 games ~ 2-1-1-1
road record ~ 2-0-0-0
goals for ~18
goals against ~17
road power play ~13.8% (23rd)
home penalty kill ~ 85.2% (10th)

last time teams met - The Bears won 3-2 in Wilkes-Barre on October 8th.  It was Wilkes-Barre's first game of the season and home opener.

Players to watch:

C Cody Eakin (14) - took pretty well to the line shuffle as he had a goal (on the power play) and an assist last night in Albany.
RW Matthew Ford (23) - also scored (and assisted) last night and is tied for 2nd on the team with 3 goals already this year.
C Keith Aucoin (11) - always the engine that makes this team go he had an assist last night giving up 7 on the young season to go with 2 goals.
F Bryan Lerg (19) - leading the Pens in goals and points in the early going with 5 and 8 as he picked up a goal and an assist last night. 
F Eric Tangradi (25) - second on the team in goals (3) and leading the team in assists (4), he picked up goal #3 last night.
RW Geoff Walker (17) - tied with Tangradi for 2nd with 3 goals, he also scored in the win last night.

Friday, October 21, 2011

GameDay Preview: Bears @ Devils

Hershey comes into the season's first 3 in 3 with a few injury concerns.  Kyle Greentree has a broken wrist and is listed as week to week although it seems as though he will miss at least a month.  Ryan Potulny still isn't practicing either.  In addition to that, Michal Neuvirth remains injured for the Capitals meaning that Dany Sabourin (as of now) remains in Washington to back up Tomas Vokoun.  If Neuvy misses much more time I would expect Braden Holtby to get recalled for a game sometime sooner than later.

In response to those injuries forwards Maxime Lacroix and Garrett Mitchell were recalled from South Carolina this week and Philipp Grubauer remained in Hershey.  All three could see the ice this weekend.

Otherwise the Bears season has started out very well.  They are 3-0-1-0 and have scored 18 goals compared to only 15 against.   10 different players have scored at least one goal including Chris Bourque who has 4 goals in his return. 

Considering that Hershey has so many "new" faces this year it is impressive how quickly they have come together and started the season.  Sure the goals allowed should be lower (almost 4 per game right now) but the defense will gel as the season progresses. 

This weekend features 2 games against division opponents and one road game (tonight) against a former division rival. 

The Albany Devils finished last in the East Division last season and no reside in the newly formed Northeast Division.  Their new "home" in the standings has not affected their position in the standings as of yet as they are still in last place with a 1-4-0-0 record.  They have allowed a league worst 22 goals so far while only scoring 11. 

5 of their top 6 scorers from last season return.  Honestly, the roster isn't that much different than it was a year ago.  A couple young forwards are expected to make the next step in their progression while one veteran, Stephane Veilleux, was brought in forth depth.

The defense is also fairly similar to last season's unit.  They did bring in Peter Harrold who hasn't played in the AHL since 2007-08 when he played for the Manchester Monarchs.  In fact, Harrold was a member of the Monarchs team that was swept by the Bears in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals.

The goaltending isn't much better.  Jeff Frazee returns after he went 11-15-3 last season.  As of right now he joins forces with rookie Maxime Clermont who hasn't played a professional game yet. He did go 28-10-5 in the QMJHL last season though.  Keith Kinkaid is identified as having played 3 games for the Devils this season going 1-2-0, however, he is not currently listed on their roster.

Last year the Bears and Devils played 6 times while East Division "rivals".  Hershey won all 6 games. 

Players to watch:

LW Chris Bourque (17) - 4 goals in 4 games will raise the expectations a little bit.  He also has 4 assists on the season.
LW Cody Eakin (14) - The rookie is being promoted from 4th line center to 2nd line left wing to take Kyle Greentree's spot in the lineup (at least for now).  Great opportunity for him.
C Keith Aucoin (11) - Bourque's numbers are impressive enough but Aucoin also has 8 (2 goals 6 assists) points in 4 games.  2 players on the team averaging 2 points per game...not too bad.

RW Matt Anderson (29) - Led the team in scoring last season with 55 points (23, 32) and is doing it again after 5 games with 2 goals and an assist.
RW Joe Whitney (9) - The rookie had 40 goals and 102 assists during 4 years of college hockey.  And he is listed at only 5'6"...which actually makes him smaller than any Bears player.  That won't happen often this season.
D Alexander Urbom (33) - The big defenseman is a top prospect for the NJ Devils and has started off the season with 3 assists in 5 games.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bears score 5...but lose in OT

Friday night it was 7-5 Hershey over Norfolk.  Saturday night it was 6-5 Norfolk over Hershey. 

If you want to see end to end, high scoring hockey then I suggest you get your tickets for the remaining Norfolk - Hershey games because I think this is the kind of hockey you will see for most of the season series between these two teams.

The Bears blew it last night.  They were up 2 at the 11 minute mark of the 2nd period before allowing 2 late goals in the 2nd to allow Norfolk back into it.  And in overtime the Admirals scored the game winner.

Honestly though, I didn't think the Bears played that badly.  Sure there was a long stretch there in the 3rd where the Bears couldn't get the puck into the Norfolk zone, but even with that considered I thought this was a well played game by both teams.

Maybe the goalies struggled a bit but even there I would say that both made big saves and the goals that were scored were good goals.  No true cheap goals went in, in my opinion.

Graham Mink, Sean Collins, Chris Bourque, Matthew Ford, and Jacob Micflikier scored Hershey's goals.  Goalie Braden Holtby made 22 saves and the Bears earned a point.

But Hershey couldn't stop Norfolk's young stars.  Cory Conacher and Carter Ashton combined for 3 goals and Conacher controlled the play much of the night when he was on the ice. Offensively the Admirals are as good as the Hershey Bears in my opinion.  Based on talent these teams are about equal at the forward position.  Hershey might have more depth and definitely more experience but the Admirals have a stable of forwards that can score on any one, any night.

Most of the time I think you would say that the Bears have better goaltending and a better defensive core than the Admirals but that wasn't the case last night.  Jaroslav Janus made 32 saves, many of them timely, and the Norfolk defense played good enough to win. 

And Hershey's defense did not.  Although, as I said before, I don't think they played badly.  The one spot where I think this team COULD struggle at times is in their physical play.  Danny Richmond brings a physical presence to the blueline, as does Patrick Wellar, but I don't think you would say any of the others do. 

Overall last night there wasn't much physicality at all.  In order to slow this Norfolk team down it seems like you will have to hit them and knock them off the puck.  The Bears didn't want to do that last night, routinely turning away from taking the body on the forecheck and allowing guys free run through the neutral zone. 

That type of play comes with time though as these players are still getting the feel for how one another plays.  This was game 4 of the season.  Exactly half of the lineup last night was not a part of the 2010-11 team.  They are still adjusting to their teammates and the system that Hershey runs.

They will get better.

My Three Stars of the Night:
  1. Cory Conacher - the best player on the ice last night.  2 goals to show for it.
  2. Keith Aucoin - 4 assists in the loss.
  3. Cody Eakin - I thought the best Bear on the ice last night.  Hustled at both ends every time he was on the ice.
Grading the Performance:
  • Offense | A - What other grade can you give a team that scores 5 times on 37 shots.  And honestly they left some on the table.  They trailed twice (first time this season they trailed) and rallied back both times.  I think a performance like last night wins the game 9 out of 10 times.
  • Defense | B - I saw one bad play that led to a goal.  The first Norfolk goal was scored because Matthew Ford wasn't playing his man close enough.  He saw him and was watching him, but he wasn't "on" him.  Outside of that I think the biggest problem was the lack of physicality in their own end.
  • Goaltending | B - As I said above, there were no bad goals.  I don't see how you fault Braden for any of the goals scored in this game.  But in the end you can't allow 6 goals on 28 shots.
  • Power Play | B - 25% success rate (2 of 8) is average but they had lots of chances.  A couple times they struggled to set up and get shots but that Norfolk penalty kill is uber-aggressive and doesn't allow you any space.
  • Penalty Kill | A - they only made an appearance twice and I believe one of those was for a whopping 5 seconds so its a small sample size but they did well.
  • Overall | B - I am surprised myself that in a game where the Bears allow 6 goals I find them no worse than a B grade, but you tell me where they played worse than that.  Norfolk is a very good offensive team (they have 21 goals in 4 games this season) and they played like it last night.  The Bears escaped with a point despite being outplayed for a long portion of the 3rd period.  All things was a good outcome for them.  It could have been better...but good nonetheless.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bears Outscore Admirals in Game 1 of 2

Well, I told you yesterday that the Norfolk Admirals were built to score a lot of goals...and allow a lot of goals.  That theory held true tonight.  The Hershey Bears leave Norfolk with a 3-0-0-0 record having outscored the Admirals 7-5 tonight.

The Bears got a huge game from Chris Bourque, 2 goals and 3 assists, while the power play clicked in a big way going 3 for 6 with the man advantage.  Bourque had 2 of the 3 power play goals and Jacob Micflikier had the other (and Jacob assisted on both of Bourque's goals). 

Other Hershey scorers included a couple rookies as Cody Eakin got 2 and Brett Flemming scored his first professional goal.  Keith Aucoin added his 2nd of the year to complete the scoring for the Bears.

Dany Sabourin got the start and went the distance making 41 saves on 46 shots. 

The Admirals outshot the Bears by 13 (46 to 33) but they couldn't beat Dany enough to get a victory.

Now both teams will hit the road up to Hershey for a 7:00 faceoff tomorrow night for the first meaningful hockey in Hershey since last April. 

Beginning at 3:30 tomorrow the Hershey Bears will be kicking off the home slate with a "Party on the Plaza" featuring food, drinks, and live music. 

Game Preview: Bears vs Norfolk

editors note: Consider this your game preview for tonight and tomorrow since both games are against Norfolk. 

So far this season Hershey has faced off against 2 division opponents and they have come away with 2 victories.  Tonight is the 3rd game of the season and the 3rd game against a divisional opponent, this time against the Norfolk Admirals.  (By the end of next weekend they will have faced each of their divisional opponents at least once.)

Norfolk has started the season with 2 games at home against a former division rival, the Charlotte Checkers.  And the Admirals are also 2-0 after beating the Checkers 6-5 (in OT) and 4-3 last weekend.

So an early season game against undefeated, co-division leaders.  Exciting stuff, right?

Last season Hershey went 6-1-0-1 against the Admirals.  That stat is somewhat deceiving though as overall the Bears only outscored the Admirals 24-20 on the season and 3 of the games were decided by just 1 goal. 

But this Norfolk team is much different from last season.  Last year they had 16 skaters score 20+ points and 10 guys score 10+ goals.  Only 6 of the top 16 in points and only 3 of the top 10 in goals returns to the lineup this season.  The goal scorers are James Wright (16 goals), Matt Fornataro (17), and Mike Angelidis (20).

Gone are players like Blair Jones, Marc-Andre Pouliot, Johan Harju, Chris Durno, Paul Szczechura, and Mattias Ritola.  Last season they combined for 121 goals and 173 assists.  That's a lot of offense to lose.

But it would appear as though they have replaced it, and maybe, just maybe, they have exceeded it. 

Young guns Carter Ashton, Cory Conacher, Tyler Johnson, and Dana Tyrell join the team this season and they bring plenty of offense with them. 
  • Ashton was the Lightning's first round pick in 2009.  In his junior career he scored 92 goals and added 89 assists in 239 games.  This is his first pro season and so far it is going pretty well.  In 2 games he has 3 goals and 1 assist.
  • Conacher went undrafted and instead played 4 years of college hockey at Canisius College in New York where he scored 62 goals and added 85 assists in 129 games.  He isn't a very big player, listed at 5'8" 175lbs, but neither are many of the Bears and we know what kind of damage they can do.  He managed to get a taste of the AHL last season with 7 games played for Rochester and Milwaukee.  In those 7 games he scored 4 goals and added 2 assists.  So far this season he has a goal and 3 assists.
  • Johnson, like Conacher, wasn't drafted mainly due to his size.  Johnson is listed at only 5'9" and 165lbs.  But it didn't seem to hold him up in juniors last year.  He registered 53 goals and 62 assists in only 71 games and then another 7 goals and 7 assists in 14 playoff games.  So far this season he has 2 goals and an assist.
  • Tyrell is the most experienced of this group.  He played 78 games for the Lightning last year, registering 6 goals and 9 assists in what was his 2nd pro season.  He was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft and played most of 2009-10 in Norfolk where he scored 9 goals and added 27 assists. 
And the Admirals didn't just bring in a bunch of kids to replace the offense that left.  They brought in some veterans as well including Alexandre Picard, Trevor Smith, Michel Ouellet, and J.T. Wyman.
  • Picard spent last season with the San Antonio Rampage where he scored 24 goals and added 22 assists during the regular season.  So far this season he has 2 goals in 2 games.
  • Trevor Smith spent last season with both Springfield and and Syracuse of the AHL.  Prior to that he spent 3 seasons with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.  In each of his 4 AHL seasons he has scored 20 plus goals including a 30 goal 32 assist season for the Tigers in 2008-09.  He has 2 assists this season.
  • Ouellet, the former Penguin (both WB/S and Pitt), spent the last 2 seasons playing in Europe.  From 2005 through 2007 he played in 187 NHL games where he scored 52 goals and added 64 assists.  Most recently he scored 12 goals and 21 assists in 50 games played in Europe. 
  • Wyman spent last season with the Hamilton Bulldogs where he registered 18 goals and 18 assists in 80 games played.  So far this season he is the only Norfolk forward, and only the 3rd skater overall, to not record a point.
Lots of new faces but definitely plenty of talent and offensive ability. 

The goaltending situation is relatively unchanged.  Last season's number 1, Dustin Tokarski, returns.  As does Jaroslav Janus who was a rookie last season and played in only 9 games. 

Tokarski had a 2.65 gaa and a .901 save percentage to go along with a 21-20-4 record in 46 game played.  Janus didn't do as good with a 3.64 gaa and a .872 save percentage while going 2-5-1 in his 9 games played.

While their roster seems a bit overhauled the end result is likely to be the same...lots of goals scored and plenty of goals allowed.  Last season the Admirals were tied with Charlotte for #2 in the AHL in goals scored with 265 (3.31 per game), but were also 15th in goals allowed with 230 (2.88 per game). 

So far they have scored 10 and given up 8.  Seems like the same formula.

Tonight's game is in Norfolk and then both teams make the trip back up to Hershey for the Bears home opener on Saturday night.  Typically with a home and home series like this you would expect some animosity and maybe some physical play, at least during the second game. 

I expect Norfolk to do well this year and they could develop into one of Hershey's biggest "challenges" in the division so this is an important couple of games despite being very early in the season.

Now, after all the Norfolk talk, how about some Bears news....

Braden Holtby was recalled by the Washington Capitals to replace an injured Michal Neuvirth (I wish you could see it but I am doing my shocked face right now - see e-trade baby to the right instead).  It doesn't seem like anything major but the NHL season isn't even a week old and already the Caps have goalie injury concerns. 

According to Tim Leone, Philipp Grubauer will meet the team in Norfolk and is a possibility to start tonight.  If he doesn't start tonight, and Holtby doesn't return in time, he would likely get his first start on Saturday.

Ryan Potulny isn't practicing and is listed as day to day heading into the weekend.  Considering a veteran must sit each game it seems to me that Ryan will be a longshot to play at all this weekend.  There would be no reason to rush him back this early in the season considering their are plenty of healthy bodies who can step in. 

The home opener is almost here.  In only about 36 hours we will get to see real, meaningful (kind of) hockey in Hershey again.  With the early exit from the playoffs last season it was a loooooong summer.  Not something I want to experience again.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Bears begin 2-0

Due to a nice out of town mini-vacation I was not around to post a Saturday game preview or recaps of the games.  I also didn't get to hear the games as internet was not available to listen online.  So I can only share what I can read on the game sheets and in the paper.

And based on that, it seems that things went well.  Through 2 games the Bears have 6 goals and, not surprisingly, they were scored by 6 different players.  Christian Hanson, Keith Aucoin, Chris Bourque, Matthew Ford, Kyle Greentree, and Patrick Wellar had them.

Hershey scored 1 power play goal and added 2 shorthanded goals.  The penalty kill was okay allowing only 2 goals on 12 opportunities but I think we would all like to see better.

The goalies were good.  Both Braden Holtby and Dany Sabourin got a start and both earned 3-2 victories.  Braden faced 29 shots against the Senators while Dany faced 25 against the Pens.

All in all it was a good opening weekend for the Bears.

The best parts would have to be this though...

Spoiling the Calder Cup celebration up in Binghamton, and

Beating the Baby Pens in the first game between the two this season after struggling so much against them last season. 

Great start to the season.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Game Preview: Bears @ Senators

Tonight the 2011-12 AHL season kicks off for the defending champion Binghamton Senators and the 2009 and 2010 champion Hershey Bears. 

Both teams are breaking in significantly new rosters so I wouldn't expect a true indicator of what these teams are.  The Senators had 11 players last season with double digit goals (including current Bear Ryan Potulny) and only 3 return.  Of Hershey's top 10 scorers from last season only 4 return. 

The main difference between the two teams is that Hershey reloaded while the Sens appear to be rebuilding.  Experienced veterans will offensive history and potential fill the Hershey lineup while rookies or unknowns fill the Senators opening night roster. 

One key player from each team returns though.  And they are similar players.  Keith Aucoin for the Bears and Corey Locke for the Sens.  Arguably the two best players in the AHL right now.  But their best quality is the one that so often goes overlooked...they make those around them better.  Guys playing with them have career years with that coincidence?  I don't think so.

Both players will have to work quickly this year with all the new components. 

Fortunately for Aucoin 2 of his "new" players are "old" players Graham Mink and Chris Bourque.  That should make their transition back to Hershey better but for the other guys...time is all that will make it work.

With all the new pieces at forward and along the blue line, Hershey fans need to keep early season expectations in check.  Sure the Bears could start the season exceptionally strong and get a leg up in the division, but with all the new pieces I think it is going to take a month or two before we really see what this team can do.

Luckily the Bears have 2 key weapons to start the season.  Braden Holtby and Dany Sabourin.  If you look at every roster in the AHL I am almost certain you won't find a better combination of goaltenders.  No matter who starts the expectations, and if recent history is a guide, the production are second to no one. 

Having those stalwarts in net and 5 defensemen back should help the Bears adjust quickly to their new offensive weapons. 

The second preseason, also known as the regular season, begins tonight.  In about 6 months and 76 games from now hopefully the Bears lineup has realized their potential and will be clicking on all cylinders.  That journey begins now.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

2011-12 Bears Preview: East Division

For a long time I said that one way to boost interest in the NHL was to go to a division based schedule and playoff format much like the AHL has done recently.  Playing the same teams in the playoffs year after year helps to build animosity and rivalries which fuel hockey. 

So it is kind of funny that with the NHL finally considering this approach (realignment is coming after the current season) the AHL has switched to the current NHL model of 6 divisions with 5 teams in each. 

Yes the new format allows for more "fairness" as the best teams from each conference will get in and it won't be so weighted to a teams divisional strength. 

But you could lose some of the animosity that highlights the local rivalries.  Due to the shear number of games you still play against your divisional opponents this should be avoided for the most part but rivalries are built in the playoffs.  Would we care about the Baby Pens games as much if the two teams never faced off in the playoffs?  No.  It would be more like the Bears/Admirals rivalry...sometimes intense but in the end just another game.

Even the Bears/Phantoms rivalry has subsided in recent years due to the teams rarely facing off in the playoffs. 

Obviously that kind of situation can occur even with 8 team divisions due to teams struggling to compete (as the Phantoms have of late), but going to the conference format instead of the divisional format will help to diminish some rivalries.

There is a legitimate possibility that the Bears and Baby Pens will go multiple seasons without playing in the playoffs.  Hershey could play series against the hated Whale or the rival Monarchs. 

Doesn't have quite the same intensity, does it?

In the same breath however you can always say this...the Bears could face the Baby Pens in the Eastern Conference finals now with a trip to the Calder Cup finals on the line.  Previously they could only meet in the Division Finals. 

So that would make up for it a little bit. 

Anyways, I understand the move I just think it is funny that the NHL is going to the AHL set up while the AHL is adapting the NHL set up. 

Ok, now that I got that off my chest, let's take a brief look at the teams Hershey will see the most this season...their East Division Rivals.

Syracuse Crunch - 6 games

The Bears will play the Crunch only 6 times which is the fewest of any team in the division.  Last year the Crunch finished the season 6th in the East Division with a record of 35-38-3-4 (77 points) and missed the playoffs for the 3rd straight season. 

Home games are played at the War Memorial at Oncenter in downtown Syracuse, which seats a little over 6,000 fans.

The Bears and Crunch played 6 times last season and were very even in those games.  Each team won 3 games (road team won every single game) and each team scored 17 goals in the season series.  The interesting part is that the games weren't that close.  Syracuse outscored Hershey 13-5 in their wins while the Bears outscored them 12-4 in theirs.  There was a single one goal game which Hershey won and the rest were all 2 or more.

The Crunch are affiliated with the Anaheim Ducks which is the new home of Andrew Gordon.  Good news for Gordo...he made the Ducks out of camp and is expected to play on their 3rd line. 

Last season the Crunch had 8 players with double digit goals during the regular season.  Of those players 5 or 6 are anticipated to see time in Syracuse, including Patrick Maroon and Kyle Palmieri who combined for 50 goals while they both played for the Crunch last season (Maroon started the season in Adirondack).

Binghamton Senators - 8 games

The Binghamton Senators finished last season 5th in the East Division with a 42-30-3-5 record and 91 points.  While they didn't make the East Division playoffs they did finish with more points than the 3rd place team in the Atlantic and crossed over to play in the Atlantic Division playoffs as the #3 seed.

Eventually they made it all the way through and won the Calder Cup over the Houston Aeros.  They had missed the playoffs the previous 5 seasons. 

They play their home games at Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena in downtown Binghamton which seats a little over 4,000 fans for hockey games.

Last season the Bears and B-Sens played 8 times with Hershey winning the season series 5-3-0-0.  Hershey went 3-1-0-0 on home ice and the teams split 2-2-0-0 when playing in Binghamton.  Hershey outscored the Sens 34-18 on the season and of the 3 one goal games Hershey went 2-1-0-0.

The Senators are affiliated with (surprise) the Ottawa Senators and is the previous home to current Bear Ryan Potulny.  The B-Sens had 10 players that scored 10+ goals while playing for the team last season (Potulny only scored 3 during the regular season for the Sens).  Leading point producers Corey Locke (86 points in 69 games) and Jim O'Brien (24 goals and 56 points) are both expected back in the AHL this season. 

Norfolk Admirals - 10 games

The Admirals finished 4th in the East Division last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07.  They compiled a record of 39-26-9-6 (93 points) during the regular season last year.  They proceeded to win the first 2 games against the East Division Champion Baby Pens but dropped the next 4 to end their season.

They play their home games at Norfolk Scope which seats a little about 8,700 fans for hockey games.

Like the Sens, the Admirals played 8 games against the Bears last season.  And similarly, they lost the season series...although it wasn't as close.  Hershey won the season series 6-1-0-1.  Surprisingly though the games were closer or at least the goals scored were.  Hershey outscored the Admirals 24-20 overall but the games in Norfolk were split 14-14 despite Hershey winning 3 of the 4.  Like Bingo, 3 of the games were one goal games with Hershey winning 2 of them.

The Ads are affiliated with the Tampa Bay Lightning.  10 different players scored double digit goals last season for the Ads.  Of those 10 it appears that only 3 will be Admirals for 2011-12.  James Wright, Matt Fornataro, and Mike Angelidis will be in the lineup.  Also joining the Ads this season is Dana Tyrell, who spent the entire 2010-11 campaign with the Lightning (scored 6 goals and added 9 assists) and 2009 1st round pick Carter Ashton, who begins his first pro season this weekend.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins - 12 teams

The Baby Pens finished #1 in the AHL during the regular season last year only to lose to the Charlotte Checkers in the East Division finals.  The Bears and Pens will play a ridiculous 12 games against each other this season. 

Last year the Pens finished with 117 points after a 58-21-0-1 regular season.  The made the playoffs for the 9th consecutive year.  During that span they have made 2 Calder Cup finals (winning neither) and have only been eliminated in the 1st round one time.

The Bears and Pens played 10 times last year and most Bears fans would just as soon forget them all.  Hershey finished the season 2-6-1-1 against the Baby Penguins including a record of 0-4-1-0 in Hershey.  Overall the Pens outscored the Bears 36-19 including 21-10 at Giant Center.  The only saving grace is that 6 of the games were decided by one goal and Hershey managed to go 2-2-1-1 in those games.

The Baby Pens are affiliated with the Pittsburgh Penguins (I am sure you didn't know that) and are again prepared to make a run at the Calder Cup.  Last season the Baby Pens had 12 different players score 10+ goals and 7 of those players return.  However, only 2 of the top 5 point producers from last season are still in the organization and only 1 of those (Ryan Craig) is expected to start the season in Wilkes-Barre. 

They did add some other scorers though including Alexandre Giroux's former teammate Colin McDonald who scored 42 last season for the Oklahoma City Barons. And just today the Penguins signed Niko Dimitrakos to a professional tryout. Dimitrakos has spent the last 2 seasons playing in Europe where he has scored 34 goals over those seasons. In his most recent AHL seasons (06-07 and 07-08) he totaled 39 goals and 43 assists.

So there you have it. The divisional race will be a little less interesting this season as the top 8 teams from the overall conference will make the playoffs. The 3 division winners are locked in and then it is the next best 5 based on points and a series of complicating tiebreakers.

Hershey plays a combined 36 of their 76 games against their divisional opponents so we will get to know these teams more. In fact the first 3 games of the season (all on the road) are against Binghamton, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and Norfolk. And the fist game against Syracuse is later this month.

The season is almost here...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Captain named...and Final Cuts

I interrupt my preview posts to give you some important news...

Boyd Kane was named the captain for the 2011-12 Hershey Bears.  Kaner was the captain of the 05-06 team that won the Calder Cup as well as the 04-05 Philadelphia Phantoms team that won the Cup.

Seems like the logical choice.  A few other names that could have been looked at would have been Keith Aucoin, Chris Bourque, or Graham Mink.  They all have spent plenty of time in Hershey and the AHL. 

And as luck would have it those are your Alternate captains as well.  Aucoin will wear an A for every game while Bourque and Mink will split home/road games (Mink at home, Bourque on road). 

In other news...the Bears have made their final cuts and the opening night roster is completed.  You can check it out here if you want to.

Garrett Mitchell, Dustin Stevenson, and Paul Baier were sent to South Carolina today.  This move is kind of surprising to me.

This leaves the Bears with 24 players to practice with, which is good, but the ECHL season doesn't start until the 14th.  I would have thought you could keep Mitchell around for a week and let him get into a game to see what he can do early on.

Other than Mitchell I am not terribly surprised.  With Dmitry Orlov being sent to Hershey to start the season there was one extra defensive body than they needed. 

All of the players cut today will surely make an appearance in Hershey this season.  Injuries and recalls have a way of disrupting the roster consistency.

And now back to your previously scheduled previews.

In case you missed any of them....

Goaltending Preview
Defense Preview
Forwards Preview

East Division Preview (coming tomorrow morning)
Binghamton Game Preview (check for it Friday)

2011-12 Bears Preview: Forwards

Injuries during the 2010-11 season really limited the Bears.  Andrew Gordon, Keith Aucoin, Lawrence Nycholat, and many more suffered injuries that derailed the offensive portion of the Bears team last season.  I honestly believed, and still do, that last years team was deep enough and talented enough to win the Calder Cup.  Unfortunately the injuries took their toll and a first round exit was all that came of the season. 

This offseason saw an influx of good scoring depth that should help the team weather the injuries or recalls that are inevitable during a long season.

But they also saw plenty of good players leave as well.  Gone are Brian Willsie (30 goals last year), Gordon (24 goals in only 50 games), and Steve Pinizzotto (17 goals).  Also gone are puck moving defensemen Brian Fahey and Nycholat (28 points in only 32 games).

In their place come a return of some ex-Bears Chris Bourque (played in Europe last season) and Graham Mink (scored 24 goals for Peoria last year).  And a host of talented forwards...Christian Hanson, Matthew Ford, Jacob Micflikier, Ryan Potulny, Cody Eakin and Mattias Sjogren.

They join a solid core of players including Aucoin, Francois Bouchard, Kyle Greentree, Boyd Kane, and Andrew Carroll. 

As I discussed previously, there is a multitude of possible 20 goal scorers on this team.  But I still don't see a go to scorer on the roster and while that isn't necessarily a critical element towards success it definitely bares watching.

But I don't want to discuss the scoring depth that's on this team.  I have already done that.

Let's take a brief look at the forwards that will likely make up this years Hershey Bears roster.

We already know what we get in Aucoin, Bourque, Greentree, Bouch, Kaner, and Mink.  So who are the new guys and what can they offer? 

Christian Hanson

The son of Slap Shot star Dave Hanson, Christian brings a physical presence to the ice.  He is listed at 6'4" 228 lbs (Mink is 6'3" 220) which is quite large and at this level he should be able to impose his will on many of his opponents.  Last season he split time between the Marlies and Maple Leafs totaling 13 goals and 21 assists (all in the AHL) in 64 total games.

Having him and the 6'3" 220 lb Mink on the same team will be tough for other teams to stop.  

Matthew Ford

Last season Ford scored 26 goals and added 16 assists in his first full AHL season.  He played in 76 regular season games for the Lake Erie Monsters and also played in 7 playoff games scoring 3 goals and adding one assist.

Ford is considered a pure goal scorer who is not what you would consider fleet of foot.  Sound familiar?  If he can find some timing with Aucoin and he gets power play minutes he could be the guy on this team to score 30+ goals...many coming on one timers from the slot.

Jacob Micflikier

Here is a kid that I wouldn't bet against.  He has been successful at every stop on his quest to play in the NHL and appears destined to get a shot sometime soon.  He is small (5'8" 180) which has undoubtedly impacted the way teams have seen him but he hasn't let that stop him.

In the USHL he scored 55 goals over 2 seasons.  Then he went to college at New Hampshire and proceeded to register almost a point per game over a 4 year career that saw him suit up for 154 games and tally 150 points (58 goals).  Then it was on to the ECHL and AHL where he has played in 275 games over the last 4 seasons and has totaled 215 points in that span.

Last year was his first full season in the AHL and he totaled 29 goals and 32 in 78 games for the Charlotte Checkers.

Ryan Potulny

He was an important member of the Calder Cup winning Binghamton Senators last year, leading the team in goals (14) and points (26).  During the regular season he totaled 21 goals and 28 assists in 71 AHL games while also dressing for 10 NHL games but recording no points.

He is only a year removed from scoring 15 goals and adding 17 assists for the Edmonton Oilers in 2009-10.  He played in 64 games for them that year which results in a .5 points per game average.  Definitely pretty good.

His best AHL season was 2008-09 when he scored 38 goals and added 24 assists for the Springfield Falcons.

Cody Eakin

As the Caps made their final cuts yesterday the red headed rookie found himself packing his bags for Hershey.  He played in some regular season games and some playoff games in the 2008-09 season so he is familiar with the surroundings. 

This will his first pro season so using his stats to tell us too much would be a mistake.  So let's see what Hockeys Future has to say:
Eakin isn’t a big guy and relies on his terrific speed and agility as his two greatest assets for success. He’s a solid two-way player that is very useful as a penalty killer, but is sometimes inconsistent in his defensive play. He’s an aggressive forechecker and will play the body although he’s not known as a punishing hitter. He’s creative and will attack defenders one-on-one but can also distribute the puck and uses his teammates well. Eakin doesn’t panic with the puck and rarely forces passes when under pressure. He is an above shooter and passer and is thus a constant offensive threat. Eakin is a natural centerman but is able to play winger, too. His competitiveness makes him popular with coaches, fans and teammates.
Sounds like a player Hershey fans will love.

Mattias Sjogren

This will be the first season playing in North America for the undrafted 23 year old.  Expectations were that he would begin the season with the Capitals, but the organization (and Mathieu Perreault) decided that he would be better served beginning the season in Hershey.  Adjusting to the smaller ice has caused other players from Europe (including Marcus Johansson last year) to struggle in their first N.A. season.  Getting started in the AHL will help him adjust at an easier pace.

He is thought of as primarily a defensive forward but has shown some offensive ability.  In 51 games last season he totaled 7 goals and 17 assists, which while not huge numbers in N.A. it is a solid offensive season in the lower scoring Swedish Elite League.

Balance is key in hockey.  You can have as many goal scorers as you want, but if you don't have players willing to muck it up in the corners and kill penalties then you won't get very far.  

On paper this team is as deep as any team we have seen in Hershey over the recent years.  I don't think there is as much offensive ability as in the recent Alexandre Giroux years, but sit down and try to come up with line's hard.  

There are a multitude of players that fit the "offense first" mold...Greentree, Aucoin, Mink, Potulny, and Ford.  Admittedly I don't know a ton about Potulny and Ford so maybe I am misjudging them a bit but their stats and profiles indicate they are more offensively focused than others.

And there are 2-way forwards as well - Bourque, Sjogren, Micflikier, Eakin, Kane, and Hanson come to mind right away. 

But are their any Quintin Laing's, Jay Beagle's, or Andrew Joudrey's on this roster?

Who will step into those roles?  The hardworking, energy line guys who are asked to shut down opposing scoring lines and dig the pucks out of the corners.  The guys who will step up for a teammate when a questionable hit is laid.  The type of player that can be counted on in his own zone no matter the situation. 

Kane would be one to think of, but every year that goes by is one year slower for the veteran left winger.  Carroll will likely be one of the guys, a Joudrey like player.  Garrett Mitchell, the young rookie, could also fill a Laing or Beagle like role, if he were to make the roster.  Joel Rechlicz will fill the same role as he did last year which is good but when you only play in 28 games you truly don't have much of an impact.

These are questions this team will have to answer with their play.  Guys will surely step into the necessary roles...or else.

There are also questions in regard to the number of veterans.  Aucoin, Kane, Potulny, Bourque, Mink, and Danny Richmond are all veterans.  Greentree is too but he fits into a different definition of the term and won't have to sit at all.  But one of the first 6 is going to have to be a healthy scratch every single game as long as all are healthy.

How much will that hurt team chemistry?  If Potulny (or someone else) is on a good role, scoring in multiple games, and it is their turn to sit and coach Mark French decides to sit someone else (say...Mink) instead...will that sit okay with everyone?

These guys are all competitors and they all want to play.  Sitting good players when healthy CAN create locker room discord.  Hopefully the Bears can manage it efficiently.

In the end this is the one unit of the team that is somewhat an unknown.  The goalies...we know them.  The defense...for the most part we know them.  But the forwards?  There are so many new pieces (and returning pieces with Bourque and Mink) that we can not be certain how it will all work out.

But I am looking forward to seeing it come together.  And it begins soon enough.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

2011-12 Bears Preview: Defense

Last season the Bears allowed 2.68 goals per game.  That was good enough for 10th in the AHL.  Which translates to a slightly above average defensive team.  It wasn't a year to complain about, but it wasn't a year to rest on either.  An improvement on the blueline would go a long way to getting another Calder Cup.

Many of the same faces that we saw on the ice last year are back.  Patrick McNeill, Sean Collins, Patrick Wellar, and Zack Miskovic all return and Dmitri Orlov is expected to be in the chocolate and white for most of the season. 

That group by itself is pretty solid.  Only Orlov finished the season as a "minus" contributor as he ended with a -5 plus/minus rating.  Keep in mind though that Orlov only came over from Russia late in year and only played in 19 regular season games.

McNeill and Miskovic led all Bears defensemen last season with 7 goals each and Patty also assisted on 20 other goals for 27 points in only 51 games.  Remember that McNeill missed the first part of the season due to offseason surgery so he likely wasn't at full strength until late in the season if at all.

Collins led the team with a +29 ranking and earned a late season call up to Washington as well.  Wellar was third on the team (behind Steve Pinizzotto and Joel Rechlicz) in penalty minutes as the big defensemen is definitely not going to shy away from anyone.

Orlov, Collins, and McNeill are the premier guys in that group, but Miskovic is definitely coming on strong as well.

That is as impressive a top 5 as you can likely have in the AHL.  Orlov, when he returns, is a bona fide future NHL d-man while McNeill, Collins, and Miscovic could all one day call the NHL home as 5th/6th defensemen. 

While many players that were with the Bears in 2010-11 aren't back, Lawrence Nycholat, Brian Fahey, Sheldon Souray to name a few, there are plenty of new veteran faces to take their place.

Danny Richmond

Richmond is an AHL veteran who has played in 433 AHL games since the 04-05 season.  He has also played in 49 NHL games over that same span. 

He is a 6'0" 195 pound defenseman who has totaled over 100 penalty minutes in each of his previous 7 seasons.  He has scored double digit goals once (10 in 06-07) and is coming off his second best statistical season as he registered 3 goals and 20 assists in 2010-11 while playing for the Toronto Marlies.

In the past the Bears have brought in similar "veteran" players and it has typically worked out well.  Bryan Helmer and Brian Fahey are the two most recent names that come to mind.  In fact, Richmond has played in more NHL games during his career than both of those two I believe.

I think he is positioned for a career year in Hershey.

Julien Brouillette

Brouillette spent the 2010-11 season having a "breakout" campaign with the Lake Erie Monsters.  The four year veteran had spent the majority of his pro career in the ECHL before getting into 49 games with the Monsters last season.  He registered 2 goals and 15 assists last season and finished an impressive +17 in his 49 games.

He previously played for Hershey assistant coach Troy Mann so there was some familiarity between the two that resulted in his signing with Hershey.  In the ECHL he has shown some offensive ability registering 35 goals over the past 3 seasons at that level.

Tim Leone did a good write up on him that you can check out for more.

Paul Baier

Consistency seems to a thing for him.  In each of the last 3 AHL seasons he has played in just over 60 games, scored 2 or 3 goals, and has had 8 assists.  This will be his 4th full AHL (pro) season and will be his 4th different franchise. 

He is a big defenseman at 6'4" and 225lbs so he likely packs a pretty good physical game, but penalties don't seem to be a part of it as his career high is only 80.

Last season he played for the Rochester Americans and finished the season a -7, which was actually pretty good on a team that had ten different players at -10 or worse.

In addition to the new veterans there are two youngsters in the mix for playing time with the Bears this season:

Brett Flemming

Flemming was the 5th round choice of the Capitals in the 2009 draft and has spent the past 4 seasons playing in the OHL.  Based on his numbers in juniors he isn't likely to be a goal scoring defenseman (only 9 goals in the four seasons) but more of a puck moving player as he picked up 87 assists the past 3 years.  He also averaged 86 penalty minutes a year over the last 3 seasons so he appears to mix it up a little bit.

He is only listed at 5'11" and 184lbs so I wouldn't expect to see a real physical presence from him but I am sure he hands out a fair share of hits. 

Hockey's Future says this about him:
Flemming is a two-way defenseman with offensive elements to his game. Despite less than ideal size for a defender, he is willing to compete in tight spaces and will drop the gloves when necessary. He is sometimes out-muscled due to his light frame and is not a particularly punishing player. The strength of his game is his ability to recognize plays and distribute the puck to open teammates. He was used in a forward role at times during his junior career with mixed results. Flemming was one of the top plus/minus players with Mississauga St. Michael's during his junior career. Flemming makes strong passes out of his own zone and is capable of handling power-play duties from the point.
I originally wrote this post on Friday when it appeared (to me anyway) that Phil Oreskovic would begin the season in Hershey likely meaning that Flemming would start off in South Carolina.  However, Oreskovic was reassigned to South Carolina after Saturday's preseason game which opens up a roster spot for the young rookie. 

Dustin Stevenson

Stevenson played in 63 games for South Carolina last season and is likely headed their again this year.  He was signed out of the SJHL, which is a lower tiered Canadian Junior League, and is still adjusting to the game as a pro.  He didn't get any looks during the regular season last year in Hershey but will likely get a sniff at some point in 2011-12.

Hockey's Future has this to say:
Stevenson is a physically imposing defender who uses his size and strength to intimidate opposing forwards. He also has some offensive ability and can move the puck as well as shoot from the point. He has generally been bigger and stronger than the opposition he has faced thus far. He has played at a lower level of competition in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League but should develop his all-around game playing at the professional level.

Last season the Bears saw 15 defensemen play in games so depth is an important quality to have.  And I think this years team has it. The top 6 will be as good as any in the AHL and the next 3 would be top 6 on many teams.  After that you have the young kids who will be solid fill-ins if necessary but aren't expected to play large roles this season.

Offensively this unit is probably not as good as in years past, but there is potential there so we will have to wait and see.  With the forward depth this season the defense won't be relied on to produce much in the way of offense.  The players on the blueline are good puck movers who play responsibly in their own end and aren't afraid to play somewhat physical.  That is perfect.

Guys like Baier, Wellar, and Richmond will be expected to take the body and make some big hits while McNeill, Orlov, Miscovic, Brouillette, Flemming and Collins will be expected to get the puck out of the zone and join in on the rush from time to time.  Add Stevenson and Oreskovic to the mix as potential call ups and you have an impressive group of blueliners this season.

This group is younger than in years past and I think very well balanced. 

Looking at the team as a whole you would consider the defense 3rd behind the forwards and goalies, but that is more because the other spots are known quantities.  I think by the end of the season the defense could end up being the strength of the team.

And that is always important come spring.

Monday, October 3, 2011

2011-12 Bears Preview: Goalies

This was (and honestly still is) the easiest of the preview posts.  For the most part it is still the same group from last season. 

The problem with that?  There is still some consistency in Washington as well.  As in, a Caps goalie is already injured and Braden Holtby has already been recalled.

We haven't even reached the regular season and injuries are already causing problems for the goaltending. 

From what I have read though the injury to Michal Neuvirth is not serious and recalling Holtby was only done to provide another goalie for practice.  But, considering the past couple of seasons has to worry the Caps and Bears as far as goaltending is concerned.

Last year Hershey went with Holtby and Dany Sabourin for much of the year.  Overall there were a bunch of goalies that either saw time or at least dressed for games that many of us had never heard of.  Hopefully this year will not be a repeat of that.

During the regular season both Braden and Dany were very good last season.  Braden went 17-10-2 with a 2.29 goals against average and a save percentage of .920.  Oh, and he had 5 shutouts.  Very good.

Sabourin went 14-9 with a 2.45 gaa, a .908 save percentage, and 2 shutouts before having his season end early in 2011 with a new injury.  He was playing great over the last month before getting hurt as well.  In 6 January games he went 6-0 with a 1.83 gaa, a .933 save percentage, and 1 shutout.  Damn good.

In fact, if you take out the first 4 games of last season Sabourin's numbers were at least as good as Braden's.  He went 13-6, 2.21 gaa, and a .917 save percentage from November through January. 

That's a pretty good rotation at the #1 and #2 for any AHL team.  For the regular season.

The potential problem for 2011-12 is the playoff performances of Braden Holtby.  No reason to sugarcoat this...he has struggled. 

He has played in 9 playoff games over the past 2 postseasons.  He is 4-5 with a 3.22 gaa and a .881 save percentage.  He has allowed MORE THAN 3 goals 4 different times.  And he hasn't held a team below 2 goals yet. 

Two years ago it was his first playoff opportunity and he did manage to get 2 wins (although one of those was thanks to a great offense as he gave up 5 goals before the Bears won in overtime).  Then Neuvirth returned from injury and led the Bears to their second straight Calder Cup.

Last year the entire team wasn't quite ready for the postseason.  A lack of consistent offense and some struggles by the defense made life difficult for Braden. 

BUT, in the end a goalie is judged on his playoff performances and up until now Braden has struggled in the postseason.

Sabourin has only played in 7 playoff games over his entire AHL career.  He had 1 back in 98-99 and he played in 6 playoff games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 05-06.  So he isn't even playoff tested at this level.

So while the regular season should go very strong for both Sabourin and Holtby there has to be a major concern as to whether or not they have the ability to raise their level of play in the postseason.

Should either Tomas Vokoun, Neuvirth, Holtby, or Sabourin get hurt at some point this season the Bears/Caps have a couple goalies stored in South Carolina ready to come up and play.

Daren Machesney is back in the organization and, based on previous years, will surely get an opportunity for the Bears this season.  He didn't have a great year last year going 7-18-1 for 4 different teams in the ECHL and AHL. 

After that is hot prospect Philipp Grubauer.  The young German netminder spent the previous 3 seasons playing juniors in the OHL.  Last season he went 22-13-3 with a 3.62 gaa, and a .903 save percentage.

Grubauer has impressed in different camps over the past few months and I am sure the organization is excited to get a look at him in a game situation.  He is expected to play in an exhibition game for the Bears this weekend.

So, the goalies in Hershey are phenomenal in the regular season and questionable in the playoffs.  The next line of defense in South Carolina are struggling or unproven. 

Plenty of questions to answer this season.