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.