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?

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