Monday, December 17, 2012

Since 11/21...An Improvement

On November 21 the Bears played and lost (4-0) to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.  It was their 16th game of the season and they were 6-9-1-0 with 13 points so far in the young season.

They were averaging a pathetic 2.44 goals per game and were allowing 3 per game. 

And then they sent Adam Oates back to Washington. 

They have played 11 games since then. 

Record of 7-3-0-1.
Goals per game - 3.10
Goals allowed per game - 2.45

Definitely an improvement.  The Bears were not in playoff positionwhen Oates left.  In fact, they were almost at the bottom of the conference.

As of this morning they sit in 8th place in the conference, only 2 points out of 4th.

The 3.10 goals per game would be good for 10th in the league right now. And the 2.45 goals against...try 4th best.

And consider that they are doing that mainly at even strength.  Their power play has actually gotten worse since Oates left...a very low 12.0% conversion rate right now.  And the penalty kill is only slightly better at 81.8% (which would be 21st in the league).

So while things have gotten better, there is still work to be done.  Imagine what they can do if they figure out the special teams.

The Bears have lost 3 straight home games.  Yet they have won 5 straight road games.

This is a team still trying to find their style and make it work for them.  Still trying to find the right balance between offense and defense without compromising one or the other. 

I am sure there are plenty of us who have been critical of the new system installed by Oates and company this fall.  There have been questions of whether or not the players on the roster are the right skill set to be operating this type of system, which is more defensive and reactionary then the system used under Boudreau, Woods, and French's first few years. 

Obviously it didn't start off that well in Hershey this year, but in all fairness I don't think the last two seasons ended that well either. 

We all watch, year after year in the NHL, as the high scoring, offensively dependent teams crash and burn in the playoffs.  And the defensive teams with solid goaltending rise up and make a run. 

Adam Oates came to Washington from New Jersey.  The hope of the neutral zone trap.  A system that forces mistakes and then capitalizes on them. 

New Jersey managed to reach the Stanley Cup Finals last spring. 

I don't know about all of you, but I would take regular season struggles with an extended playoff run over regular season domination with an early playoff exit any day of the week.

There are still 49 games for these Bears to develop their game.  The past 11 have been a good start, but there is still room for improvement.

I have faith they will make those improvements. 


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bears Winning...But First, a Giveaway

Favorite all-time hockey player?  Jeremy Roenick.  Loved the passion he played with, the physicality, and he was damn good. 

Recently he put out a book, J.R.: My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless, and Hard-Hitting Man in Hockey, and some how I was offered a copy of the book to read and issue a review or mention here on the site.

I got it a couple of weeks ago and read it right away.  Great read for hockey fans who want to hear a little more about life in the locker room and some of the dynamics between teammates and their coaches. 

The book was great, but I was sent 2 copies.  So, I am going to give one away to a reader of this here blog.  Not exactly Bears related, but it's hockey related so I think some of you will be interested.

I will pick someone at random...all you have to do is comment here on this post, email me (hersheybearshockey(at), or comment on the Facebook page under the discussion for this post.  Just tell me why you want the copy of the book (for yourself, gift, etc.) and I will pick someone at random. 

All comments/emails need to be received by the end of this weekend and I will select the winner on Monday morning.  I will mail the book to you as soon as I get your information so if you want to give it as a gift for Christmas, you should have time to get it wrapped.

Good luck.

One more thing...because they asked nicely (and offered a nice Christmas gift as well)...if you are looking for any Outdoor Signs, please consider for your purchase.  They do many different types of custom print jobs, including business cards, magnets, and banners.

Another post, this time about the Bears and their recent run of success, will be coming later today or tomorrow. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Bears are 3-1 in their last 4 (staying positive)

The Bears just finished up a 9 game in 16 day stretch and I think we would all agree it included some mixed results. 

Overall the Bears went 4-5 during the span that stretched from November 16 through this past Saturday.  Not exactly lighting the league on fire, but it sure as hell could have been worse.

On a positive note, the Bears went 3-1 in the last 4 and 3-2 since co-coach Adam Oates relinquished his position and returned to Washington.

There appeared to be positive signs heading into Saturday's home game against the East Division's cellar dwelling Norfolk Admirals.  The Bears had just recorded their 2nd and 3rd highest shot totals of the season in wins over the same Admirals and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.  Things were looking up.

Then a familiar thing happened...the Bears forgot how to score.

The Bears have played 21 games this season.  In 8 of those they have failed to score even 2 goals.  Not surprisingly, they are 0-7-1-0 in those games.  Therefore, simple math tells us that they are 9-4-0-0 when they score at least 2 goals. 

That's the team we all want to see more often.

And I think we will.

When Oates left on Thanksgiving we all knew that an overnight change wouldn't happen.  French would still have to make adjustments to Oates system and get everyone on the same page.  Remember that the majority of this Bears team didn't play for French last year.  They are still getting used to him and for the first 2 months of the season they had another guy in town calling (some of) the shots.

So French had, not counting Thanksgiving, 4 days to make the changes after Oates left.  And that doesn't include the travel to and from Norfolk for last Wednesday's game. 

And the players finished up a 9 in 16 and a 5 in 8 and were likely tired.  Is that an excuse for giving up 5 goals and by all indications 'mailing-it-in' on home ice on Saturday?  Of course not.  But when your legs are tired and you have played so many games in so many days you are going to fall back into bad habits.  So the changes French instituted, the ones that resulted in 14 goals scored in 3 games, were neglected.

This week the Bears have 4 days (Sunday through Wednesday) to just rest and practice before starting another grueling stretch of games.  Beginning in Washington (special game against Norfolk) the Bears play 5 games in the next 7 days.  Only 1 of which, this Saturday vs Hamilton, will be at home.  The Bears will leave Norfolk and play the Baby Pens in Wilkes-Barre on Friday, return home for the Hamilton game, and then leave Monday (I suspect) for 2 games against St. John's on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

It's a tough stretch, but I think it will be a significant preview as to what we will see the rest of the season.  I won't call it a 'must-win' set of games and I won't say that if they struggle it is time to hit the panic button, but we are getting close to that. 

French will have had 4 days of practice to implement his changes, plus the 5 games and 4 days he had before this week.  Obviously tweaks may continue, but I am guessing some substantial changes were made over this period of time and will be drilled into the players this week. 

So, if you watch on Thursday (it's on ABC's digital channel for those in the Hershey area), I think you will see a team that more closely resembles the team that just won 3 straight, and not the one that just lost 5-1 on home ice.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Step 1 - Addition by Subtraction

The Bears season has been disappointing, to say the least.  Most opinions surrounding the team in the preseason was one of optimism as there appeared to be an abundance of goal scorers, a likely NHL goalie, an improving defensive corps, and a NHL head coach behind the bench.

One of those has been removed as of this past Wednesday.  Adam Oates and his NHL coaching staff are back in Washington and will no longer be contributing to the Hershey least in person.

According to Coach French, the system implemented by Oates WILL REMAIN in place moving forward.  Tweaks will be made based on necessity but the system will not be scrapped.  (Personally, I would imagine adjustments have already been made.)

One theory on the team's bad start was that with two coaches, players didn't know which to follow.  Surely there were differences of opinions between the coaching staffs and players were likely told different things from time to time.  Even if we assume that the coaches all spoke the 'company line' and stuck to the same message, the message was watered down to appease both head bosses.

But that experiment is over.  Will the Bears turn things around now?

Only time will tell but I don't think that was the only problem.  It may have been at the root of all the problems, but if you expect to see a completely different team on the road tonight or at home tomorrow, you are probably going to be disappointed.

In my personal opinion the problem with this team right now is simple...communication.  Or a lack of.  Admittedly, my seats at GC aren't optimally placed to hear players talking to each other on the ice so maybe it is happening, but I can assure you that it isn't enough.

You can see it on the ice.  Whether its a breakdown in the defensive zone or some confusion on who should go for the loose puck, the players don't seem to be taking advantage of their most simple tool.

This brings us back to the too many new players and not enough consistency in lines problem I discussed previously.  Aucoin and Giroux and Bourque were all so good together because they got used to playing on the same line with each other game after game, no matter what was happening or not happening.  Familiarity is developed over time, not overnight.

And sure as hell not for one period.  Each of the last 2 games I have seen good line composition (at least in my opinion) at the start of the games.  But in each of those 2 games I saw the lines shuffled before long.  How are guys supposed to learn each other tendencies and styles if they are changing line mates all game long.

I won't place all of this blame on Coach Oates, but one of French's biggest weaknesses (again, just my opinion) is sticking with a line TOO LONG.  Anyone remember the Texas Stars series a few years ago?  He waited until the last possible moment, his team down 2 games to none and trailing entering the 3rd period of game 3 before he finally changed the lines.

So part of me thinks (and hopes) that the construction of lines and adjustments was mainly the responsibility of Oates.  And if that is the case, the Bears should improve.


This is basically a coaching change in midseason.  Sure it is just going back to where the team was last year, but 10 of the active players played ZERO games with Hershey last season.  And another handful only played or practiced with the team for a few games.

Since training camp opened back in September the team had two coaches, two coaching styles, and many different opinions.  Now they have one coach, one coaching style, and just a couple opinions to worry about.  BUT, that will take a bit to get used to.

I still believe this team has the talent to compete in the 2012-13 AHL.  You can see it when the game is 0-0 in the first period.  Unfortunately, as soon as they give up a goal, everything seems to change.

Teams in hockey routinely change coaches and see success throughout the rest of the year.  I expect nothing different from the Hershey Bears.

The season starts now.  The Bears are 3 points out of playoff position with 60 games to play.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

What Ails The Bears?

I would imagine that most of you have noticed that our Bears have been struggling to produce so far this season.  Through 13 games the Bears are 5-7-1-0 (11 points) and currently sit tied for second worst record in the Eastern Conference.

That is mediocre.

Through last night's games the Bears are averaging 2.46 goals per game, 23rd in the AHL.  They have scored only 8 first period goals, only 4 teams have scored fewer.  They have only scored 8 third period goals as well, only 1 (ONE!) team has scored fewer third period goals.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your outlook), those numbers are easy to explain.  The Bears have taken fewer shots in the 1st and 3rd period then every other team.  AND, they are 2nd lowest in shots per game with only 23.92.  Hell last night they didn't get their 3rd shot on goal until the second period.  Over 20 minutes of hockey they managed to record 2 shots.  It's no wonder they lost 6-1.

But anyone who has watched this team knows that the offense has been struggling.  Over the past 3 games the Bears have scored 3 goals.  One in each game.

There are good things too though...kind of. 

The Bears are allowing the 11st fewest goals per game, 2.92 per game.  And considering they give up the 25th most shots per game (33.31 per game) that is pretty good.

Only 8 teams have scored more 2nd period than the Bears.  It's something!

The Bears are winning 100% of the games where they lead after 2 periods.  Woohooo!  Problem is they have only managed that 4 times this season.

They have only lost 1 time when leading after 1 period.  Oh wait....they have only been in that position 3 times.

I think the worst stat is that the Bears are 0-9-0-0 when trailing after the first OR second period.  Basically, if you are at a game and the Bears head to either intermission doesn't look good.

So, are we in for a season of mediocrity?  Are we looking at the first non-playoff year of the Capitals affiliation?

I don't think so.  Remember that it is still early in the season.  I know it's already Thanksgiving, but the Bears have only played 17% of their games for the season.  Plenty of time for improvement.

Something to keep in mind and to watch for going's still a new system, new coaches, and new players.

Every player on the team is learning a new strategic system.  Based on my understanding, it is based on more of a counterattack philosophy then a full out attack.  The general theory would be to be better in your defensive zone by sacrificing some of the offensive fortitude of recent years.  Unfortunately it takes time to implement a new system and considering the condensed training camp exposure to it (typically most players would have started learning the system in Caps camp) and the sporadic playing schedule of the AHL in the early season, it is hard to make adjustments.

I have never been a huge fan of the new coaching situation (you know...the one where there is an NHL head coach alongside the AHL head coach), but I can't say how it is really going.  Everyone is saying all the right things, but you have to assume that it is affecting things.  Adjustments in lines and style now need to go through two 'CEOs' instead of just one.  Too many roosters in the hen house, if you will.

Can it work?  I would imagine.  Will it?  I don't know.

And finally, this is a brand new team.  So many of the key players from the past few years are gone and in their place are AHL veterans that may or may not work well with each other.  Again, it takes time to build familiarity with line mates and teammates in general.  And who knows what the locker room is like.  Are guys communicating effectively, are they getting along, is there a leader.

The locker room could be just like the coaching situation...too many leaders.  Guys have a certain leadership style and if two veterans have a style that clashes, it will cause a divided locker room.  Keep in mind that this is just speculation, but with all the veterans on the team now I wouldn't be surprised if there is some locker room division going on.  Especially considering that the team is struggling so much right now.

In the end there is no way to know any of those things.  None of us have coached with Adam Oates before to know if his system is being implemented effectively.  None of us are in the coaches meetings to know if decisions are being watered down in order to appease everyone.  None of us are in the locker room to know if the veterans are getting along or sitting quietly in their respective corners.

A few things I have seen that makes me question all of the above:

The numbers speak for themselves...they aren't producing.  It tells me that Oates' system is either not effective with this team, isn't completely implemented, or the players aren't executing it properly.

The line make up makes me question everything about the coaching situation.  There is no rhyme or reason for the line combinations that I have seen so far.  I want to see 2 unquestioned scoring lines with guys like Taffe, Disalvatore, Stoa, Galiev, Hamill, Potulny, Almeida, Berry, and Syner on them.  After that I want a checking line capable of scoring goals...Kane, Mitchell, and Beaudoin for example.  Then give me a high-energy checking line with Sjogren, Carman, Pope, Kalinsky, and/or Clackson.

Right now you see guys that should be on checking lines trying to play on the first line.  I understand the system's need for solid defensive zone play, but you have to be able to capitalize on the counterattacks if the system is going to work.

As for the 'too many leaders in the locker room thing'...I have nothing.  That is entirely just a speculative possibility.

I do still believe in this team.  I think there is enough offense that, given the opportunity and the right combinations, could make a very effective offensive team.  BUT, until we see it, it is just an unsubstantiated opinion.  So far there is little I have seen from this team to suggest that they can compete for a Calder Cup.

This team has talent.  No question there.  The biggest question this team built for Oates' system or the previous system?

The answer to that question is still at least a month away.  Before the season I was quite certain that we wouldn't really know what kind of team this was until Thanksgiving or so.  Let's see where things stand after the 25th.

In the meantime...


Author note - posts have been rather infrequent on here this season to date.  Unfortunately, that does not appear to be changing for myself.  With a demanding job, kids, and other side projects, I just don't have the time to write here as much.  So, the wife is going to take over much of the writing here and will continue to update the Facebook page with daily news.  I hope to get back into writing regularly this season, but we will wait and see.  Thanks for reading!  I am sure I will be back from time to time to offer my opinion and analysis.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Bears 75th Home Opener Tonight

Last weekend the Bears dropped a 4-3 decision to the Syracuse Crunch in their lone game of the AHL's opening weekend.

Last night they redeemed themselves with a 3-2 win over the Binghamton Senators up I-81.  All 3 goals were scored by defensemen (Julien Brouillette, Garrett Stafford, and Cameron Schilling) and Dany Sabourin made 42 saves to pick up Hershey's first win of their 75th season.

Tonight the Bears open up Giant Center for the first time in the 2012-13 season.  The Bears will wear special 75th Anniversary jerseys, which will be auctioned off after the game, and will face-off against the Rochester Americans, the 2nd oldest team in the league.

The Amerks have already played 4 games this young season and enter the contest 2-2-0-0 with both of their wins (one in a shootout) coming on home ice.

During the 2011-12 season the Bears and Amerks met up twice with each team winning on their own buildings.  This is the first of two meetings again this season as the Bears will make a return trip to Rochester in February.

The 2012-13 Amerks include a few players with substantial NHL experience.
  • Top prospect Cody Hodgson played 83 NHL games last season between Vancouver and Buffalo and tallied 19 goals and 22 assists in those contests.  He currently leads the Amerks with 4 assists in 4 games but has yet to light the lamp this season on his own.
  • Kevin Porter joins the organization this season after spending the majority of the past three seasons in the Colorado Avalanche organization.  In those 3 seasons he played in 125 NHL games, scoring 20 goals and adding 15 assists.  His last extended stay in the AHL was with San Antonio in 2009-10 where he scored 15 goals and added 25 assists in 52 games.  This year he has picked up a goal and 2 assists to start the season.
  • Familiar (last) name, Marcus Foligno, son of former Bears coach Mike Foligno, has made the beginning of his second pro season an impactful one to date.  The 2nd year pro leads the Amerks with 3 goals in the first 4 games and also has an assist.  Last season he tallied 16 goals and 23 assists with Rochester in 60 games before moving up to the Sabres where he picked up 6 goals and 7 assists in only 14 NHL games.  
  • Another familiar name and former Bear "Big" Joe Finley joins the Amerks for the second straight year.  He stands at 6'8" and plays a physical game so watch out for him tonight at the GC.
  • Goaltender David Leggio returns to Rochester for his 2nd season with the club and has started all 4 games so far this season, earning a 2-2 record with a 3.22 goals against average and a .906 save percentage.

It should be an entertaining game at the GC tonight.

Tomorrow night also sees a home game in Hershey as the Bears welcome the Senators to town after beating them last night.  The Senators had won their first 2 games of the season before last nights loss at home to the Bears.  They host Syracuse tonight before making the trip down 81 tomorrow afternoon.

The strength of the Senators roster is between the pipes where they roster two of the better goalies in the AHL, Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop.  Lehner has been a consistent presence in Binghamton as he enters his 3rd full time professional season.  He is a top prospect in the organization, Hockey's Future has him as the #2 prospect in the organization, and he has been stellar in his AHL career to date.  He has started all 3 games so far this season for the Sens and allowed only 2 goals in his first two games before giving up 3 to the Bears.

Ben Bishop has spent the majority of his career to date in Peoria as part of the Blues organization.  He has never finished a season with a goals against average over 3.00 (juniors, AHL, or NHL) and was stellar last season in his AHL time with a combined 2.27 goals against average and .930 save percentage in 41 games played between Peoria and Binghamton.

On the offensive side of things the Sens return their top 3 scorers from 2011-12 - Mike Hoffman, Andre Petersson, and Pat Cannone - and welcome some young studs to the lineup as well.
  • Mike Stone is a name to watch.  He only has 2 assists in their first 3 games, but this is a kid that scored 41 goals and added 82 assists in only 66 games in the WHL last season.  He actually made his NHL debut last spring for the Ottawa Senators in a playoff game, picking up an assist in his one game.  Definitely a name to watch until the NHL lockout ends.  
  • Jakob Silfverberg is a Swedish rookie playing his first hockey in North America this season (not entirely true...he also debuted for the Ottawa Senators last spring with 2 playoff games).  He scored 24 goals and added 30 assists in 49 games for Brynas IF Gavle in the Swedish Elite League.  He has one goal for the Baby Sens this season.
  • Another young Swede, Mika Zibanejad, played 9 games for the Ottawa Senators last year and picked up 1 assist.  He already has an assist this season with the Baby Sens.  

The Binghamton Senators are the youngest team in the AHL this season while the Bears are the oldest.  Those players I mentioned before...the Sens young stars...Hockey's Future ranks Mike #1, Lehner #2, Jakob #3, and Mike Stone at #5 in overall prospects for the organization.  Assuming they all stay in Binghamton for the year, they will likely be pretty good.

Enjoy a full weekend of games at Giant Center as the Bears kick off their 75th season in the AHL. 


Friday, October 12, 2012

2012-13 Season Begins

Tomorrow night in Syracuse the Bears will officially open their 75th AHL season.  A "new" team with "new colors" and the same goal...the Calder Cup.  After coming up short 2 years in row the Bears decided to let some guys move on and they brought in fresh faces with a new desire to win.

Some "old" faces remain.  Patrick McNeill begins his 6th season in Hershey.  Captain Boyd Kane returns yet again as well.  As do many other faces.  If you haven't been following along here (with my infrequent posts) or elsewhere, you can find the current roster on the roster page

Expectations the last two years, as with most years in Hershey, were high.  Calder Cup aspirations were developed early and most people thought they had the team to do it.  Two first round playoff losses later and here we are again.

The Bears, on paper, feature a deep and talented team.  In any other season I would think this team would be a favorite to hoist another cup.  Back in July the Bears started putting this team together with the expectation that there would be an NHL season.  I mean, seriously, who really thought the NHL would risk alienating their fans yet again? 

But as of right now there is no NHL season.  Which means young talented players such as Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers will be playing AHL hockey for their affiliates, in this case the Oklahoma City Barons.  Both of those guys were close to point per game scorers in the NHL last season. 

Closer to home the Bears will see guys like Sean Couturier, the Flyers young centerman, who joins the Phantoms.  Adam Henrique of the Devils will be back in Albany again.  Chris Kreider, who came up big for the Rangers in the playoffs last spring, joins the Connecticut Whale for the start of the 2012-13 campaign.  Some young studs, Emerson Etem (Norfolk) and Beau Bennett (Baby Pens) are starting out in the AHL this year instead of the NHL.  The Columbus Blue Jackets young star Ryan Johansen begins the season in Springfield.

I am sure there are other names I am missing, but the point is...the talent level at the AHL level is going to be higher than usual.  And should the NHL lockout take another entire season, it could impact the Hershey Bears chances of winning the cup.

That being said, there are benefits to no NHL season for Hershey.  The biggest ones are in goal and on the blueline.  Instead of starting the season with the Caps as their starting (or co-starting) goaltender, Braden Holtby returns to Hershey to play for the Bears.  And he brings the talented defenseman Dmitry Orlov with him.  There were no guarantees that Orlov wouldn't have been here anyways, but it wasn't likely.

After that there is one other good thing for NHL call-ups.  There won't be stretches of the season where 2 or 3 guys are on recall to Washington due to injury.  That means that, barring injury in Hershey, the players starting this weekend will likely be starting in December, February, and April.

That is good news since one of the main reasons for derailment the past two springs was injuries and recalls to Washington.

Who knows what is going to happen with the NHL.  They could be back on the ice in a couple of weeks which would make all of this a moot point.  Or they could cancel another season and these players are here to stay.

It isn't like the Bears haven't beaten NHL caliber players before...anyone remember game 7 against Portland??

This Bears team is good.  And deep.  And experienced.

Of the 26 healthy players on the current roster...25 of them have AHL experience.  The only one that doesn't is rookie Stanislav Galiev. 

And it's a bigger team than Hershey has seen in recent years.  There are only 5 players listed at less than 6' and only 1 smaller than 5'10".  Might not make a huge difference but the teams the last couple of years did seemed to get pushed around at times. 

And there are scorers here as well. 
  • Jon DiSalvatore has scored at least 20 goals in all 7 of his professional seasons.  And he has assisted on at least 30 more in 6 of those seasons.
  • Matt Beaudoin is just one year removed from a 20g, 30a season.  
  • Jeff Taffe, who scored plenty of goals against the Bears while playing for the Baby Pens, is also just one year removed from his career best 30g, 37a season.
  • Ryan Stoa has scored 55 goals in his 3 partial AHL seasons.
  • Ryan Potulny scored 33g, 32a last season.
  • Boyd Kane keeps scoring goals too with 19 last season.
Guys always seem to have career years in Hershey so hopefully that can continue. 

But I would be lying if I wasn't a little bit concerned about this team too.  They are older, three of the guys I mentioned above are older than me (31)...which, while not old, is definitely old in AHL terms.  And of the remaining three, only Stoa is younger than 28. 

Of the players expected to be major contributors offensively (the 6 guys mentioned above plus Zach Hamill and Galiev) only 1 will be younger than 25 when the Calder Cup is won. 

Compare that to the top 8 scorers (forwards) from the 2009-10 season and their ages when they won the cup...only 3 were older than 25 - Kane, Aucoin, and Giroux.  Also consider that most of those same players were leading the Bears in scoring during the 2008-09 Cup team.

Does that mean anything?  I have no idea.  But it is worth noting I think. 

The team will be good.  Will they contend or win a cup?  Who knows.  In the past two years I have projected that the teams were definitely good enough and they didn't even make it out of the first round. 

I will say that hockey seems to be a young mans game.  76 games, plus playoffs, against some of the better (and younger) talent the hockey world has is a long season.  Will the age of the players come into play?  Will they work together as a team the way the teams have done in the recent past? 

Who knows. 

I haven't even touched on the defensemen yet...mainly because I am not at all concerned and there was less turnover there.  But they face an increased challenge as well with many NHL caliber forwards playing in the 'A' this season.  They will be asked to defend guys that they haven't seen and who are more skilled then what they typically see. 

But as I said before I am not too concerned there.

Goaltending?  One of the best combo's in the league and with Phillip Grubauer just a 2 hour drive away, if needed...probably the deepest stable of goalies the Bears have seen in a few years.

It is going to be a good season.  With many ups and downs.  It wouldn't surprise me at all if this team made a run at the division and then the cup.  But I don't know most of these guys so it also wouldn't surprise me if they struggled to get into the playoffs as the 6-8 seed. 

With so many new faces, a partially new system in place (new co-coach Adam Oates is implementing at least parts of his system), and a deeper pool of talent in the AHL it is a wide-open year.

I expect some struggles early and would not be surprised at all if we get to Thanksgiving and the Bears are out of playoff positioning.  It is going to take a few games (and weeks) to really figure each other out on the ice.  The guys that have been here in recent years had spent multiple years together and knew each others tendencies and preferences.  It will take some time for that to develop with the current team.

I can say this...I am excited.  Getting to see Hershey Bears hockey makes the next 6+ months very exciting and I can't wait for them to get started.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Quest for a 12th Calder Cup begins Saturday

The Bears wrapped up their 2012-13 preseason slate with a win over the rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Sunday night.  Overall it was a solid exhibition outcome...2-2, with no huge injuries.

This morning brought "final" cuts to get the team down to their opening night roster.  There is still a full season to play and many of the players cut will definitely be back in Chocolate and White at some point soon.

T.J. Syner, Joel Champagne, Brett Flemming, and Alex Berry were all sent to Reading today. 

That leaves 27 players on the roster including Danick Paquette who broke his arm and will be out for a while.

Click over to the roster page for a look at the roster as it stands now.

Alex Berry is probably the biggest surprise (to me anyway) as he scored 2 goals against Wilkes-Barre this weekend and scored 14 goals and 20 assists in the AHL two years ago.  He missed last season with an injury so maybe this is a move to get him used to game action again.  He is expected to play first line minutes in Reading.

Currently there are 15 healthy forwards on the roster and 9 defensemen.  I wouldn't be surprised to see another defensemen sent to Reading before the weekend but I who knows.  Teams always like to have some extra bodies for practice and the first few games as guys are still getting back into shape. 

The Bears open the season this Saturday against the Syracuse Crunch...which are technically the defending AHL champs, kind of.  The Crunch are now the affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who were previously in Norfolk. 

Imagine for a second being a Norfolk Admiral this year.  Assuming the Admirals do a banner drop at the homeowner, there are going to be a number of guys on the ice who weren't a part of it last year.  In fact, based on look at the current roster...NOT ONE player from the 2011-12 Calder Cup Champion Norfolk Admirals remains in Norfolk.  Awkward.

So Hershey will start the season against the true defending Calder Cup Champions in Syracuse.  Looking at their prospective roster, it appears that a majority of last seasons team is "returning" intact. 

Should be fun. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bears Open Camp

Today is officially the first day of the 2012-13 hockey season for the Hershey Bears.  The opening of training camp today marks the beginning of Hershey's 75th AHL season. 

There are some changes that the 75th year will bring.  The new logos are the most immediately noticeable changes.  A new roster is the second biggest change.  The roster is again talented and deep which will help considering some of the NHL caliber talent on AHL rosters due to the NHL lockout.  Hershey has a couple of guys that fit that label, Dmitry Orlov and Braden Holtby, but that is minor compared to some of the teams rosters. 

The final change for the upcoming season could have the most impact but may not be noticed by many people at all.  With a new coaching staff in Washington there are going to be subtle differences in the way the Bears play.  For most of us, this means nothing.  The main thing we care about are goals for, goals against, and wins and losses.  But for the players this could create opportunities for players or take away some.  Guys that fit certain roles in the past couple of seasons may find that those roles are expanded, diminished, or eliminated completely.  While other guys will fill new roles that are created by the system.

Considering the Bears have 3 days of practices before their first exhibition game, the changes are going to be sporadic at first.  In fact, I would imagine that there will still be mental lapses and blown assignments through the first few weeks of the season as players adjust to the slight changes. 

“We talked about it at development camp [in July],” French said. “There will be some changes to the way that we play.  Some things aren't going to change. But there will probably be two or three subtle differences in how we play, but not a change in the overall philosophy of how we want to play.”

Sometimes the subtle differences are the ones that are hardest to implement because things happen so quick on the ice.  It makes it easier for a guy to forget the new way and revert to the old style.

Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on your feelings on it), the Bears will feature a bunch of guys that weren't in Hershey last year so they are learning a new system anyways.

43 players are scheduled to attend training camp.  Below are the positional lists for anyone that hasn't seen it.  The players that are shown in bold font are guys that I consider to be locked in to a roster spot in Hershey.  Names shown in italics are the guys with a legitimate shot to make the team.  Players in standard font are long shots to make the Bears and will likely be reporting to Reading.

The new ECHL affiliate Royals are scheduled to open camp tomorrow and the Bears coaching staff intends to make their first cuts on Thursday (after the first exhibition game on Wednesday night).  Expect to see a bunch of the long shots in the game Wednesday night.

Now to the roster:

  • Brandon Anderson
  • Philipp Grubauer
  • Braden Holtby
  • Sergey Kostenko
  • Dany Sabourin
If the lockout were not ongoing, Braden would likely be in Washington and Grubauer would be starting off in Hershey.  I fully expect the NHL to play this season so this is likely a temporary situation but it isn't a bad one for the Bears.  Grubauer WILL see time in Hershey this season and likely won't be cut until the end of camp, but I don't see why the Bears would carry 3 goaltenders on the opening night roster.  Dany's spot is not in any danger in my opinion.  Even if Grubauer outplays Sabs I still think the Bears send the youngster to Reading to keep him in game action.

Anderson and Kostenko are raw and unknown prospects that may or may not pan out for the organization.  The theory for the Capitals in recent years is to take a goalie in every draft as you never know.  So far it has worked out.  It may again with these guys...but barring injuries I doubt either guy sees a minute on Giant Center ice this season.

  • Julien Brouillette
  • Adam Comrie
  • Brett Flemming
  • Tomas Kundratek
  • Kevin Marshall
  • Patrick McNeill
  • Steven Oleksy
  • Dmitry Orlov
  • Cameron Schilling
  • Garrett Stafford
  • Dustin Stevenson
  • Brad Walch
  • Patrick Wellar
  • Scott Wietecha
14 defensemen are in camp.  I expect the Bears to start the season with 8 on the roster.  Kundratek, Marshall, McNeill, Orlov, Schilling, and Stafford are locks to be in Hershey.  That leaves only 2 spots open.  Let's start this discussion with the players unlikely to make the team.

Walch will be in his first professional season and playing time in Reading is most important for him.  Stevenson has been in the ECHL for a couple of seasons and might get a game or two in Hershey as an injury fill in but I don't see him playing in Hershey much.  Wietecha has some offensive game, 14 goals and 13 assists in 55 ECHL games last season, but he has yet to make his AHL debut.    Comrie is under contract with Reading and is probably the unlikeliest to make the Bears.

Now for the fringe guys...

Odds are that the final two spots will be Brouillette's and Wellar's to lose since the coaching staff knows them and understands what they bring to the table.  But, with Orlov staying in Hershey for the time being there is one less spot available so their spots are not locked in.  Of the two I think Wellar's spot is safer. 

Flemming is a good young player, but I don't see them rushing him.  Why keep him in Hershey to start the season and sit in the stands when he can get regular playing time in Reading.  He likely has a brighter future than the other 3 fringe guys, but that future will likely wait until later this year or next.

Oleksy has 67 games of AHL experience and was a plus 16 in 50 games for Bridgeport last season.  In a normal season I would give him excellent odds of starting in Hershey.  In this lockout season...I think he is the first or second call up option.

It's a solid group of players with or without Orlov.  I can't imagine a defensive unit in the league any better then this one.  Schilling is a rising star in the organization.  Kundratek got time in the NHL last season and is highly regarded as well.  This might be McNeill's last chance in the organization but I think Hershey fans feel pretty good about him on the blueline.  Same can be said for Marshall to be honest although he was limited to 31 games last year due to injuries.  Stafford is the veteran presence that should help the young guys continue to progress.  

  • Barry Almeida
  • Matt Beaudoin
  • Alex Berry
  • Mike Carman
  • Joel Champagne
  • David Civitarese
  • Matt Clackson
  • Jon DiSalvatore
  • Stanislav Galiev
  • Tyler Gron
  • Zach Hamill
  • Jon Kalinski
  • Boyd Kane
  • David Marshall
  • Garrett Mitchell
  • Danick Paquette
  • Matt Pope
  • Ryan Potulny
  • Mattias Sjogren
  • Ryan Stoa
  • T.J. Syner
  • Jeff Taffe
  • Jesse Todd
  • David Vallorani
24 forwards in camp with I suspect 15 positions open for the start of the season.  13 are locks in my opinion. 

Let's talk first of the players that likely have little chance to open the season in Hershey.  And these are some names to keep in mind as some good players (Andrew Gordon and Steve Pinizzotto to name a couple recent guys) have come through the ECHL to AHL.

Tyler Gron and Jesse Todd both finished their college careers last year and got a sniff of the AHL.  Gron played 3 games with Bridgeport and picked up an assist while Todd played 5 games in Hamilton and picked up 3 helpers.  Both guys packed some offensive punch in college so keep their names handy going forward.

Vallorani is also a recent college graduate but he didn't get a shot in the AHL last season.  He was at development camp in July and impressed the staff enough to give him a shot.  He is a diminutive player, standing only 5'8" (just like Almeida and Syner actually) so the odds are against him.  He is a solid offensive player though.  Just a question of many players under 5'9" do the Bears want to roster this season.

Champagne is a year removed from a very successful junior career in the QMJHL.  He was a 5th round pick of the Maple Leafs and played 55 games with Milwaukee last year, picking up 6 goals and 6 assists.  Definitely a good player headed to Reading, but he won't make a huge impact in Hershey this season I don't think.

Civitarese played 10 games for the Bears last season after his college season ended and he will likely get another look this year but there are too many bodies in Hershey for him to start the season here.

Marshall is the journeyman of the group, having spent parts of the last 4 seasons playing for 8 different franchises in the ECHL and AHL including the Baby Pens 2 years ago.  Another depth piece like Champagne but unlikely to make an impact in Hershey.

Paquette is a feisty player who doesn't bring much offense at this point in his career.  Too small for a heavy weight (6'0" 210 lbs) and not quite offensive enough for a 3rd line role, he is likely headed to another season in the ECHL.  Could see a sniff of Hershey this year if the cards fall right for him.

Now let's look at the fringe guys. 

Syner and Almeida might as well be discussed together.  The cousins both finished their college careers and signed contracts with the Bears immediately afterwards.  Neither is truly average height for an adult male, but both can skate and make plays.  Personally, I love seeing guys like this on the ice.  They are quick, have incredible vision to make plays, and are tough as anyone.  They have been counted out for years due to their size and have made it this far.  Keith Aucoin and Chris Bourque understand what they are going through.  As do guys like Martin St. Louis.  Are Syner or Almeida in that class....unlikely, but still a little early to tell.  I suspect that at least one of them starts the season in Reading, if not both.  When everyone is healthy the Bears are likely looking for guys that can kill penalties and play 4th line, physical minutes.  Not saying these guys can't do it...but I suspect other guys get the chance first.

Pope is that type of player.  He is never going to log power play minutes and won't see time with the first liners, barring injury, but he will kill penalties and play a physical, high energy game with his linemates.  A veteran player who isn't going to disappoint in his role.

Mitchell.  The Bears depth is good again this year.  That explains his appearance on the fringe list.  But, to his advantage, he is the same as Pope...with a bit more offensive upside I think.  I said last year that Mitchell reminded me a lot of Gordon in the way he skated and is built.  I don't think Mitchell has that kind of offensive upside but I think he could have Jay Beagle kind of upside...15-20 goals and assists, given the necessary minutes.  I think he makes the roster but could see them sending him to Reading for more playing time to see if he can develop further offensively. 

The roster saw a lot of turnover from last season to this one...more than in other years it felt like.  It is likely to take some time for guys to adjust to each other.  And it will take some time for the coaching staff to figure out line combinations and which guys are right for certain situations. 

Overall I think this is a good team with loads of depth.  The Reading Royals are going to be contenders in the ECHL as they will also load up on talent that doesn't immediately make a spot in Hershey. 

The season is only two weeks away.  I will have plenty more over the coming weeks. 


Friday, September 7, 2012

Some Updates Would Be Nice

July 4, 2012.  That was my last post.  Wow.  I am fairly certain that August 2012 was the first month since I started this blog that at least one post was not written. 

But we are now in September so why not get started again.  Not a whole lot happened over the past month and half but a few things did...let's touch on them.

The 2012-13 Roster:

My page is updated (I believe) as of today so if you want to see the players that are likely to be in Hershey for camp on the 29th, this list should include most of them. 

Lots of good talent in Hershey this year and it could get better...

The Lockout:

I would imagine that most of you have heard about the prospective NHL lockout that is likely headed our way this fall.  Apparently the guys making the millions can't figure out how to share it and instead of sitting down and figuring it out like adults, they are going to stomp their feet and take away the product that actually makes their money in the first place.  Makes sense to me...or not.


We will still have hockey in Hershey no matter what so honestly I don't really care.  In addition, other talented players could make their way to Hershey. 

From my understanding of the rules (which is limited by the way) all players on entry level contracts would be eligible for the AHL.  Meaning...Braden Holtby, Dmitri Orlov, and Marcus Johannssen would be eligible to play in Hershey.

After those players it creates a bit of uncertainty as players on 2-way contracts would either need a waiver to be signed by the NHLPA or would need to redo their contracts to AHL one way deals until the lockout is ended.  In addition, I am not sure how a player like Ryan Potulny would be affected as he is on a NHL one way contract this year. 

Lots of questions still to be answered...hopefully the egos in the NHL and NHLPA can work through their stubbornness and prevent this from turning into an extended hockey break.

New Colors and New Logos:

The great folks over at Sweetest Hockey on Earth took some impressive pictures during the unveiling of the new jersey's and logo's party for season ticket holders.  I was unable to attend and was eagerly awaiting their photographs.  I borrowed a couple of pictures from their site but please head on over to Sweetest Hockey on Earth to see the rest.

I love the new (old) colors and the logo is very nice.  Personally still love the skating bear and the history of it but this is definitely an improvement over the most recent logo. 

I found the 'alternate' or shoulder patch logos elsewhere on the web (link to site here) and personally would love to see a jersey with this logo on the front:

I would buy a jersey with that on the front.  And I don't buy jerseys.

Overall, very nice and I am looking forward to seeing the players in the new jerseys for opening night at GC on October 20th.

The Schedule:

Speaking of October 20th.  That is the Bears home opener this year...against Rochester.  The Bears open their 2012-13 season in Syracuse on Saturday, October 13th.

No real surprises in the schedule.  Wilkes-Barre is on the list 12 times, Binghamton 8 times, Norfolk 8 times, and Syracuse 6 times.  Hershey will play Toronto, Rochester, Hamilton, and Lake Erie from the Western Conference and everyone from the Eastern Conference at least twice.

For those still complaining that the Bears don't play all the other teams...remember that each individual team creates their own schedule.  Many of us season ticket holders would love to see Abbotsford or Texas on the schedule.  But we have to keep in mind that ticket sales are the most critical part of the teams financial success and when you can pretty much guarantee sell-outs when the Penguins come to Hershey...wouldn't you schedule them as much as possible too.  And for the teams in Texas, Oklahoma City, and other non-traditional hockey need to hold those rivalry games as much as possible as you aren't selling near as many seats as the Bears already. 

Yes it's frustrating but it's also business.  Until the AHL takes over the scheduling (highly unlikely) this is the kind of thing you will see every year.

Exhibition Schedule:

Hershey will play 4 exhibition games this year.  Two road games...Binghamton and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and two home games against the same teams.  The games will be held October 3, 5, 6, and 7. 

Now that we are getting closer to the season I would imagine that I will be posting more frequently.  That's the plan anyways.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bears Go Shopping

After sitting by on day 1 of free agency the Bears have made a pretty big splash this holiday week.  On Monday the Bears signed 4 players to AHL only contracts and then added another yesterday.  Prior to that the Capitals made a signing that could (likely will) influence Hershey.  Without further delay...

Jeff Taffe

This is probably the most recognizable name to Bears fans.  Taffe played for the Baby Pens in 2007-08 and 2008-09.  In fact, his best career season, in regards to total points, was 08-09 when he recorded 25 goals and 50 assists in 74 games.  His career for goals in a season is 30, recorded two years ago while playing in Rockford.  His linemate in Rockford that season...Ryan Potulny.  Just sayin'.

Last year, while playing in Houston, he recorded 18 goals and 35 assists over 73 games while also picking up 2 assists for the Minnesota Wild in 5 NHL games.

Taffe has played in more than 320 professional games and is will count against the Bears veteran limit.  He is actually signed to an AHL one way contract right now as that came with more money than a two-way deal would have at the AHL level.  He has played in at least 1 NHL game in every season since he finished his college career and expectations are that the Caps will not hesitate to sign him to an NHL deal should they need him.

Jon DiSalvatore

This name is, to me anyways, much less recognized.  He has spent the past three years in Houston, playing alongside Taffe last year, and has been their captain all three years.  He has played 9 AHL seasons and has scored 20 or more goals in all of them.  He has scored 28 in each of the last two seasons.

He is durable as well.  He has missed only 1 game the past three regular seasons and has played in 72 or more games in all but one of his 9 AHL seasons.  And that one season he still played in 66 games.

Like Taffe, he will count against Hershey's veteran limit.

Alex Berry

Last season Berry was a member of the Portland Pirates but suffered a compound arm fracture in training camp and missed the whole season.  Prior to that the 26 year old right wing spent the 2010-11 season with the Norfolk Admirals where he recorded 14 goals and 20 assists.

Steve Oleksy

Oleksy has played in only 67 career AHL games so he is more of a depth signing than anything, especially considering the players already under contract on the blue line, but as we have seen in recent can never have too much depth.  Last season he played 50 games for Bridgeport.  He scored 1 goal and added 14 assists while also finishing a +16 (third on the team).

Mathieu Beaudoin

Mr. Beaudoin broke into the AHL back in 2007-08 and played 7 games for the Bears that season before moving on to additional playing time and opportunity.  In 2010-11 he scored 21 goals and added 30 assists in just 63 games as a member of the San Antonio Rampage and played in the AHL All-Star game in Hershey.

Last season he battled a thumb injury for much of the season and only played in 47 games for Portland, recording 5 goals and 17 assists.  He was also a member of the Texas Stars in the 2010 Calder Cup finals against the Bears.

One of the best qualities that he brings to the team this year is that he is not a veteran.  So he is an offensive skill player that will not count against the teams veteran limit which should open the door to plenty of playing time.  Unlike DiSalvatore though, he appears to be a bit more fragile.  He hasn't played in more than 72 games in any of his professional seasons.

Garrett Stafford

This is the only player of this group that is a Washington Capitals signing.

Stafford played his 2011-12 season split between Hamilton and Portland.  He only played in 48 games between the two teams but recorded 9 goals and 19 assists in those games.

Like Beaudoin, he was a member of the Texas Stars 2010 Calder Cup finals team against Hershey.  In fact, Doug Yingst had this to say about Stafford:
“We collectively [with Washington] designated Garrett as the No. 1 right-handed defenseman available on a two-way contract for the American Hockey League,” Yingst said. “We thought when Texas played against us -- they had him and Andrew Hutchinson as their No. 1 and 2 -- we thought Stafford was better. Our need, obviously, on our depth chart is for right-handed D.”
Stafford will also count against the veteran limit.

Kevin Marshall

Marshall has agreed to terms for the 2012-13 season.  As a restricted free agent this doesn't surprise me too much, but it always good to officially get guys under contract with time to spare.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

News around Hershey

So a guy goes on vacation for a week and a few things of note take place.  Obviously a good deal has happened this offseason so far and I haven't exactly been updating with any type of frequency.  Let's take a second and look at some of the stories I haven't mentioned to date.

Cody Eakin traded

The Capitals traded the young center and a 2nd round pick to the Dallas Stars for Mike Ribeiro.  Eakin was likely destined for the Bears roster for at least part of the upcoming season so this can be considered to have a direct impact on the Bears 2012-13 roster. 

For the Caps I love this trade.  They have been missing a true 2nd line center since Sergei Federov left and Ribeiro should fill that role admirably. 

For the Bears I don't hate this trade.  Yes Eakin was a good young talent and always played hard, but he would have been a top recall option for the Caps this season and likely wouldn't have been much of a factor come playoff time assuming the Caps make the playoffs and bring up some extra bodies.  So yes I think Eakin would have been a member of the Bears for much of the season and would have been a top contributor, but at the same time I think this allows the Bears to go out and sign a free agent that has a better chance to last in the AHL this season.

Rule Changes

The AHL is getting video replay for questionable goals.  This is obviously a good thing for the game as there were some questionable goals scored against (and surely for) the Bears this past season.  In theory, the replay will remove the doubt from some of the goals. 

My only concern is how the equipment works on an arena by arena basis.  Unlike the NHL system this will be done by each team and will be all in house.  Therefore, you could come across a situation where the equipment at one arena is inferior to the equipment at another.  Time will tell, but overall I don't see where this is ever a bad thing. 

One other rule change that you will notice immediately is being done at the request of the NHL.  A variation of a no-touch icing rule will be in effect until November 19, 2012.  Basically if the puck is already across the goal line and the defensive player is the first to reach the faceoff dot, the play is whistled at that point. 

The theory behind the no-touch icing is to eliminate the collisions that take place when players are racing for the puck beyond the goal line.  I don't see how this changes anything.  Within the current rules injuries are probably rare when the defenseman reaches the faceoff dots first anyways as the forward likely isn't coming that hard anymore.  The times when injuries surface are when two guys are still neck and neck at that point, which will not be affected by this rule.

Both rules are for the betterment of the game and I don't think either is, in any situation, bad for the game.  But I also don't think they are earth shattering changes.

Jacob Micflikier to Europe

I honestly believed that the Bears/Caps were going to give Micflikier another contract and the diminutive winger would be back in Hershey for at least another year.   Alas, that isn't going to be the case as he has signed to play in Switzerland for the upcoming year.  Based on the linked article from Tim Leone, it sounds as though he was close to resigning with the organization but is hoping a shift to a different league might give teams a different view of him.

At the age of 28, Micflikier is running out of time to impress NHL staffs and get a legitimate shot in the league.  I am not convinced that going to Switzerland is really the best thing for any player.  The game in Europe is much different than the North American game and you rarely hear of players having success with "re-launching" their careers in Europe.  If they do it is surely when they play in either the KHL or Swedish Elite League.

Chris Bourque played in Switzerland for the 2010-11 season before returning to the AHL last season and having an MVP caliber season.  If Bourque gets an NHL opportunity this upcoming season he will have this past season to thank...not his year in Europe.

The AHL is arguably the second best league in the world.  Maybe the financial parts of his deal were more influential than we realize (I have no idea what the terms are), but if he is truly using this as a launching pad then I question the logic.

But hey, what do I know.  Good luck Jacob!

Mike Carman is signed for 2012-13

Carman was a restricted free agent and the Capitals had tendered him an offer so the chances of him leaving were slim to none already.  But yesterday it was made official as he signed a one year contract with the organization.  Based on numbers from he will make $65,000 in the AHL this season, a $5,000 a year raise from last year. 

Carman played in 32 games for the Bears in 2011-12 after coming over in a trade from the Colorado/Lake Erie organization.  He scored 7 goals and added 5 assists while bouncing around from the 2nd-4th line.  He is a center in the mold of Andrew Joudrey, a solid defensive player with a limited offensive game.  He is a role player with some upside. 

Glad to see him back for 2012-13.

Capitals Developmental Camp

The Capitals announced that their annual summer development camp will take place from July 9-14 in Washington.  A roster for the camp has not yet been announced, but it is generally recent draft choices as well as rookie free agents.  There are typically signings that result from the camp and possibly even a player that could contribute in Hershey this upcoming year.  Time will tell.  I have yet to go to one of these....someday I will make it down.

Free Agency begins tomorrow, July 1

NHL/AHL free agency period is open for business tomorrow.  With an expiring CBA currently being negotiated you might see a little more cautious activity than usual as teams can't be certain of an exact salary cap number for 2012-13 but plenty of activity will surely take place.

On this site we are mainly concerned with how signings impact the Hershey Bears.  And thanks to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins beat writer Jonathan Bombulie we have a comprehensive list of AHL talent that is available.  On June 24 he posted his top 250 list that identifies, in his opinion, the top 250 AHL caliber players available.  

As of this morning the list is somewhat jumbled as players have been eliminated and/or added due to qualifying offers being made.  He will be updating the list tomorrow and, if I remember, I will update this post to include that link. 

He has Keith Aucoin ranked as the #2 player available.  I am honestly somewhat concerned that Keith hasn't resigned with the organization already.  Hopefully it is just a formality, but something tells me he is curious to hear what teams are offering.  If he manages to get a one way offer from an organization I have to imagine he will take it...I would.  Hopefully he comes back, but if he doesn't I hope he finds permanent success in the NHL.

I am excited to see who the Caps/Bears sign as there are lots of spots open on the Hershey roster and a limited number of prospects available to fill them.  The #1 player on the list is LW Jonathan Audy-Marchessault who played for the Connecticut Whale last season, scoring 24 goals and adding 40 assists in his first pro season.  He is a small forward, only 5'9", which explains why he wasn't drafted by an NHL team.  But as the Norfolk Admirals are well aware (and the Bears for that matter), smaller players can pack an offensive punch at this level.  Might the Bears be in on the Audy-Marchessault sweepstakes....who knows.

That's all for now.  For the next month there should be some regular updates as we discuss players that have signed with the Caps/Bears.  The roster will begin taking shape tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Player news in late May...unusual

Typically we don't start hearing about what players will make up the next season's roster until July and August so getting news on one player was surprise enough.  But today news on a second player was made. 

First up, Chris Bourque is no longer affiliated with the Washington Capitals organization.  Since he was drafted 33rd overall by the Capitals in 2004 he has spent roughly 90% of his professional career tied to the organization.  If you discount the 20 games he played for Pittsburgh after being claimed on waivers in 2009-10, he has been a part of the Washington organization his entire career.

*Yes I know he played overseas in 2010-11, but he was still a restricted free agent in the Capitals system and was still technically a Washington Capitals prospect.

That all ended late last week.  A little over 30 days before it was ending anyways.

Chris Bourque believes that he has NHL talent.  And why shouldn't he.  I believe his talent level is NHL quality...the issue has always been his size, or lack thereof.  At 5'8" he is generally considered too short to play in the NHL. 

Well, Chris is looking to disprove that notion and told the Capitals as much.  The organization knew that he was very unlikely to resign with them once he hit unrestricted free agency on July 1 of this summer. 

So he was leaving Hershey one way or another.  The Capitals just decided that they wanted to see if they could get something for him. 

One shouldn't expect to get equal value (or any value for that matter) for a player that has played sparingly in the NHL and is set to be an unrestricted free agent in about 30 days.  You are basically offering teams a player that they would have a shot at signing on July 1 if they chose to wait.  Teams won't give up too much for that chance.

Once in a while you will see a high-end NHL caliber player coming up on free agency get traded in the same situation.  Generally though that is for players that teams are certain will start the following season in the NHL.  No offense to Chris, but I doubt he fits into that category for most teams.

Somehow though the Caps managed to flip him for a player of quality.  The Boston Bruins were apparently tired of waiting for prospect Zach Hamill to pan out and decided to take a chance on Washington's diminutive winger. 

Hamill was the #8 overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft.  He has played 256 games in the AHL since then, scoring 44 goals and adding 95 assists.  Obviously his numbers aren't comparable to Bourque's, but not many are.  (In case you were curious...Chris has 132 goals and and 263 assists in 398 regular season AHL games). 

Hamill has also played in 20 NHL games, recording 3 assists for the big Bruins. 

No one is going to try and tell you the Capitals got equal value (based on past production) for Chris Bourque.  But they did manage to turn nothing into something.  Chris wasn't coming back...Zach will be.

Hamill also fills a need for the Bears (he is a long shot to make the Caps).  He is a center.  And if you remember, the Bears had some injuries at center late in the season and struggled to find capable replacements. 

AND, Chris was a veteran, having played in more than 320 professional games in his career.  Hamill is a veteran exempt, having played in between 260-320 games in his professional career.  Therefore, Hamill is easier to work with on a roster as team is allowed to dress one veteran-exempt player each game in addition to the 5 veterans.

*Note that the NHL collective bargaining agreement is set to expire this summer which could influence rules like the one I just discussed, as well as waiver rules.  So the above paragraph may end up not being true...but based on this past season it is.

It is unfortunate to see Chris leave as he is a good player and seemed to come into his own the past year or so.  Both him and the organization left open the possibility of him returning down the line if it doesn't work out in the NHL, but I for one am hoping to see him succeed and stick with the Bruins.

At the same time though, I am excited to see what Hamill can do in Hershey.  Players routinely came to Hershey and saw their skills really brought out of them and they exploded for big seasons.  Hamill might be the same way. 

So that's one player news item down, one to go.  This one will be much shorter.

Dany Sabourin will likely be a Bear 2012-13.  He resigned with the organization for the upcoming season and barring injuries will be in Hershey for the campaign.

Dany had a solid season this year and it will be great to have him back to help young Philip Grubauer, who is expected to make the jump from the ECHL to the AHL. 

So there you go.  Two players you can expect to see in Hershey this upcoming season that we either didn't know about last week or weren't sure about last week.  And I think both are good for Hershey.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Coaches have been hired

News is rolling in fast here this week.  Just a few minutes after I wrote up the posts you saw about an hour ago, I saw that item #2 on the Bears offseason to-do list was crossed off.

Coaches Mark French and Troy Mann will be returning behind the bench in Hershey for 2012-13. 

I honestly thought the organization would try to better align their coaching strategies this offseason.  Apparently that wasn't their biggest concern.  And considering how well recent Bear 'graduates' have played in the NHL, maybe it shouldn't be.

Personally I am not thrilled with this move, but I am not really upset either.  It doesn't shock me, that's for sure. 

Considering that the past two springs have seen a bunch of injuries and call-ups, I am guessing that the organization wanted to give French and Mann a chance to see what they can do with a full roster at the key time.  It has been hard to put a consistent, balanced roster together the last two springs. 

And in all honesty, considering what happens in most sports, it is nice to see an organization remain patient with a set of coaches and not dismiss them at the first sign of trouble.

Bears and Caps extend affiliation

Item #1 on the Bears offseason to-do list has been crossed off.  I think we all expected this to happen, but everyone knows what happens when you assume.

The Capitals and Bears announced today that they have extended their affiliation agreement through the 2013-14 season.  This is good news for all parties involved I think.  With the teams close together it makes it easier on the players.  And there are obviously plenty of Caps fans in Hershey who enjoy seeing the 'future' Caps before they jump to the NHL.

As a fan watching the players move up it is special.  Watching Braden Holtby become the star of the playoffs was pretty cool.  (I wish he could have been that steady and superb here in Hershey as well...but that's a post for a different time.)

Jay Beagle, Mathieu Perreault, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Jeff Schultz, Brooks Laich, Michael Neuvirth, Cody Eakin, Dmitry Orlov, and (indirectly) Matt Hendricks...they all had playoff success in Hershey before having playoff success in Washington. 

And then there was Keith Aucoin.  He has spent the past 4 years in Hershey, scoring goals and assisting on tons more.  He is arguably one of the best players in the AHL every single year.  To see him get a legitimate look in the NHL and actually play meaningful minutes in meaningful playoff games...that was pretty awesome.  Everyone Bears fan who has seen him the last 4 years know that he can play and it's great to see him get the chance to prove that he can do it on at the highest level.

As much as I wanted to see Coiner (and the rest of them that were eligible) return to Hershey for the Bears run, I was absolutely fine with seeing it not happen as well.  I was really hoping that Keith would have gotten his name on the Stanley Cup after putting in his dues in the AHL for so long.  It wasn't meant to be...this year...but I am sure he wouldn't trade it for anything.

Sorry, kind of went off in a different direction there.

The Caps/Bears affiliation has obviously been successful...7 years, 7 playoff appearances, 4 Calder Cup finals appearances, and 3 Calder Cups. 

Pretty sure ANY franchise in ANY sport would take that kind of success and run with it. 

The past couple of years has seen a lesser influx of talent within the Washington Capitals organization and more in the way of free agent signings.  This trend is not likely to end anytime soon.  Currently the Capitals organizational ranking when it comes to prospects is in the 25-30 range of the NHL.  Meaning they are one of the thinnest franchises in regards to prospect talent.

The nice thing about the affiliation is that the Caps don't look at Hershey and say too bad.  They assist in signing players (Kyle Greentree, Alexandre Giroux, Jacob Micflikier, Brian Fahey, Dany Sabourin) that will help the Bears be a winning team. 

And it doesn't appear that there is much 'influence' on the Bears on who to dress and who not to dress.  If there was then guys like Aucoin and Chris Bourque would see their minutes diminish in favor of players like Eakin or Garrett Mitchell. 

Overall it is a good affiliation that will no doubt continue to assist both teams toward their yearly goals of hoisting a championship trophy. 

Washington Capitals Offseason

After their game seven loss to the New York Rangers on May 12 in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, it is time for the Washington Capitals to hang up their hockey jerseys, store their goalie gloves and face what promises to be a tumultuous off-season.

Numerous players, including Alex Semin, Dennis Wideman, Mike Knuble, Tomas Vokoun, Jeff Halpern, and Keith Aucoin are unrestricted free agents.

Rumor has it that Semin is going to move on, as he should.

Wideman will likely be too expensive considering the Caps will likely have eight defenseman (including Tom Poti) on the roster heading into next season. (I fully expect the Caps to tender offers and likely keep their restricted free agents which include John Carlson and Mike Green.)

Vokoun has already said his stay in Washington was only supposed to be for a year and with the emergence of Braden Holtby there likely wasn’t room even if he wanted to come back.

Halpern’s role was taken by Jay Beagle late in the season and during the playoffs. Assuming the Caps resign the restricted free agent Beagle, I would imagine that the role will be his next season as well.

That leaves Knuble and Aucoin as the only two legitimate options for the Caps to resign. And I could see both happening…assuming the players understand their roles. Knuble would be converted into a 4th line grinder with limited ice time and Aucoin would likely report back to Hershey and be an emergency call up option again.

Who knows what happens but I don’t see too many teams looking at Coiner and giving him a one-way NHL deal so the question for him is would I rather play in Hershey or another AHL city. I suspect he will be back.

The coaching element of this is also intriguing. As in…there is no coach. Coach Dale Hunter has already announced that will be returning to his role as owner and coach of the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League. And GM George McPhee has already said that the team will take it’s time in finding a coach.

This influences multiple things for both the Caps and the Bears. In Washington it obviously means that you don’t know what system will be in place, therefore, you might not know exactly which free agents to target. Do you want to bring in an offensive force that costs a lot of money just to end up in a system like Hunter’s again with limited offensive output? It’s a question the Caps need to figure out.

It also affects Hershey though. Will the Capitals be looking for a similar coach to mold their prospects better for the big club? If I was running the team I would definitely want a coach with a similar strategy coaching my prospects and preparing them for the NHL. That way when they make the jump to the NHL they are at least prepared to play with their teammates even if they aren’t quite physically ready to handle the pounding.

Coach Mark French’s contract also expired this season I believe so now is the time to make a change if you want to.

My guess…expect a new coach in Hershey for the 2012-13 season.

There are plenty of questions to be answered heading into the offseason, probably more than usual. But with the Caps relative success this spring, expectations next year are sure to be high again.

As for expectations in Hershey…well, one only has to look to the Giant Center rafters to understand.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

2011-12 season is over

It's been a few days now since 7 seconds in the 2nd period ultimately ended the Bears 2011-12 season.  The Baby Pens scored 2 goals in 7 seconds, the 2nd on a freak bounce that went Wilkes-Barre's way, to take a 2-0 lead in the deciding game 5 of the series.  Hershey would respond well in the 3rd period and make it 2-1, but they never got the tying goal.

So a season that started out with high aspirations ends in the first round of the playoffs.  Tim Leone's piece says that the Bears lost 162 man games to injury this season and used 42 different players during the season.  Considering a typical roster consists of 23-25 players, 42 is a lot.  But considering the constant fluctuation of AHL rosters it isn't really that much.

Unfortunately for the Bears the players that were missed to injury and recall were critical pieces to the team puzzle. 

But at the end of the day it doesn't matter.  The season is over and whatever reason you want to give, it doesn't change any of it.

The focus shifts to the 2012-13 season which brings immediate uncertainty as the current affiliation with the Capitals is set to expire this summer.  I think the general opinion is that the affiliation will be extended as it makes sense for both parties...but until the paperwork is completed and signed, you never know.

In addition, the contracts for the Bears coaching staff, Mark French and Troy Mann, have expired.  Here is where I think you need to make a change.  I am not a fan of French's and think that his strategic skills could use some improving. 

But at the same time he has won a lot of games the past 2 seasons despite dealing with a bunch of injuries and recalls in each season.  So maybe he deserves another chance.  When he had a fully healthy team he won 60 games and a Calder Cup. 

Still, I won't be upset if they go a different way...but I can definitely see his contract being extended. 

This decision is not made by Doug Yingst exclusively though.  I am sure he gets a say, but the Capitals are also involved in this decision and they may desire to bring in a coach with a similar coaching style to whomever is behind the bench in Washington. 

We will find out sometime after the Caps postseason run is over...which hopefully doesn't end until June!

As for the players that will be and won't be back for 2012-13...below are a few lists detailing some information.  Keep in mind that any player under contract with Washington will not be in Hershey next season should the affiliation not be extended.

Players Under Contract With Washington for 2012-13:
Ryan Potulny
Cody Eakin
Garrett Mitchell
Mattias Sjogren
Patrick McNeill
Cameran Schilling
Brett Flemming
Tomas Kundratek
Philipp Grubauer
Brandon Anderson

Players Under Contract With Hershey for 2012-13:
David Civitarese
Barry Almeida
TJ Syner
Matt Pope
Julian Brouillette
Patrick Wellar

Washington Capitals Restricted Free Agents:
Mike Carman
Kevin Marshall

Not included on the above lists but also under contract for 2012-13 are Braden Holtby and Dmitry Orlov. I really doubt either player spends a minute in Hershey next season so for the purposes of this post I don't feel it is necessary to talk about them.

Let's assume that the Caps and Bears extend their affiliation agreement.  If that happens I think all of the players listed above will be in Hershey's training camp come September.  I don't see the Caps not tendering offers to Carman and Marshall and every other player is already under contract.

Now, you will notice that there are some big names not listed there.  Keith Aucoin, Chris Bourque, Jacob Micflikier, Boyd Kane, Dany Sabourin, and plenty more. 

I fully expect the Bears to sign a few of either these guys or players like them.  Hershey is always willing to spend some money of free agents and I don't expect the 75th anniversary season to be any different.

Aucoin, to me, is a lock to return.  The question is...does he go to Washington or Hershey?  Based on the minutes that Dale Hunter is giving him in the playoffs right now it wouldn't surprise me at all to see him spend at least parts of the season in Washington. 

The Bears will generally pay 1 or 2 players a decent amount of money to play in Hershey.  The advantage this year is that Ryan Potulny's contract is a 1-way deal meaning the Caps will pay him to play in Hershey should he be reassigned during the season.  That will free up some money for the Bears to spend on additional free agents.

I could obviously speculate for hours on what players the Bears will bring back or look at, but there would not be a science to any of it and it would all just be speculation and rumor starting.  I will say two things though...

1.  The defense is pretty much set.  With McNeill, Schilling, Kundratek, Wellar, Brouillette, and Flemming back and Marshall likely to be back you have your top 7 defensemen.  Patty McNeill will be considered a veteran exempt next season as well so you have a veteran presence already on the roster.  Don't expect too many signings along the blueline.

2.  They need a scorer.  One of the biggest problems this entire season was that there were too many passers on the roster and not enough shooters.  Guys were always looking to make the extra pass instead of taking an open shot.  Not saying guys couldn't shoot or score, but most of the guys were more interested in setting up their linemates than shooting themselves...or at least that's how it felt.  Maybe rookie Stanislav Galiev will help in that regard, but I think the Bears will go looking for a proven goal scorer in free agency.  Someone you look to in big games to come up with the big goals...such as a huge overtime goal in game 5 of the Calder Cup Finals.  Hypothetically speaking of course. 

For the second season in a row the offseason is going to be long.  Few answers about the roster will be resolved before July and actual hockey won't be back until October.  5 full months. 

I agree that we are spoiled as Bears fans...4 Calder Cup Finals in 5 years...but these long summers suck and I am okay with being spoiled.  Hopefully the roster put together for next season will allow us to enjoy Bears hockey well into June 2013.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Bears win...force Game 5 tonight

I had this whole post written up about last nights game...but then I's over.  It doesn't matter anymore.  One game is left to decide who moves on and who waits until next season.

I know this is NHL footage...but the idea is still the same:

And then there is this one...remember, the Bears are the underdogs tonight...but that doesn't mean anything until the game is done:

And finally...something more from OUR Hershey Bears...a couple of years ago the Bears backs were against the wall in the Calder Cup Finals. Down 2 games to none, headed for Texas. After a couple of victories in games 3 and 4 the Bears needed one more to avoid having to win two at home:

If you are going up to the game loud. Many of us will be listening or watching on AHLLive and we want to hear Bears nation.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bears win in OT...Game 4 on Friday

The Bears live to play another day.  Ryan Potulny's goal, 2:57 into overtime, finished off an up and down game for the Bears as they won for the first time March 28.

Hershey skated to a 2-0 lead after the first period on goals by DJ King and Cameron Schilling.  But Wilkes-Barre would get one back in the 2nd and the tying goal about 6 minutes into the 3rd period to make it a 2-2 game. 

The teams traded goals over the final 7 minutes of the 3rd period to force overtime where the Bears actually outshot the Pens 4-0 and picked up the win.

Yes it was a win.  Yes I am excited for game 4 on Friday night. 

But if the Bears intend to make this a real series and go back to Wilkes-Barre on Saturday, this needs to be the first step in the process.

Wilkes-Barre dominated the first few minutes of the game and it was beginning to look a lot like games 1 and 2 sounded.  Hershey couldn't get the puck out of their zone and had to block multiple shots and get saves from Dany Sabourin to stay even on the scoreboard.

The difference between the first 2 games of the series and last night?  Hershey scored first.  You could see the confidence grow when they got that goal and took their first lead of the series.  They started making crisper passes and seemed calmer with the puck. 

Unfortunately the Bears needed to readjust each period.  At the start of the 2nd and 3rd periods it was very similar.  Wilkes-Barre controlled the puck and Hershey couldn't get it out.  Poor clear attempts and hasty moves with the puck led to countless turnovers in their own end. 

In the 3rd period it cost them as Wilkes-Barre only left the offensive zone a couple of times in the first 6 minutes and picked up the tying goal at the end of that. 
But the Bears used the confidence they showed after scoring their first goal after each Wilkes-Barre tally and didn't let the game get away from them. 

It was an impressive performance considering the outcome of games 1 and 2. 

There is still work to be done though.

Today at practice I would have Mike Carman, Ryan Potulny, Andrew Carroll, and Cody Eakin working on faceoffs against each other for the entire practice. 

That was some of the worst faceoff performance I can remember seeing.  The AHL does not track faceoff stats so there is no telling how bad it really was but I would say Hershey won no more than 25% of the draws and that might be a high estimate.

Hershey overcame the problem last night thanks to a ton of blocked shots and Dany making some key saves...but if they continue to perform that poorly then they will struggle to compete in the coming game(s).

The other thing I was seeing involved the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton team speed.  After games 1 and 2 and even during the game last night I heard how much fast the Pens are then the Bears. 

I didn't see it.  Speed in sports is many times overrated. 

The reason the Pens appear faster than Hershey is because they are playing better positionally and executing their schemes better than the Bears are.  If you are lining up and rotating properly every time then you are going to look so much faster than the other team because you are always where the loose pucks are. 

And that's what happened for long stretches last night.  Wilkes-Barre would get the pucks in the zone and then move it with precision and confidence and would keep the puck in the zone for minutes at a time. 

Very rarely did you see the Pens make poor clearing passes or not have someone in the spot where a teammate expected them to be. 

Hershey?  How many times did you see clearing attempts blocked along the Bears or passes that were thrown to empty space as someone was out of position? 

I saw it quite a bit.  Wilkes-Barre's precision made the Bears look extremely disorganized.  Maybe the Bears weren't as disorganized as they looked at times...maybe the Pens were just that efficient.  But any way you look at, the Bears need to improve before tomorrow night.

Overall it was a good win.  An important win (obviously). 

But there is still improvements to be made and work to be done.  Wilkes-Barre's goaltending is not going to win them this or any series.  Hershey can (and did last night) take advantage of that...scoring 4 goals on only 22 shots. 

The Bears CAN win this series.  They just need to slow the game down (mentally) and improve their execution. 

Game 3 was a good first step.  Game 4 needs to go a step further.