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.
- 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.
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.
LET'S GO BEARS!!!!!