Saturday, November 30, 2013

Will the Bears be a Playoff Team?

I said early on in the season that we would know what kind of team these Bears are around Thanksgiving.  Because of the new coach, new players, and infrequent schedule early in the year I expected them to look sluggish for a while.

It would appear that Coach Haviland was kind of expecting something similar.  All season long the Bears have played similar as they did on Wednesday night (poorly if you weren't there) and he hasn't said much about it outside of general coach-speak.

But that changed Wednesday night.  He let his frustration through in his post-game remarks:

“Again, we had way too many passengers tonight,” Haviland said. “Way too many. It's just a common theme right now. I don't know if we need to figure something out here.
“We've moved guys in and out of the lineup. Guys have gone in and have done nothing with it. Guys have gotten taken out and trying to wake up and they've done nothing with it. I don't know what guys are waiting for. The next step, we all know what that is.”

Coach Mike Haviland can see it.  Guys don't seem to want it.  They don't want to to work hard for the puck.  They don't want to get their noses dirty.

The problems in the organization run much deeper than that (more on that later...this might turn into a long post), but the problem with this team is simple...

No energy.  No passion.

On nights where the Bears take the body and hit the opponent often, they play better and actually win.  We saw it last Saturday against Binghamton.  They came out fast, hit guys, and skated away with a huge victory.

Then they came out Sunday and stood around and watched as the Senators moved the puck all around them and took back all of the good feelings from Saturday night.

It really is simple.  Look at the teams Hershey won championships with.

2005-06 had guys like Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich, Graham Mink, Boyd Kane, Dean Arsene, and (possibly most importantly) Louis Robitaille.

I know Louis wasn't a great hockey player by any standard...but he brought an energy with him to the rink.

2008-09 saw Kip Brennan, Minker, Jay Beagle, Arsene, Greg Amadio, and (again, possibly most importlantly) Steve Pinizzotto.

Pinizzotto was (and is) a better player than Louis, but he brought the same kind of energy to the rink every night.  His role was to be the agitator, to hit guys, and to by physical.  He did it well.

2009-10 saw many of those same players take the ice.  Obviously the play of Alexandre Giroux, Keith Aucoin, Andrew Gordon, and Chris Bourque at the offensive end was especially important, but without the energy and physical play the other guys brought, it would have been a different team.

The last few years has seen those physical players dwindle in Hershey.  And this years team is again limited.  They have plenty of guys that can (and want to) score, but no one to clear a path to the net to open up lanes for the puck.

Think about it.  Pinner would come out and hit people for 30 seconds while going 100 miles per hour and then a line with Giroux Aucoin and Mink would come out and score a goal.  Mink would crash the net and disrupt the defense while Giroux and Aucoin dazzled everyone.

Now?  Nothing.

The general belief is that fights get the crowd and players into it.  It gives them a boost of energy.  And that is true.  But you know what else does...a huge (legal) hit in open ice or in the corners.  Or just a guy skating around at 100 mph hitting everyone on the other team.

Hershey has a guy similar to that right now.  And I can't believe I am going to say this, but...

Joel Rechlicz needs to play every single game AND he needs to get regular ice time ALL GAME LONG.  He brings the energy that this team needs.

As soon as he steps on the ice you can feel the vibe change.  Opposing players don't want to hold on to the puck for as long if he is nearby.  The crowd gets into it as he skates as fast as he can in what appears to be no particular pattern.

Is Joel a good hockey player...he obviously is good enough to be on an AHL roster.  The only Joel would need to learn in this new role is that his job IS NOT TO FIGHT.  Fighting isn't a problem necessarily, but what the Bears really need is the energy.

Pinner, Louis, and Amadio could all fight if necessary (although some might question Robitaille's desire), but that wasn't their #1 role or goal when the stepped on the ice.

There are other guys on the Bears that can play this way too.  Dane Byers has been doing a good job of it so far this year.  Garrett Mitchell used to do it, but has seen his play (and ice time...he was actually a healthy scratch recently) drop this year.  Brandon Segal can hit and has at times.  Josh Brittain brought energy to the lineup when he played.  Jeff Taffe can hit and does, some games more than others.

But I don't think any of them (other than Joel and Dane) are in Pinner or Robitaille's class when it comes to hitting and agitating.

Problem is...Dane is also trying to score goals and LEAD the team while Joel rarely gets a sweater to wear.

Maybe that will change now.  Coach Haviland's words seem to indicate that guys will be held more accountable...we will see.

Now for the organizational problems that are causing problems in Hershey (and Washington).

An inability to recognize talent AND an inability to be realistic about expectations.

Tomas Fleischmann.  Cody Eakin.  Filip Forsberg.  Mathieu Perreault.

Right there are 4 players that could be helping the Washington Capitals right now if GM George McPhee hadn't determined they were expendable.

Ok, sometimes you have to trade good players to get better.  I get that.  So let's see...

Flash was traded for defenseman Scott Hannan.  He doesn't play for the Caps anymore and only did for the rest of that one season.  Fleischmann has averaged over .5 point per game over the last three years and isn't even 30 years old yet.

Eakin was traded to Dallas for Mike Ribeiro.  Oh and GMGM also sent a 2nd round pick to Dallas in the deal (more on the picks later).  Ribeiro was a really good player for the Caps....for one (shortened) season.  Then they let him walk for no compensation.  Eakin has 14 points in 24 games for the Stars this season and is 22 years old.

Forsberg was traded to the Nashville Predators for Michael Latta and Martin Erat last season.  The jury is still out on Forsberg as he is only 19, he has 1 goal and 4 assists in 12 NHL games this year as well as on Latta, who doesn't have the same level of expectations.  But Erat was thought to be a key piece of this deal that would make it worth while for the Caps.  Well...apparently not.  He has spent much of 13-14 on the 4th line and has recently requested a trade.

Perry was the odd man out in camp this year so the Caps sent the diminutive pivot to Anaheim for...John Mitchell and a 4th round pick.  Nothing against John Mitchell...but the Caps will have to get a hell of player with the pick to make this even out.  Perry has 5 goals and 10 assists in 26 games with the Ducks.  Oh and he is only 25.

So, let's recap:

Capitals trade four players, Fleischmann, Eakin, Forsberg, and Perreault, who are all STILL under the age of 30 for Erat, Latta, and Mitchell.  Maybe that's short sighted since there were other players involved, but the fact is...each of the 4 could still be in Washington...producing at a young age...but instead the Caps have nothing for them.

OH...and Dmitry Orlov has demanded a trade too.  Funny thing is...I just told my wife the other day that the Caps should probably trade him.  He is no different than the other names on this list.

A talented player that the Caps either can't find a spot for or can't develop.  Might as well trade him for a few pucks and a 7th round pick.

Quite honestly, his value isn't going to up anymore with the Capitals.  They obviously don't want to play him in Washington so he can't prove his worth there.  Maybe that's the right call by Oates, I don't know, but the longer he stays in Hershey the more teams are going to question his abilities and the lower his value will drop.

Ok.  So maybe I cherry-picked some data there.  I am sure McPhee has made some shrewd deals.  The Varlamov deal was pretty good.  But the fact remains the same...he is shipping out young talent and getting very little in return.

I said it last spring when they did the Forsberg deal.  McPhee's goal each year is to make the playoffs.  That's it.  He will sell the future for the present each and every time and is incapable of seeing a teams true potential and/or limitations.

Damn near every person on the planet knew the Capitals weren't a Stanley Cup team last year (could you have imagined them against the Hawks in the finals?  HA).  Except for one, George McPhee.

This year isn't much different.  Despite their high position in the worst division in hockey, the Capitals are NOT a true Stanley Cup contender.

And they aren't one or two players away either.  Yet come trade deadline time you can bet that McPhee will add one or two pieces at the expense of the future because he is seeing this team through rose-colored glasses.

Ok...but what the hell does this have to do with the Bears?  All those trades impacted the Caps mainly and if anything only helped the Bears with depth.

The Bears best years were built on the backs of Capitals prospects.  The last few years have seen very few high-end Capitals prospects in Hershey, outside of the goalies.  That's thanks to 2 reasons:

1.  Trading Draft Picks for Aging Vets.

I couldn't find a complete list of McPhee trades online and wasn't going to create one.  BUT I know he constantly traded picks for players in the 2009-2011 time frame.  One I distinctly remember was the Caps getting Joe Corvo in the 2010-11 season for a 2nd round pick.  Not a good trade.

2.  Consistently Drafting European Players.

Alexander Ovechkin and Nicholas Backstrom are great players.  So are many of the other European born NHLers.  And there are certainly plenty of North American born players that don't pan out.

The problem for the Bears and Caps is that European players don't always even want to play in the US.  And most definitely don't want to play in the AHL.  They figure that they can get enough experience in their home countries.  Sometimes it is true...other times it isn't.

You combine those two things and you see that the Caps have had fewer top end draft picks in recent years AND they continuously draft European born players who will never play in the AHL with the few picks they have.

The pick trading phase slowed in recent years and there are players in the Capitals pipeline that will likely play in Hershey that have talent and will impact the Bears.  And that kind of problem is generally a temporary one anyways as teams organizational depth varies from year to year as draft picks are made and signed.

It helps to explain though why the Bears have been an average AHL team the last few seasons...they just don't have the talent of other teams.  You can look it from any number of angles, but the higher the pick the more talent he has.  Sure guys that are undrafted or late round picks surprise from time to time, but while you hear those stories told a lot, there are more players helping AHL and NHL teams that were 1st and 2nd picks than 6th and 7th rounders.

The next few years will see more and more young talent in Hershey.  But until then the Bears have to find a way to work with what is there.

They have talent, they have speed (some of it anyways), and they have some young guys.  Now what they need is a group of guys that actually wants to win at any cost.

They need guys that will block shots with their face if necessary (although definitely not encouraged).  They need guys that will put opposing players through the glass if given the opportunity.  They need guys that will go to the front of the net and get cross-checked in the back in order to obstruct the goalies view.

They need guys who want to play hockey...not just score goals and make pretty plays.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading.  That was a long post and probably rambled on at times.  I appreciate your commitment to reading my rant.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

More Line Shuffling

This Pennlive article made me mad so I thought I would write a post while in the moment instead of letting it settle down.  Usually not a great idea, let's see how it works out.

Earlier this week I wrote a post commenting that one of the Bears biggest problems is that there are too many guys on the roster and too much roster instability for guys to 'get a feel' for each other and know what each other is going to do on the ice.

Well that is going to get worse before it gets better I fear.
"You've got to look at the results we have now, so maybe a new face, a new something in the lineup," Bears head coach Mike Haviland said.  "He's a big guy that gets around pretty well.  We're still talking about the lineup, obviously, for Saturday.  But, certainly, we may have to give him a chance."
That was coach Haviland talking about forward Josh Brittain who was just cleared to return.  Maybe Brittain is exactly what these Bears have been missing.  I mean he did score 11 goals in 43 games for the Admirals last season [sarcasm intended].

Adding him to the lineup gives the Bears 16 forwards active.  16.  They dress 12 for any given game.  I don't understand.

And if that isn't too many...let's go for 17:
“We talked as a staff that maybe it was a good time for him just to go down and get a little bit more confidence, more touches with the puck, and play a little bit more minutes than what he is up here right now,” Haviland said.  
“I don't see it a long-term thing at all. I think it's going to be a short term. We really like him. We like his energy. We like what he brings to this team, to the room, on and off the ice.”
That is Haviland talking about Tyler Ruegsegger who was just loaned to Reading.

This team doesn't need MORE line/roster shuffling.  It needs continuity and similarity for a while. The players need to be given time to get a feel for what the other guys are going to do on the ice.

I am all for some line shuffling throughout the year to make sure guys can play with other guys, but usually that is initiated due to injuries, recalls, or poor play.

The argument could be made that poor play is the reason for all the constant line shuffling, but at some point I feel like you have to wonder if the 'solution' isn't actually the problem.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What Ails our Bears?

The Hershey Bears currently sit in 5th place in the East Division with 7 points.  They are 5 points back of 4th place Binghamton and 10 points back from 1st place Wilkes-Barre.

The Bears currently reside in 12 place in the Eastern Conference, just 2 points from last.

The Bears have won 2 games.  That is more than only the Utica Comets, who haven't won a game.

The Bears have been outscored 12-2 in the 3rd period of games this year.  That is easily the worst in the league.  (They are actually outscoring the opposition 10-7 in the first and 11-7 in the second.)

The Bears rank 22nd in goals scored per game with 2.56.

The Bears are 23rd in goals allowed per game with 3.22.

I might not know a ton, but I know that this is about as bad a start to the season as you can have.  Especially considering the expectations that this team brought with them into the season.

So what gives?  Why is this team "under-performing"?

Well, for one, I figured they would be a slow starting team already.  Lots of new faces and a new coach usually spells a slow start for teams.  The 2006 Calder Cup winning Bears lost 5 of their first 9 games.

So some of this is to be expected.

But even that team won 4 in their first 9.

Now maybe if the referees this past weekend wouldn't have (potentially) blown 2 calls the outcomes would have been different.  If you haven't been paying attention there was a goal waved off in the Wilkes-Barre game on Saturday that sure looked in to everyone but referee Ryan Fraser.  And on Sunday another goal was waved off due to a phantom hand pass.

The thing will sports (and life) is that you can't know what would have happened if those calls go the other way, but we would all love to believe things would have worked out.

Hershey would have tied the game Saturday 3-3 and likely gone to overtime against the Pens.  And Sunday the Bears (theoretically) would have been up 4-2 after one period instead of 3-2.  And (theoretically) it would have ended 4-3.

Obviously that is a short-sighted look at it, but it's my blog and I chose to do that.

If the Bears manage to win those 2 games then they would have 4 wins and 5 losses after 9 games...the same as the 05-06 Bears.

But just because there is a new coach and players doesn't explain it all either.  Yes it will take time, but at some point things have to start going better.

Why hasn't that happened?

My personal belief?  Too many mouths to feed and a lack of consistency in the lineup.

Hershey has not had the same lineup for any 2 games this year.  9 games...different lineup each game.  And that is just the overall lineup.  My guess is you have seen different lines and defensive pairings in each game as well.

The problem with this is that guys can't learn tendencies and adjust to each other on the fly if they aren't playing with each other on a regular basis.

Look at the Caps.  When healthy they generally run the exact same lineup out each night with maybe a slight adjustment on the 4th line.  They don't change the top lines and pairings unless a guy is struggling or there is an injury.

You could make the argument for practice, but you can't accurately simulate game moments during practice.
Now this isn't to say that the Bears will never get it unless Haviland sticks with a certain lineup.  No, they will figure it out, but the longer he toys with lineups and lines the longer it will take.

Some of this is out of Haviland's hands.  When the Caps send Dmitry Orlov down on a Sunday with the express purpose of him dressing and playing, he has to do it.

But the more you can go with a constant lineup the better the Bears will get.

Part of this problem goes beyond Haviland and onto Yingst for signing too many veterans for the 3rd straight year.  I understand wanting to have veteran leadership in the locker room, but to have 6 guys for 5 spots seems like you are just asking for trouble.

Sure, it often times 'works itself out' with injuries, but it is more often an issue.  Right now you have 6 veterans and Strachan is the only defenseman.  He sat out one game.

Derek Whitmore, Jeff Taffe, and Dane Byers are veterans and they have played every game so far.  Rightfully so as they are probably 3 of the best players so far.

But that means that between Jamie Johnson and Brandon Segal, one guy has to sit every night.  Both of those guys can play, but they play different roles.  Segal is a physical guy that can play on the bottom two lines, while Johnson is an offensive-minded player with more skill situated best on the top 2 lines.

So when Johnson is in the top 2 lines see a change and then when he sits someone else moves up.  Segal moving in and out of the lineup is less disruptive as he has mostly played on the 4th line from what I have seen.

Obviously this is all a small sample size look at things and probably an oversimplification of the problem, but until Haviland settles on a lineup, forward lines, and defensive pairings the Bears are going to struggle to string together consistent performances.

What you end up with are periods of solid play followed by stretches of guys looking lost.  This happens because guys don't "know" their teammates yet.

Giroux and Aucoin were so good together because they knew exactly where the other was going when a certain situation presented itself.  But that didn't happen right away, it took them time to get there.

I have faith that these Bears will get there too, but it would behoove Haviland and the Bears to sacrifice guys 'feelings' and roll out the same lineup for a few games.  I suggest something like this:

Whitmore - Taffe - Wellman
Walker - Johnson - Deschamps
Byers - LeBlanc -  Mitchell
Syner - Watkins - Rechlicz

That leaves Segal, Brittain, Mitchell (John), and the largely useless Ryan Stoa watching from the press box most nights.

Defense is a little less important as the roles are more defined and straight forward.  But for the sake of this post I would leave Wellar and Brouillette in suits most games.

And start Grubauer in net 2 out of every 3.  Leggio was phenomenal on Saturday, but I haven't been as impressed in his other games as of yet.

Roll that lineup out for both games this weekend and keep it together for the 3 games next week and lets see where the Bears are then.

Oh By The Way:

The lone two game stretch that saw consistent lineups...the trip to St. John's.  The only change from game 1 to 2 was Orlov for Kundratek.  And how did the Bears do in the 2nd game?  That's right...a 4-0 win.

Why Johnson over Segal as the 5th the 5 games where Johnson played over Segal the Bears have collected both of their wins and 6 of their 7 points.

Tyler Ruegsegger was loaned to Reading earlier today and Orlov was re-called by the Caps yesterday.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bears Start Year Slowly

The Bears enter the 4th weekend of the AHL season having played a whopping 4 games.  When you have a new coach and new players that kind of infrequent play can make it very difficult to figure things out and see success.

Sure they have had plenty of practice time and have undoubtedly scrimmaged there, but there is no way to simulate live game action.  And there is no way to develop real chemistry with your linemates without experiencing live game action.

When I saw the schedule I fully expected to see the 2013-14 Bears to struggle at the beginning of the year.  Surely the team didn't think they would and plenty of fans probably have expected more as well.  

But I honestly felt like we wouldn't know much about this team until they got to about Thanksgiving.  

I still feel that way.

I am hyped for more Bears hockey this weekend and fully expect a good showing, but this team is still learning about each other.  And Coach Haviland is still trying to figure out how lines are going to fit together and which guys to play in which roles and situations.  

Getting back on Giant Center ice will surely help the team and actually playing games will help even more.  Beginning this weekend the Bears will play 10 games over the next 22 days.  Considering they played 4 in the first 21 days that will definitely lead to some more familiarity amongst the guys.

6 of the first 7 games in that stretch are at home (1 road game next Friday in Wilkes-Barre) so we will get to see the transformation first hand.  

Just getting to play 2 games last weekend seemed to help as they came out playing pretty well on Saturday after dropping the Friday game in St. John's.  I can only imagine what getting to play a few more games will do for them.

This weekend features two home games.  Saturday night sees the Hartford Wolf Pack (finally done with all that Connecticut Whale stuff) visit Giant Center.  

Hartford enters the weekend with a 5-1-0-1 record and plays at Albany on Friday night so they are a good team that will be warmed up with a game the night before.  They currently sit in 1st place in the Northeast Division but their most recent game was their lone regulation loss and 2 of their wins have come in the shootout.  

I would expect a close game as 6 of their 7 games so far have been 1 goal affairs with only Wednesday nights loss being more (4-2).  

One player to watch for the Wolf Pack is number 29, RW Danny Kristo.  Kristo has 5 goals and 3 assists in 7 games so far this year.  He is playing his first full pro season after finishing up a highly productive college career that saw him score 68 goals in his 4 year career at the University of North Dakota.  

Sunday welcomes the familiar Norfolk Admirals to Hershey for the first time in 2013-14.  They have played 6 games are and 3-1-0-2 so far.  4 of their 6 six games have gone to a shootout so a close game might be in store again Sunday.  Although, their other 2 games were blowouts, one a win and the other a loss...both against Binghamton.

The Admirals appear to be a young team this year as 3 of their top 4 scorers to date are rookies in 2013-14.  And 9 of their top 15 current top scorers are rookies.  

Norfolk will be finishing up their first 3 in 3 of the season when they visit Hershey on the tail end of a weekend spent on the road.  They start the weekend Friday night in Adirondack, stop off in Wilkes-Barre for a game Saturday, and then finish against our Hershey Bears Sunday evening.

It should be a good weekend of hockey at the GC.  Here is hoping to 2 Hershey victories!  (and here is hoping that they both come in regulation too.)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Bears Kick of 2013-14 Season

The Bears will play host to the Adirondack Phantoms at Giant Center tonight to kick off the 2013-14 season.  This will be the first time the Bears start off the season on home ice since the 2009-10 season. 

A summer filled with lots of exciting moves for the organization has erased the bad memories of early round playoff exits of recent years. 

This years team has loads of potential and seems to be in good position from the forwards through the goaltending. 

Add to that a new coach who will surely be a change from the emotion-less coaches Bears fans have been frustrated by the past few years.

But potential is something that every team has at this time a year.  Optimism abounds in every locker room and building around the AHL and NHL.  Each team and it's fan base believes that their team has a chance to be the last one standing.

Can Hershey be that team?  We begin to find out tonight with a group that looks familiar in many ways and completely different in others.

Earlier this week I introduced you to some of the new faces on the roster, but that didn't necessarily do this team justice.  I mentioned that players like Dane Byers, Nate Schmidt, and Michael Latta return for another year at the GC.

But I didn't really mention that those 3 players technically finished the season in Hershey, but combined they only played in 33 games with the Bears at the end of last year.  Not exactly a large sample size.

And that was the story last year as Doug Yingst went out to completely remake the roster he had put together in the summer of 2012.

Looking at the lineup for the first game in Syracuse last year I see 7 names that are on the roster today.  That's it.  Of 20 guys dressed only 7 remain with the team.  They are Cameron Schilling, Stanislav Galiev, Jeff Taffe, Ryan Stoa, Dmitry Orlov, Tomas Kundratek, and Garrett Mitchell.

Some guys might have been scratched for that game that are still there, but you get the picture.  The 2013-14 version of the Hershey Bears is drastically different than the one that started 2012-13.

Midway through last season when Yingst started making moves I was of the belief that the team was much more talented than the one that started the season.  And then in the offseason, allowing players like Boyd Kane and Patrick McNeill to move on to new hockey homes, I feel that the team continued to improve as the players tasked with replacing them appear to be at least equal to them.

Every year at this time I look at the roster and see promise.  You see names that you know or names that you have researched and you find that they are good players. 

For some reason the last few years has never gone quite as according to plan.  The Bears have not seen the 2nd round of the playoffs since winning the Calder Cup in 2009-10.  And they haven't impressed during the regular season either. 

Will this year be more of the same?  I don't think so, but in fairness to the teams that came before, I didn't think so about them either. 

This year's team has a very good balance, including a defense that features multiple NHL prospects.  The offense is still a little on the older side with 5 of Hershey's 6 veterans residing up front.  They appear to be better than last years crop of forwards, but we were all excited about the prospects of guys like Jon Disalvatore last season too. 

There is a lot of hockey to play and plenty of injuries, roster moves, and line adjustments before we can really know what kind of team this is. 

The only thing I will say is this...

The last 3 Bears coaches won Calder Cups in their first year on the job.  (and 4 of the last 6 by the way)

So that is something, right?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Examining Different Roles

Opening night is just around the corner and we are all excited to get a look at the 2013-14 version of our Hershey Bears!!!

One of the best ways to get acclimated with the new roster is to try and come up with line combinations that we could see.  I have done this in years past.

But the activity is futile, especially when you have 31 guys on the current roster!

So instead of trying to figure out lines, I went with a different approach this year.  I try to define the roles of each line and which players that would fit that role instead.  Sound good?  Good.

First and Second Lines

These lines are combined as one group and are always (unless a team isn't very good) scoring lines.  The major role is to score goals and make plays.  Playing defense is good too, but your hope with the top 2 lines is that they spend a majority of their time in the offensive zone.

So, which players from this years Bears roster should we look for on these lines?  Glad you asked.

I think there are 9 guys that could make a pretty big case for being on one of the top 2 lines each night they play.  They are:
  • Jamie Johnson
  • Derek Whitmore
  • Jeff Taffe
  • Casey Wellman
  • Stanislav Galiev
  • Peter LeBlanc
  • Ryan Stoa
  • Brandon Segal
  • Nathan Walker
I hesitate to add Walker to this list, but he has spent time in that role in practice so maybe he gets a chance.  Otherwise I think all the other guys speak for themselves.  Galiev was very good in Reading last year and was impressive in limited opportunities in Washington's preseason.  He struggled in the AHL last year and any struggles this year will move him to Reading.

One mistake teams make, at both the AHL and NHL level, is they misuse guys they call up.  You see it all the time in the NHL.  A team calls up a guy who is scoring at alarming rates in the minors and then they put him on the 4th line in the NHL and everyone wonders why he can't produce up there.  Same thing happens with guys like Galiev.  He isn't a 3rd or 4th line grinder and, unless he worked on it a lot this offseason, isn't going to help your team in that capacity.  So I will be curious to see how they use him.

Stoa struggled mightily last year in Hershey.  He was expected to be a top offensive weapon when he signed, but failed to live up to those levels.  He finished with 11 goals in 48 games.  We will see if he has cured whatever ailed him last season.

A couple other names to watch for this list would be Michael Latta, Nicolas Deschamps, and Garrett Mitchell.  I think each has the skills necessary to be a top 6 forward in the AHL, but the numbers game and their other skills will likely keep them out of it to start the year. 

3rd Line

Your 3rd line is a typically middle ground between scoring lines and pure energy/grinder lines.  You want guys that can score if given the opportunity, but can also shut down the oppositions top line.  Jay Beagle was one of the best of recent memory in Washington to do this.  He could score if needed, but was great in his own end.

There are a few guys I really like for this line in Hershey this year:
  • Michael Latta
  • Garrett Mitchell
  • Matt Watkins
  • Nicolas Deschamps
  • Dane Byers
Some of the names from the 1/2 lines will trickle down here too, but if you gave me a line of Latta - Mitchell - Deschamps...I would be ecstatic. 

Latta might not be in Hershey long as he was only sent down because the Caps added a defenseman through waivers.  With Jack Hillen getting hurt last night in Washington and expected to miss "months" than I suspect Latta might be headed back to Washington sooner rather than later.  When he moves up you can just plug Watkins into his spot as he is another center and this line probably won't miss a beat.

Byers can fill a role on the top lines as well, but based on how he was used at the end of last season I think he is more destined for 3/4 line work.  

4th Line

This is your energy line.  Typically, these guys are mainly out there to play a physical game, make the other team work hard, and not give up a goal.  If anything comes from them on offense than its a bonus as it isn't usually expected.  Andrew Joudrey and Mike Carman were your prototypical 4th line guys in recent years.

Hershey is in a unique situation this year, as they were a few years ago.  They have enough guys to roll with 4 scoring type lines and no energy line.  It is hard to tell until you see certain players and see how Coach Haviland likes to roll his forward lines out there, but this line could be more like a second 3rd line for 2013-14.

This is probably the toughest line to project until you get to know the guys as you don't know what their skill is based on stats.  But I will take a crack at it.  (That doesn't count the first guy on this list...he is a no brainer.)
  • Joel Rechicz
  • Tyler Ruegsegger
  • Josh Brittain
  • John Mitchell
When Joel plays, which I don't expect to be too often, the 4th line will take on a more traditional role.  They will be a high energy, agitator type line instead of a 4th scoring line.  

Depending on other guys I could see Dane Byers mainly on this list this year as well.  Some of these guys I think are destined for Reading and I think most of the other players on the roster fit the top 3 lines so, as I said before, you will probably see 4 'scoring' lines in Hershey this year instead. 

But that depends on coach preference and injuries a bit too, obviously.


Trying to figure out the defensive pairs is even harder than the lines.  Coach Adam Oates likes to use lefties with righties at all times so his pairings are a bit easier to project.  Not sure if Haviland will take the same approach or not...he does have the bodies to do so if he chooses.

The Bears have 4 players that played at least a game in the NHL last season.

Cameron Schilling
Dmitry Orlov
Tyson Strachan
Tomas Kundratek

In addition, another player, Nate Schmidt, was recalled after Hershey's season ended and spent the postseason practicing with the Caps.  He didn't get in any games, but he was right there if needed. 

Assuming Haviland goes with the leftie/rightie approach to keep it similar within the organization I would imagine you will see something like this:


Am I right?  Who the hell knows.  I think the top 5 is pretty clear though.  Srachan, Orlov, Schilling, Schmidt, and Kundratek.  After that it is probably a free for all.  I don't know much about Kolomatis, but he seems to have more upside than some of the other guys.

Because of their depth I think both Wey and Cajkovsky end up in Reading so that they get continuous work.  They can probably both handle the AHL, but with the rest of the guys they won't be every night starters and they will play more in the ECHL.

I think Weller and Brouillette, turn mainstays the past couple years, are also playing for the roster lives right now.  But what do I know.


Goaltending is easy.  Grubauer is #1, Leggio is #2.  It will probably end up being a 1a, 1b like situation, but my guess is Grubauer will start 2 games more often in 3 in 3 weekends.

See that what easy.

At the end of the day...I know very little about most of these guys beyond their stats.  And stats can lie.  Some of the guys (Wellman and Taffe) have pretty unquestioned roles.  Others I feel pretty good about too.  But what the heck do I know.

The only thing I know for sure is that I am excited to see this team on the ice.  There is ample amounts of potential on this roster.  Assuming a relatively healthy season and a good coaching job...the sky is the limit.

Bears on Twitter

As I mentioned the other day I would attempt to compile this list of Bears on Twitter.  I will link to this post from the roster page and will try to update it when it is necessary.  If I missed anyone, let me know.

2 - Nate Schmidt - @nateschmidt29 
4 - Chay Genoway - @chaygenoway
5 - Tyson Strachan - @tstracks
11 - Derek Whitmore - @dwhitmore21
12 - Nathan Walker - @NathanWalks10
13 - Josh Brittain - @realjbrittain
15 - Michael Latta - @Latta17
19 - Joel Rechlicz - @TheRecker19
20 - Jeff Taffe - @JeffTaffe
21 - Casey Wellman - @CaseyWellman
25 - Stanislav Galiev - @Galixon_97
26 - Brandon Segal - @Brandon_Segal
29 - Julien Brouillette - @Brouillette86
30 - David Leggio - @DLeggio33
33 - Patrick Wellar - @PWellar33
34 - Tomas Kundratek - @Kundrc84
36 - Garrett Mitchell - @Mitchy1_0
38 - Dane Byers - @byzee34

That's all I can find for the current roster.  If I missed someone, let me know.  Sweetest Hockey on Earth did a post almost a year ago that listed a bunch of former Bears Twitter accounts.  (And I borrowed their image for this post...thanks!)

Others you might want to follow for Hershey news:

Tim Leone - @timleone
Scott Stuccio - @scottstuccio
Hershey Bears - @theHersheyBears
SHOE - @sweetesthockey
Kyle Mace - @kyle_mace

Looking for some Capitals news or Caps players (former Bears at least):

John Walton - @WaltonCaps
Mike Vogel - @VogsCaps

Braden Holtby - @Holts170
Steve Oleksy - @StevenOleksy
Mike Green - @GreenLife52
Karl Alzner - @KarlAlzner
John Carlson - @JohnCarlson74
Eric Fehr - @EricFehr
Brooks Laich - @BrooksLaich
Michael Neuvirth - mneuvirth30

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Meet the New Guys

We are almost there!  The home opener is only 57 hours a way as I write this.

The 2013-14 version of the Hershey Bears is almost set to take the ice in games that actually count.  And this team looks fairly different than the 2012-13 version.

Gone are players like Joey Crabb, Boyd Kane, Jon Disalvatore, Barry Almeida, Ryan Potulny, Mike Carman, Dany Sabourin, Patrick McNeill, and others.

Tough to see some of the guys go, but it is the nature of the business.  And we don't have to say goodbye to all the guys from last year:

Returning are guys like Jeff Taffe, Casey Wellman, Peter LeBlanc, Nicholas Deschamps, Cameron Schilling, Tomas Kundratek, Philipp Grubauer, Garrett Mitchell, Joel Rechlicz, and others.

Many of those players didn't even start the season in Hershey last year but were brought in via trades throughout the year.  Getting a chance at a full season together should pay dividends.

But we already know about them.  We know (mostly) what they bring to the ice each night.

What we don't know is the new guys.  So let's meet them:

G - David Leggio

David played last year with the Rochester Americans where he went 38-24-1 in his 64 games with a 2.56 goals against average and a .924 save percentage.  He is 29 and was undrafted out of college.  He has played 3 straight full seasons in the AHL with Portland (2010-11) and Rochester (2011-2013).  Over his three years he has improved each year and was even named the AHL's Goalie of the Month in March 2013.

How He Fits - He and Gruby will make one of the most formidable goalie combinations in the AHL this season.

D - Patrick Wey

Patrick is a 6'3" 210 lb defenseman that spent the last 4 seasons playing for Boston College after becoming a 4th round pick of the Washington Capitals.  He was named a 2013 Hockey East's 2nd Team All Star AND was named 2013 Best Defensive Defenseman in Hockey East.  He scored 1 goal and added 12 assists in 12-13 and was a member of the 2011-12 National Championship team at BC.

How He Fits - He might not.  Someone is going to be headed to Reading and I think Wey is possibly a choice.  I haven't seen him much, but based on what I have read he is probably a bit like Patrick McNeill.

D - Michal Cajkovsky

Michal is a 6'3" 208 lb defenseman from Slovakia that will be fighting for minutes amongst a deep blueline in Hershey.  He is 21 and spent the last 3 years in the OHL after going undrafted in the NHL.  He produced 10 goals and 24 assists last season with the Ottawa 67's, but is not considered an offensive defenseman.  Seems like the best part of his game is the physical part.

How He Fits - Based on reviews from his junior days I would say he is ticketed for Reading.  BUT he was one of the last cuts in Caps camp so they see something.  Saw him at the STH pickup night...big kid.  Based on reviews I think he could be similar to Patrick Wellar.

D - David Kolomatis

David was a 5th round pick of the Kings in the same 2009 draft as Patrick Wey.  He is a smaller defenseman at 5'11" and 190 lbs, but has been a consistent presence for the Manchester Monarchs over the past 4 years.  Has had some injury problems the last two years, as he was limited to 58 games in 2011-12 and only 46 last year.  But in those 46 games he produced 8 goals and 20 assists and was a key point man on the power play.

How He Fits - As an experienced rear-guard with power play experience he will likely get a good chance to fill that role in Hershey as well.

D - Tyson Strachan (@tstracks)

Tyson was the lone veteran defenseman signed by the Bears/Caps this offseason.  He appears to be a prototypical 'stay-at-home' defenseman.  He is 6'2" 215 and has never recorded more than 5 goals in any one season.  That also could be to bouncing around a lot though.  He has played in 120 NHL games over each of the last 5 seasons, so if he is consistently recalled it could be hard.

How He Fits - Definitely in Hershey this year and possibly a captain of this team.  Suspect he will spend much of the season on the top pair and a key on the penalty kill.

C - Jamie Johnson

Jamie is an AHL veteran who has played for 5 different AHL franchises plus 2 teams overseas in his 7 pro seasons.  Most recently he was a player in the KHL where he totaled 8 goals and 14 assists in 52 games.  In his last AHL season he scored 21 goals and added 37 assists in 76 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2011-12.  His best AHL season was a 27 goal 44 assist year with Rochester in 2009-10.

How He Fits - I suspect Hershey fans will see his name regularly in the write-ups as he will probably be involved in plenty of scoring.  He is currently being paired with Jeff Taffe, his Rochester teammate in 09-10.

LW - Derek Whitmore (@dwhitmore21)

Derek joins the Bears after spending a season playing in the German league (DEL).  He scored 9 goals and added 14 assists in 26 games.  From 2008-12 he was an AHL mainstay however.  He played in at least 75 games each of the 4 years and totaled 84 goals and 63 assists in those years.  His has 2 full AHL seasons saw him score 27 and 28 goals, respectively.

How He Fits - Based on his previous numbers I think the Bears MIGHT have their go-to scorer when they need one.  Not many guys finish years with more goals than assists unless they like to shoot.  It is a welcome addition considering the players around the past couple years.

RW - Matt Watkins

Matt is a non-veteran addition that spent last year with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers where he scored 11 goals and added 19 assists in 68 games.  Previously he spent time with San Antonio and Portland and in 4 (mostly) full AHL seasons he has never finished with less than 11 goals.

How He Fits - I envision a 3rd line role and lead penalty killer.  Reviews mention a high on-ice awareness and defensively strong player.

F - Nathan Walker (@NathanWalks10)

The young Aussie is looking to become the first Australian to play in the NHL and comes to Hershey after 1 year in the USHL where he produced 7 goals and 20 assists in 29 games.  Prior to that he played 2 seasons in the Czech pro league.  He has actually lived in the Czech Republic since 2006, but was raised in Australia.  Oh and at 19 he has a longer Wikipedia entry than any of the other guys mentioned in this post!

How He Fits - At 19 and undersized (5'9" and 185 lbs) I could see him spending some time in Reading.  But he did impress in Washington so we shall see.  At best I would imagine 3/4 line minutes.

RW - Brandon Segal (@brandon_segal)

The oldest addition (30) to the Bears this offseason, he brings plenty of experience.  Last season Brandon played in Connecticut and scored 24 goals and added 20 assists in 73 games.  He has 103 games of NHL experience on his resume and has played 8 different AHL franchises (Hershey makes 9) in his 10 pro seasons.  His best season was in 08-09 when he scored 26 goals and 26 assists in 69 games.  He was also a member of the 11-12 Norfolk team that dominated and won the Calder Cup.

How He Fits - Hugely.  He is a 6'2" 215 lb power forward that the Bears haven't had in a few years (think Graham Mink).  He is headed for a role on one of the top 2 lines I suspect.

F - John Mitchell

Mitchell joins the Bears thanks to the trade that sent former Bear Mathieu Perreault to Anaheim.  He played last season with in Norfolk where he registered 10 goals and 4 assists in 61 games.  In 11-12 he was in Syracuse and produced 8 and 10 in 50 games.  He is big, standing about 6'5" so he should bring a physical presence.

How He Fits - Not sure.  I think he might spend some time in Reading, but if not than he will likely see mostly 4th line minutes.

OK.  I think that is it for the new guys.  As I try to expand on my Twitter activity I will also try to update the roster page with Twitter handles and links to those in case you are there.

Check back tomorrow or Saturday for more preview posts!


Forgot a couple guys.

F - Tyler Ruegsegger

Last season was Tyler's first full AHL season and he produced 11 goals and 7 assists in 61 games with the Abbotsford Heat.  He played his college hockey at the Univ. of Denver where he was a productive offensive player scoring 56 goals in his 4 years there.

How He Fits - Depth player more than likely.  He was solid in the preseason though so we shall see.  Could see him in Reading with regular call-ups depending on injuries.

F - Josh Brittain

Josh is another big body (6'5" 230 lbs) and he spent last season split between the ECHL and AHL.  He had 27 points in 31 ECHL games and then produced 19 points (11 goals) in 43 AHL games with Norfolk.  He is a former 3rd round pick who has some skill and definitely the size to be a good power forward.

How He Fits - He is injured right now which I believe is both keeping him in Hershey and keeping him from staying in Hershey long term.  I fully expect him to head to Reading upon his return to health, but that will at least partially depend on the health of the remaining Bears at that point.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Bears Cuts will be Difficult

The Bears have managed to score 12 goals and allow only 1 in their first two preseason games.  Obviously we can get excited about this considering the teams struggles to score the past couple of seasons, but it is still only preseason and the rosters are made up of many guys who won't start in the AHL. 

But it is a good sign.

Looking at the roster this morning I can say one thing for sure...

I am glad I am not in Doug Yingst and Mike Haviland's shoes right now.

Have you looked at the roster?  Only one word I have for it. 


Goaltending is solid and we all know that.  Philip Grubauer and David Leggio will be numbers 1 and 2 so long as their (and the Caps goalies) health stays good.

That's the easy part.

Now let's consider the defense.  By my count there are 12 defenseman in camp this morning.  Sorry to say but 3 guys aren't going to be there much longer.  Ryan Kavanaugh, Mike Banwell, and Erik Burgdoerfer will be heading home at some point. Nothing against them, but just consider the remaining 9:
  • Julien Brouillette
  • Chay Genoway
  • David Kolomatis
  • Cameron Schilling
  • Nate Schmidt
  • Patrick Wellar
  • Tomas Kundratek
  • Patrick Wey
  • Brett Flemming
Like I said...those 3 don't have much chance.

Oh and Tyson Strachan was placed on waivers yesterday and could (will likely) be in Hershey after noon today.

So that's 10 guys.  But wait, there's more.

Connor Carrick, Dmitry Orlov, and Michal Cajkovsky all remain in Washington.  It is looking more and more likely that Carrick is going to make the Caps, which is a story all its own, but that still leaves Orlov and Cajkovsky to be sent to Hershey.

So let's assume Carrick does make the Caps.  Which of the remaining 12 would you cut and send to Reading? 

Brett Flemming is probably tops.  But which of the remaining 11?  Seriously.  We haven't seen Cajkovsky or Wey yet as they are rookies, but Michal is still in Caps camp so that says something.  Wey is a highly regarded prospect that has won championships on many levels. 

But the Bears aren't going to keep more than 8 guys in Hershey assuming health. 

Crazy deep. 
  • Kolomatis scored 28 points in 46 games last year in Manchester. 
  • Strachan played 38 games for the Florida Panthers in 2012-13.
  • Genoway had 6 points in 12 games for Hershey after being traded here last year.
  • Schmidt had 4 in 8 and then played all 5 playoff games after finishing his college career last year.
  • Orlov was, not that long ago, considered a top prospect in the organization.
Point is, they can all play and some of them are going to be heart broken in Reading while others will get frustrated with the view from press row a couple times a week. 

This is a deep bunch and a very talented one.  With a new coaching staff there is no way to know who will be safe and who won't.  Allegiances are gone.  Familiarity takes time.  Guys like Wellar and Brouillette are fighting for their roster lives after finding some stability in recent years.

Hard cuts will be coming and the Bears will still be good.

And that was just the defense. 

By my count there are 18 forwards in camp right now and 3 left in Washington.  They are:
  • Josh Brittain
  • Nicholas Deschamps
  • Stanislav Galiev
  • Dustin Gazley
  • Jamie Johnson
  • Peter LeBlanc
  • David Marshall
  • Garrett Mitchell
  • Domenic Monardo
  • Tyler Ruegsegger
  • Brandon Segal
  • Ryan Stoa
  • T.J. Syner
  • Jeff Taffe
  • Nathan Walker
  • Matt Watkins
  • Casey Wellman
  • Derek Whitmore
And the 3 in Washington:
  • Dane Byers
  • Michael Latta
  • Joel Rechlicz
The Caps still have 17 forwards in camp and are expected to cut 3 of them.  Guess which three...yup, these 3.  Rechlicz has probably a 0% chance to make the camp while both Latta and Byers have a slightly higher chance, but not much. 

Ok. So that is 21 names.  12 can dress any given night and Hershey will probably keep about 15 around most of the time. 

So let's drop 6.  Can you do it?

Josh Brittain got hurt on Friday so he is probably one.  Monardo is a rookie that is signed in Reading. 

After that...who do you think goes?  It's not that easy.

Dustin Gazley?  Maybe (probably), but he scored 25 goals and added 60 assists in his last full ECHL season in 2011-12.  That's impressive, even for a guy that stands only 5'9" and weights 154.  I don't see his name on the scoresheet from the past two nights though.

David Marshall is under contract in Reading for this year.  But he is making it really hard as he recorded a Gordie Howe hat trick last night after getting in a fight and scoring (twice) and getting an assist (2 of them).  That's a good night and that follows a year last year which saw him go for 18 goals and 32 assists in 55 games with Reading. 

Maybe Tyler Ruegsegger?  He is a possible option for Reading I guess, but he is really making an impression on Coach Haviland in camp and also showed something this weekend so far getting 2 goals and an assist in the 2 games.  Plus he was teammates with former Bear Quintin Laing in Abbostford and says that Quintin taught him all about everything.  If he listens to what Laing taught him...I think he would do just fine in Hershey.

I sure as heck can't figure it out. 

As I said at the beginning, I wouldn't want the job Yingst and Haviland have right now.  They have to figure out which of the 30 some guys left in camp make the best opening night roster. 

It's a deep roster.  Is it championship caliber?  I will look into that and discuss that later this week. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hockey Back in Hershey

Well if you are a regular reader of this blog then you were probably starting to wonder if I was ever coming back to write again.  My last post went up on the 15th of July.

Sorry about that.

I would like to take this chance to makes sure that anyone reading the blog should also like the blog page on Facebook so you can continue to get updates.  The blog might only see sporadic updates, but there are things posted or shared on the Facebook page on an almost daily basis.

But now that we are (almost) back to hockey in Hershey I figured I would make my triumphant return to the blogging world.

Camp Has Begun

Monday was technically the first day of preseason camp in Hershey.  Many of the guys had started in Washington's camp so they have been skating with each other for a bit, but some guys were waiting for the Bears to start.

Yesterday was the first on ice practice of the season and it seems like things are starting off fast.
“It was a good skate, a really fast pace out there,” winger Brandon Segal said. “It's nice coming in and getting a skate in like that. Obviously, it just bodes well for the weeks ahead.”
This is coach Mike Haviland's first Bears camp so many of the players will be adjusting to how he does things in the coming weeks.  In addition to getting used to the system, which will be similar to the one run in Washington, the players have to 'show off' for their new coaches.
“I'm a new coach,” Haviland said. “I haven't had many of these guys. I'm watching them every time they step on that ice and off the ice, how they conduct themselves. They're being evaluated."
Haviland also said that he is always very honest with players so they will know where they stand.  That will hopefully help what is going to be a very crowded Bears lineup over the next week.

The Capitals still have 33 players in camp and need to get down to 23 next Monday.  With another preseason game tonight I would expect another couple of cuts tomorrow.

The roster in Hershey is going to be deep and talented...on paper.

But we all know that 'on paper' means less than nothing.  Entering the season each of the past 3 years I think many people thought the Bears looked good 'on paper' only to see their season end early each year.

Will this year be different?  I sure as heck hope so.  And, as always, I fully expect it to.

But I do think that the season will start off slowly.  It isn't that Hershey's schedule is daunting, only 4 games in the first 3 weekends of the season, but when you have a new coach it can take some time.

The slow start will help get the system in place, but it won't let Haviland really experiment with the roster that much either.  Which means the roster tweaking may continue into November before a core set of guys and lines are formed.

Either way it promises to be an exciting season.

Tomas Kundratek

The Capitals have placed Kundratek on waivers with the intention of him reporting to Hershey when he clears.  Tomas played much of last season in Washington and was expected to get a shot there again to start the season, but the strong play of Connor Carrick (more below on him) has made him somewhat expendable.

An advantage to putting a guy through waivers now instead of on the 30th is that teams aren't looking to add guys at this point.  They have their own roster decisions to make and don't want to add another one.

Connor Carrick and Tom Wilson

I got a question on the Facebook page about why Tom Wilson is not eligible to play in Hershey this season.  This is because he was drafted out of the CHL (Canadian Juniors) and there is an agreement in place between the leagues that any player drafted out of there that isn't 20 by December 31 of that season or that hasn't played in at 4 seasons in the CHL is not eligible to play in the AHL.

This was put into place to keep the competitiveness up in the CHL.  If they allowed younger players to play in the AHL then surely NHL clubs would send all of their prospects straight to the minors so they could have more 'control' of their development.Wilson doesn't turn 20 until March and has only played in 3 CHL seasons, making him ineligible for Hershey.

However, it would appear as though he is nearing a spot on the Capitals in which case we may never see him in Hershey.  The Caps needed to clear cap space in order to keep him in Washington and the demotion of Kundratek signals that move being made.  The Caps would now be able to keep Wilson and stay under the salary cap for 2013-14.

Connor Carrick is included in this discussion because he is also 19 and actually 2 weeks younger than Wilson.  Except Connor was NOT drafted out of the CHL and is therefore eligible to play in Hershey this season.  He has been impressing everyone in Caps camp and is right now considered to be possibly in their plans to start the season.  Should he not make the Caps it seems likely he would spend the season in the AHL.

Nathan Walker

Here is Tim Leone's piece on the skating Aussie.  Nathan Walker is trying to become the first Australian to ever play in the NHL.  He was signed to a Hershey contract and is expected to play here this season.

Walker is in a unique spot though as he is still draft eligible.  That means that despite him playing in Hershey this upcoming season, he will be entered into the NHL draft next summer and could be drafted by any of the 30 teams.   It will be interesting to see how he fits into the plans in Hershey and/or Reading for this season and what that does to his draft stock.  This doesn't seem like a common situation.

Camp Roster (from PennLive)

GOALTENDERS (4): Brandon Anderson, Riley Gill, David Leggio, Matt Tendler.

DEFENSEMEN (12): Mike Banwell, Julien Brouillette, Erik Burgdoerfer, Brett Flemming, Chay Genoway, Ryan Kavanagh, David Kolomatis, Bryant Molle, Cameron Schilling, Nate Schmidt, Patrick Wellar, Patrick Wey.

FORWARDS (19): Josh Brittain, Nicolas Deschamps, Stanislav Galiev, Dustin Gazley, Jamie Johnson, Peter LeBlanc, David Marshall, Garrett Mitchell, Domenic Monardo, Louke Oakley, Tyler Ruegsegger, Brandon Segal, Ryan Stoa, T.J. Syner, Jeff Taffe, Nathan Walker, Matt Watkins, Casey Wellman, Derek Whitmore.

That is it for my first post in 2 months.  The Bears play 3 preseason games this weekend before opening the season at home on October 5.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Roster Taking Shape

Free agency began earlier in July and while the Washington Capitals have done nothing except wave goodbye to past players and sign a restricted free agent, the Bears have made some additions.

New Bears include goalie David Leggio, defensemen Tyson Strachan and David Kolomatis, and forwards Derek Whitmore and Matt Watkins.

You can see the current roster on the 2013-14 Potential Roster page.

Those signings leave the Bears with 3 goalies under contract and another Sergey Kostenko is expected to be signed in the coming weeks.  

David Leggio was one of the best goalies in the AHL last season so his teaming up with Grubauer gives the Bears coaching staff significant confidence in their starting tandem.  Nothing against Dany Sabourin, but his play last year wasn't as strong as he had been in previous years which put a lot of stress on Grubauer late in the season.

On defense there are currently 13 players that could, conceivably, play for the Bears this upcoming season.  Kundratek would have to clear waivers to come though so he may be as good as gone from the Bears plans.  Oleksy finished the season in Washington and Orlov spent plenty of time there the season before.  

The Caps have 6 defensemen under contract right now not including Orlov or Oleksy.  Barring an additional signing I fully expect one or both of them to stick to start the season.  My guess is one stays and the other comes to Hershey as a first call up.  Oates likes to run pairings of lefties/righties so that will surely play a role.  
Forward is where the entire organization is still lacking a little bit.  The Caps have 12 forwards under contract...including youngster Tom Wilson.  If you count Marcus Johanssen, which you should, they have 13.  They may start the season with that many or they may choose to add another for 14.

Hershey has, by my numbers, 12 forwards under contract.  On the roster page I show 13 only because Deschamps is a restricted free agent who WAS tendered a contract so he will almost definitely be back.  I fully expect the Bears to add a few more forwards at some point this summer.  

Just one more note...there are 4 veterans on the Hershey roster right now.  5 can dress in any given game (6 if one is under 320 games played).  That means you will likely see another veteran signed before the season starts.  The last 2 years the Bears entered the season with 6 and had to sit someone each game.  It didn't work in either situation so hopefully they don't try it again.

It's a good roster.  The goalies are as good a pairing as will find in the AHL.  The defense is talented, deep and bigger than last year with the addition of Kolomatis and Strachan.  Wey and Cajkovsky are also big guys, but they are younger.  

Forward is looking solid to me.  I am a big Latta believer and think Wellman is a premier forward.  If Stoa can find his past scoring touch and Galiev is given a role he can thrive in (think top 2 lines) then this team could be an offensive force to be reckoned with.  Add in the toughness of Rechlicz and Byers and you have a team not many are going to want to play.

It's shaping up to be an exciting season in Hershey, but we all know that teams don't win on paper.  Can't wait until the season starts!!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

New Coach...Roster Update

UPDATED:  Thanks to information from my readers and Facebook followers I have updated some of the information pertaining to the roster below.  Additions in italics, removals crossed out.  Thanks for the help!

Things have been relatively uneventful over the past couple of months since the Bears were eliminated from the playoffs.  There has been some news...player signings, players leaving, coach leaving...but nothing really big.

Well, yesterday the Bears named the 24th coach in franchise history.  He is...Mike Haviland.  He has won Kelly Cups in the ECHL, was named AHL coach of the year with Norfolk in 2007, and was an assistant coach in Chicago when the 'Hawks won their Stanley Cup in 2010.

He actually interviewed last season for the Caps vacancy, but was ultimately passed over.  This past season he was an associate coach for Norfolk.

Tim Leone has some other information on him here, here, here, and here.

I am excited about it.  I felt like a change was necessary to get some forward momentum in Hershey and hopefully this will bring that.

Personally, I am also excited about the roster that is taking shape.  There is still lots of work to do come free agency, but the core that is in place looks pretty good to me:

Philipp Grubauer
Brandon Anderson

Chey Genoway
Nate Schmidt
Cameron Schilling
Steve Oleksy
Brett Flemming
Dmitry Orlov
Julian Brouillette
Patrick Wey
Patrick Wellar

Stanislav Galiev
Michael Latta
TJ Syner
Jeff Taffe
Ryan Stoa
Garrett Mitchell
Casey Wellman

I may be missing some names there but I am pretty certain that all of the above names are under contract for 2013-14.  Obviously some of those guys (especially a defenseman or two) could end up in Washington, but all saw time in Hershey this past season and are at least possibilities in Hershey again next season.  Patrick Wey is a solid NHL prospect who just finished up his senior year in college and should (SHOULD) get a chance in Hershey next season.

Let me also mention that Danick Paquette, Peter LeBlanc, Mattias Sjogren, Nicolas Deschamps, and Tomas Kundratek are all restricted free agents.  Lots of legal jargon as to what that means but basically the Caps will keep the majority of them.  The only one of the bunch that I don't see returning is probably Sjogren.  And with a new coach in Hershey I could see him back too.

I really liked the roster that Doug Yingst and the Caps compiled in Hershey by the end of the year...I feel like, with a new coach and a fresh perspective, the roster above and the restricted free agents below should be an impressive group for the season.

Next Sunday is the NHL draft.  The Caps need to move some pieces in order to sign players like Karl Alzner and Marcus Johannson to contracts for the upcoming season (not to mention a 2nd line center like Mike Ribeiro).  Will that result in more talent in Hershey?  Who knows.  But it is worth watching.

Another name to keep in mind is Caleb Herbert.  He is old enough to play in the AHL and seems to have some good skill to him, but still has college eligibility left so he may elect to stay in school.

Lots of news coming up in the next few weeks.  I will do my best to keep you updated here on the blog.  In the meantime, like the page on Facebook as that gets updated multiple times a week.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Bears CAN win this series

The 2009-10 version of the Hershey Bears were ridiculously good.  They dominated the regular season and then met little resistance on their way to the Calder Cup. 

Playing their best wasn't always necessary.  If they struggled out of the gate or had a mid game lull it didn't hurt them because they could easily make up for it.

Simply put...they didn't have to play their best hockey to win.

The 2012-13 version can't do that.  If they don't play their best hockey, they will lose.  Rarely this season did the Bears play a sub-par game and still come away with a win.  From time to time it happened, and bad starts were a regular occurrence, but it wasn't common.

So when you get the best team in the league, point wise at least, you can't have lackluster performances.

The 2010-11 and 2011-12 Bears teams played the same style of hockey as the 08-09 and 09-10 teams did.  But it didn't work as well because the personnel wasn't as good. 

Two first round exits the last two years and we Bears fans are itching for a long playoff run.  We were spoiled by the first 5 years of the Capitals affiliation (3 Cups, 1 2nd place) and we expect more. 

They don't raise Conference Championship banners in Hershey.  Or Division Championship.  When you play for the Bears or root for them, you want one thing...the Calder Cup.

Much of this season I said that considering the lackluster finishes the past 2 years maybe it was time for a more defensive system that is generally a better performing system in the playoffs.  The recent teams were built on speed and skill and didn't bring a lot of grit to the table...didn't have a lot of guys who would crash the net and get loose pucks and put them home. 

You know...the ugly goals.

So this season saw the development of a new system in the organization.  One that relies on solid play in the neutral zone and the Bears own zone and one that is designed to take advantage of opponent mistakes and capitalize on opportunities. 

The Capitals have bought in and are as hot as any team in the NHL (outside of Pittsburgh and Chicago anyway).  The Bears system is the same and it works just as well when they play it. 

This is a system that was designed in the 'ugly' (or boring) hockey capital of the world...New Jersey.  The Devils have been good for over a decade because their system is designed to win close games and get goals that require more effort than skill...although its also because of a certain hall of fame goalie.

That's what playoff hockey is all about.  It isn't about the flashy goals guys score all through out the regular season.  It's about the grinders picking up goals by crashing the net and getting the rebounds.  And goalies coming up huge for their teammates. 

Michael Neuvirth was a clutch playoff goalie.  You could always count on him to make a huge save when you needed it.  Philipp Grubauer has shown that same ability at times during the season.  He struggled a bit more late in the year, but he made huge saves with regularity.

I think the goalie part of the equation is there.  Defensively?  They are solid.  Sometimes they get caught in their own zone for a while, but so long as they keep the teams to the outside and don't let open guys stand in prime scoring locations they are fine.  Unfortunately, they do tend to wander from their positional responsibilities from time to time and that gets them in trouble.

But overall I think the defense is good enough to make a run.

So the goalie is in place and the defense is adequate.  What about the offense?

The moves made throughout the year have really changed how this team is built.  They went from a team of grinders to having some more guys that weren't afraid to go to the net and get shots. 

The question is, will this team take advantage of their chances when they get them?  When the team is clicking and playing their style they are good.  Just look at last Sunday...first period they came out shooting and scored a weak goal 16 seconds in.  They finished the period with 15 shots and 2 goals. 

When they had a look they were shooting and that leads to rebounds and deflections.  THAT IS HOW YOU SCORE IN PLAYOFF HOCKEY. 

Teams shut down the flashy scorers all the time.  Even in 09-10 the Texas Stars shut down Alexandre Giroux in the first two games. 

You have to be willing to go to the net and put pucks on goal. 

The problem for this years Bears team is when they don't play their game they don't shoot.  How many 2 on 1 or 3 on 1 opportunities did the Bears have this year where they passed it 1 (or 2) time too many and ended with no shot?  Or they hold and hold, waiting for the pass or shot to open up and then its too late?  Saw that happen on Sunday actually.

If you have an extra guy...put the puck on net and let the other guy crash for the rebound.  Nothing bad can come from it.  Even if he makes the save cleanly and smothers the rebound, you can still crash the net and disrupt his personal space. 

If they play the right way this Bears offense is good enough, and balanced enough, to make a long run in the playoffs. 

If they play the wrong way and pass on shots they will likely be golfing by the 2nd weekend in May.

My prediction...for this series...Bears in 4. 

Hershey HAS TO split the game in Providence tonight and Sunday.  If they don't then I honestly think they are done.  I won't stop rooting or believing, but if they come back from Providence down 2 games to none they would have to win 3 straight against a team that would be riding an 11 game winning streak and hasn't lost 3 in a row ALL SEASON. 

Tonight's game is as important as any.  If the Bears win they put all the pressure on the Bruins headed into game 2. 

Hershey needs to come out ready to play.  They have been in playoff mode for the past couple weeks and have won 3 of their last 4.  They need to make that 4 of 5.

Bears in 4.  Enjoy the games. 

Faceoff tonight is at 7:05...check it out on AHL Live or the radio.  I will have Stuccio's call on my phone through the Bears app.



Thursday, April 25, 2013

Let's Look at Bruins vs Bears

What do we make of the Bears first round series?  Obviously a 1 vs 8 matchup makes it look like one team is drastically better than the other, but in the AHL that doesn't necessarily mean anything.

The Bears played in the East Division which featured no bad teams.  Norfolk, the worst of the 5, finished just 2 points out of the playoffs with 79.  Hershey played 34 of their 76 games against the East.

The Bruins played in the Atlantic, which included 2 teams that finished well out of the playoffs, Worcester and St. Johns.  The Bruins played 38 of their 76 games against the Atlantic.

And that there is why you can't necessarily worry about playoff seeds.  Teams don't play balanced schedules.  The Bruins played Worcester 12 times.  The Bears played Wilkes-Barre 12 times.  Worcester finished 13th in the East, the Baby Pens finished 5th.  

So don't worry too much about anything that has happened up until this point stat wise.  Unfortunately that's the best way to compare the two teams outside of an extended regular season series.  So the rest of this post is going to feature lots of stats and team comparisons.  Some may end up being relevant, but others won't be.

Fact is, the Bears need 3 wins in their next 5 games to advance.  Simple as that.

So....a look at the Bears/Bruins first round series:  (If you don't care about stats or don't want to read a bunch of them...I would probably just skip to the bottom.  It gets a little numbery from here on.)

Season Matchups:

The Hershey Bears and Providence Bruins faced off twice during the regular season with each team winning on home ice 3-2.

Both games saw the Bruins jump out to 2-0 leads before Hershey rallied to tie it.  At Giant Center on March 30 the Bears managed to get the game winner in the 3rd period.  And on April 12 at Dunkin Donuts Center the Bruins put an end to Hershey's comeback with their own goal in the 3rd.

The good for each team....Bruins leading scorer Jamie Tardif scored 3 goals in the 2 games while Hershey's Ryan Potulny and Nicholas Deschamps each tallied twice in the series.

The bad....Bears defenseman Cameron Schilling was on the ice for 4 of the Bruins 5 goals and Bruins defenseman Colby Cohen was on the ice for 4 of the Bears 5 goals.

Neither team got their power play going in those games with the Bears going a combined 1 for 8 and Providence 1 for 3.

Providence out shot the Bears both games 39-26 and 27-26 and in 4 of 6 periods.  Surprisingly the Bears won the game where they were out shot worse and Providence won all 3 periods in that game when it came to shots.

What to make of this?  Who knows.  It's a very small sample size so it's hard to know if it means anything.


The most important position on the ice in any game takes on even more meaning in the playoffs.  Teams can ride hot goaltenders the whole way to a championship if things go right.  See Price, Carey...2007.

Both the Bears and Bruins are going to roll out rookie netminders as their #1's in this series.

Providence's Niklas Svedberg went 37-8-2 on the year with 4 shutouts.  He had a 2.17 goals against average and a .925 save percentage to go with it.

Hershey's Philipp Grubauer went 15-9-2 with 2 shutouts.  He had a 2.25 goals against average and a .917 save percentage.

Those numbers are very similar.  Svedberg got better goal support from his team so his record is better, but the goalie measurables are very close.

Now the bad news Bears fans....Svedberg is 12-1 in March and April and has only had a per game goals against average over 3.00 1 time and a per game save percentage under .923 1 time in that stretch.

The good news...that 1 loss and the gaa over 3 and save percentage under .923 came against the Bears at Giant Center on the 30th of March.


Balanced is the word of the day for the Bears.  They feature 11 skaters with double digit goals and none with  20 or more.  7 of those players have between 15 and 19 goals.

Balance is good in the playoffs as top lines are routinely shut down as space is harder to come by and defenses are ready to go.

The Bruins have balance as well with 10 double digit scorers, but only 3 of their players have more than 13 and 2 have 25+.

Obviously having the go to scorers is a good thing, but only if they are scoring.

Jamie Tardif leads the Bruins in goals with 30 but in his last 18 games (all of March and April) he has only tallied 4 goals.  Unfortunately 3 of those came against the Bears.

The Bruins 2nd leading scorer, Craig Cunningham, has 25 goals.  2 in the last 3 games, but not a single point in the 7 games prior to that.

So their go-to scorers aren't scoring a lot of late.

The Bruins are riding a 9 game winning streak so obviously they are getting scoring somewhere, but Hershey's balance can rival anyone's.

Hard to say if balance or go-to guys are better in the playoffs.  You have to have some balance, which both teams do, but having that one guy to look to to get a late goal is also nice.  Hershey doesn't have that.

Special Teams:

Another stat that is hard to really gauge.  No matter how you look at it, the Bruins are better...statistically...then the Bears.

League rank the Bruins power play is 8th, Bears is 11th.  Bruins penalty kill is 5th, Bears 10th.

Seems close.

Actual numbers...Bruins power play converts 18.5% of the time.  Bears, 18%.  Half a percentage point.  Not much.

Bruins penalty kill is successful 85.7% of the the time.  The Bears...84.2%.  A little larger difference, but still close.

And as mentioned above, neither team did much in the 2 games against each other.  Bears went 1 for 8 and Bruins 1 for 3.

Miscellaneous Records:

The Bruins scored 1st 48 times during the regular season...they went 37-8-0-3 in those games.  That was one of the top records in the league.

The Bears scored 1st 43 times and went 27-11-2-3.  One of the worst records in the league.

When leading after 1 the Bruins are 29-3-0-1 and the Bears are 20-4-0-2.

Leading after 2...Bruins are 32-1-0-1...Bears 25-1-2-2.

Tied after 1, Bruins are 16-11-0-3 and Bears are 12-9-3-2.

Tied after 2 the Bruins are 14-7-0-4 and the Bears are 10-6-1-2.

All of those records are relatively close.  Again, when looking at records it is hard because the level of competition is NOT the same.

Goals For and Against:

Overall the Bruins averaged 2.92 goals scored per game and 2.41 goals against.

The Bears scored 2.68 goals per game and allowed 2.58.

Eh.  Just tells me that the Bears are used to close games and are ready for playoff hockey.

BUT...the following numbers I think do tell a story.

The Bruins outscored their opponents in the first period by 31 goals.

The Bears....6 goals.

The Bruins start fast and in many games, that holds up for them.

In the final 2 periods the Bruins outscored their opponents by 2 goals.  The Bears...4 goals.

This just tells me that the Bruins start better than other teams, but don't have the killer instinct (or experience) in closing them out.

Overall Conclusion:

As I said above, regular season stats mean little.  All we really know about these teams is what we have seen and what they did against each other.

Any Bears fan knows that this team is great when they play together and shoot and below average when they don't.  Their problem is consistency.  One period they are great...see 1st period, this past Sunday.  The next period they are terrible....see 2nd period, this past Sunday.

I can't necessarily speak on the Bruins but it seems to me that a team that finishes #1 in the league would be due to better consistency.

My honest opinion...the Bears best is just as good as the Bruins best.  They just have a harder time finding it.

The wild card in this entire series will be experience.  The Bruins roster features 10 players who get regular minutes who are identified by the AHL as rookies.

The Bears...2.

We all know the Bears are old.  They have veterans up and down the lineup that understand what it takes to win in the postseason.

Will that help them in the playoffs?  Tim Leone doesn't think so.  He has the Bears losing in 5 and says the best they can do is the Eastern Conference Finals.

Is that a fair pick?  Absolutely.  But as an optimist and Bears fan I would like to believe they can go further.

The Bears season stats and record are deceiving because this team is DRASTICALLY different now compared to early in the year.  Zach Hamill, Garrett Stafford, Mathieau Beaudoin, and Kevin Marshall are gone.  In their place are players like Casey Wellman, Chey Genoway, Peter LeBlanc, Nicholas Deschamps, Nate Schmidt, Michael Latta, and Dane Byers.

I would take any of those upgrades any day of the week.

I will believe in the Bears until their final game.  I legitimately believe that that day could come in mid-June.  But I wouldn't be surprised if it came next weekend.

The Bears are in the playoffs.  Anything can happen now.

Just ask Ryan Potulny.  Two years ago he played for the Eastern Conference's 7th seeded Binghamton Senators.  They did ok.  Winning a Calder Cup and everything.

Series starts tomorrow night.

LET'S GO BEARS!!!!!!!!

Monday, April 22, 2013


It came down to the last game, but the Bears clinched a playoff berth for the 8th straight season and every year of the Capitals affiliation.

Granted the Manchester Monarchs were a little sluggish after clinching their playoff berth the previous night and resting their leading scorer and starting goalie, but Hershey came out last night and dominated the game.

Boyd Kane, when talking about Providence, said this:
“They've got a really good team there. But I think with our team right now, if we play our game, I think we can hang with anybody.”
I don't disagree with him one bit.  If the Bears play the way they did in the 1st and 3rd periods last night they can hang with anyone.

If they play like they did the rest of the past couple weekends...well, that wouldn't be as good.

Hershey can hang their hat on the fact that they won 3 of their last 4 to get in.

And that's what's great about statistics.  You can pick and choose and make them fit your argument.  For example:

In their final 3 weekends the Bears went 4-5, including two weekends of 1-2 hockey when they were fighting for the playoffs.

One stat shows the good, the other shows the bad.  Which one is a true indicator of where this team is right now...we don't know.  That's why they play the game.

Coach French said this:
“The last two weeks have been emotionally like we've been in the playoffs. It's been up and down, but we finished on an up and get to participate in the playoffs.”
Again, you can read that two ways.

The positive way:  The Bears are ready to go after being in do-or-die games over the past couple of weekends.  They are in playoff form mentally and will be ready to go next weekend.

Or the negative way:  The Bears, while knowing they needed wins to get into the playoffs, went through two 1-2 weekends, including a 4 game losing streak.

As you can see, I am not sure which team to expect come Friday night in Providence.  On one hand I am certain this team has the talent to win.  I know there are lots of you who doubt this, but I think last night showed that when they want to and when they are focused on shooting the puck, this team can hang with anyone.

But on the other hand I question whether or not they have the mental toughness to keep on their game and play like they need to.  They seem quick to bail on their fundamentals and 'system' when things go badly and can allow teams to dictate play.

Last night, despite playing very well for long stretches, they still experienced a couple instances where they were stuck in their own zone for multiple minutes.  You do that with a shortened bench, which we will surely see in the playoffs, against teams as good as Providence and it won't be a long playoff schedule for the Bears.

Best part of the playoffs though...records are reset to 0 and nothing before that first game matters anymore.  Hershey just finished their 76th game of the season and all it gave them was the chance they wanted all along...a shot to win the championship.

Can they do it?

I believe.  Doesn't mean that I expect it, but I can assure you that I will be disappointed when it is over...unless it ends with a celebration in June.