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.


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