Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Pieces are Coming Together

Since January 8 the Bears have played 14 games.  8 of those games have needed more than 60 minutes of hockey to complete. 

They are 7-3-4 in that span as well.  That means they have gotten at least a point in 11 of their last 14 games. 

That's actually pretty good.  And it helps to explain how they have slowly crept up to 7th in the conference, only 1 point behind Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for 6th.

Despite the loss, Sunday's game might have been the most impressive based on what I have seen this season.  The Bears didn't seem to show up for the first 40 minutes and found themselves trailing 3-0 entering the 3rd period. 

Surprisingly, I don't think too many people had left the Giant Center at that point.  One more goal for Norfolk and I might have left though.  But I honestly felt like they could still do it. 

Why I felt that way, I have no idea.  This is a team that, prior to Sunday, had failed to force overtime when they were trailing (by any margin) at the end of either the 1st or 2nd period.  0-9-0-0 when trailing after 1 and 0-15-0-0 after 2...entering Sunday.

Actually, after the first period the Bears were down 1-0 and I jokingly said to the wife that we ought to leave now since the outcome was already determined.  Glad we didn't have anything better to do.

All it took was the first goal from Barry Almeida less then 2 minutes into the 3rd period.  From that moment on it not only felt that a comeback was possible, it felt likely.  The team just needed that one good thing to happen and it snowballed from there. 

Eventually it became the Casey Wellman and Ryan Potulny show as they teamed up for the Bears 2nd goal midway through the period and the tying goal with less then a minute to go in regulation. 

In the 3rd period and overtime, the Bears outshot the Admirals by a total of 14 to 5 and controlled the game.  Unfortunately, the shootout didn't go as well as the Bears lost, but the comeback was huge for a team that hadn't managed to do that all season. 

There are still lots of questions going forward, but the recent stretch of points and the comeback on Sunday definitely makes me believe that Hershey will be playing hockey into May.

Wellman and LeBlanc

The Bears have played 5 games with their new pieces and have gone 3-0-1-1 in those games.  They have even outshot their opponent in 3 of those games. 

Obviously Wellman and Peter LeBlanc are not solely responsible for the good stretch, but their presence can't be completely ignored either. 

Neither player has scored yet (although LeBlanc did net the Bears only shootout goal on Sunday) but each has helped their linemates score.  Wellman has 4 assists since joining the Bears while LeBlanc has 2.  Considering that they are still learning their linemates tendencies I would say that it is a pretty good start for 2 players that are going to be leaned on by their new team for the rest of the season.

I wasn't convinced that the Hamill for Wellman trade was a good move, but after watching 2 games the past 2 weekends, I can safely say that it was an upgrade.  Wellman brings a little more speed and energy to the lineup then Hamill did I believe.

As for LeBlanc...he has talent and given the opportunity he should be able to produce regularly for the Bears.  Definitely an offensive improvement from Beaudoin.

At this point...2 good trades.

Danick Paquette

That was short-lived but it was fun.  The biggest weakness this Bears team has, in my opinion, is it's lack of physicality.  You have big forwards, Jeff Taffe and Ryan Potulny in particular, that seem like they are allergic to hitting someone.  They peel off of guys all the time instead of making a good hit. 

The Bears were missing their Joel Rechlicz or Steve Pinnizzotto.  The player that will make big hits and bring energy to the team and the arena. 

Well, the player wearing Pinner's #13 was providing that role for a couple of games.  Danick Paquette has spent the last few years jumping around the ECHL, playing for 5 different teams the last 3 seasons including a stint in Reading this year. 

And he has been racking up penalty minutes at those stops as well.  In 126 ECHL games over the past 3 years, he has recorded 450 penalty minutes. 

Somewhat surprisingly, he has also been relatively effective offensively as well.  In those 126 games he also has 27 goals and 25 assists.  Nothing flashy, but he can add a few goals as well.

On Sunday, when I saw him, and Saturday, based on what I read, he was filling the energy position the Bears have sorely missed this year.  He is out there to hit people, that is obviously the part of the game that he is best at and desires for. 

Unfortunately, after missing the start of the season with a broken arm suffered in the preseason he is again going to miss some time.  Specifics aren't known as of yet, but he injured his left hand on a missed hit along the end boards.  It was immediately evident that he had injured something as he left the ice quickly and headed straight down the tunnel.  As of this write-up there are no specifics but he is being listed as week-to-week...which doesn't bode well for a speedy return.

Here's hoping that when he is healthy he is reinserted into the lineup as he brings an element to the game that this Bears team isn't getting elsewhere.

Matt Clackson

Tim Leone has an article up on discussing Clackson and his lack of playing time this year.  Apparently, he played in 9 of the Bears first 16 games when Adam Oates was still taking up space behind the Bears bench.  But since then, he has only gotten into 8 games...out of 32.

Coach French puts it like this...
“I think the dynamics of our team and our lines have changed a lot this year,” Bears head coach Mark French said. “We haven't come to a group that we've really liked for a long period of time, so there's been a lot of interchanging with our lines. I think it's just been a byproduct of that more than anything else.”
“At times in the past with some of our teams, we could have a fourth line that was clearly energy or defensive,” said French, who lauded Clackson for his professionalism. “There's been times this season when we've struggled to score where we thought we need to put a fourth line together that could conceivably contribute a little bit more offense.”
Personally, I think his absence from the lineup could explain some of Hershey's struggles.  When you are trying to roll with 4 scoring lines you are eliminating a big part of hockey...the physical part. 

To be fair, I don't think Clackson falls into the same category as a Rechlicz, Pinner, or even a Paquette.  He doesn't seem to have an intent purpose of hitting people every time he is on the ice, but he does bring a presence that few other Bears can bring. 

The Bears feature few players that seem to WANT to hit guys.  Boyd Kane will hit you.  Garrett Mitchell throws his weight around a bit.  Paquette has been discussed.  Steve Oleksy and Patrick Wellar will lay you out given the opportunity. 

But that is about it. 

What French should do is sit Clackson down and tell him, "I am going to put you in the lineup, but you better damn well hit some people out there or you are coming back out."

You need to have a physical presence if you are going to win hockey games.  Make the opposition think twice before carrying the puck.  Make them make mistakes. 

Players like Clackson can do that if they are given adequate ice time.  Time to give him a chance.

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