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.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Look at "Wearing the C" by Ross Bernstein (Author), Bobby Clarke (Foreword), Scott Stevens (Foreword)

O Captain, my Captain...

This is a look at the book Wearing the C, Leadership Secrets of Hockey's Greatest Captains by Ross Bernstein. Everyone sees the player with the 'C' stitched on the jersey, but what the heck does he really do besides talk to the refs? This book explains the role of being a team captain (which is a heck of a lot more involved then I ever thought.)

Mikko Koivu, Wayne Gretzky, Derian Hatcher, Gordie Howe, Brett Hull, Ray Bourque, Zdeno Chara, and so many (too many to list) more all have a write up about how the feel/felt about being a captain.  Almost all loved (most of the time anyway) being captain. Phil Esposito was the odd ball out. Esposito didn't care one bit about being named captain. "What did it mean to me [Esposito] to wear the 'C'? Not a f [bleep]g thing!" p33

"Did You Know?  Steve Yzerman wore the C for a league-record 20 seasons with Detroit and led the Wings to three Stanley Cups. He was considered such an icon to the franchise that, when they retired his number, they put a C right on his banner at Joe Louis Arena. So it will always be known that, even in retirement, Yzerman is the Red Wings' captain." p110

There is also interviews of players about captains the players themselves looked up to.  Shjon Podein was impressed by Joe Sakic, who in 2001, was handed the Stanley Cup by the NHL commissioner and immediately handed the Cup off to Ray Bourque to hoist first instead of taking the captain's traditional time with the Cup before everyone else.  It was Bourque's first (and last) Stanley Cup in his 2 decades of playing hockey.

Chapter 3 of the book interviews coaches and how they pick their captains.  And "What;s the deal with Players-Only  Meetings?" (p213) is covered in chapter 4. Life lessons learned from being a team captain is the last chapter in the book. It is interesting to see all the answers from the different captains.

"Gary Suter: For me, it was about learning to deal with the highs and the lows.  Whether it's in hockey or in life, you're going to have successes and you're going to have failures. It's how you deal with them, however, that matters.  You can't get too high and you can't get too low, you have to stay steady and keep plowing forward. That's it." p262

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Bears Play Host to Two

The Bears have played a lot of close games over the past few weeks.  Five of their last 9 games have gone to overtime, with three of those five going to a shootout.

But lately the Bears have failed to impress.  In their last 4 games before the All-Star break the Bears scored a grand total of 6 goals.  Not surprisingly then, they also lost all 4 games.  They did manage to get 2 points during the streak, but that isn't something you want to brag about.

Based on my brief review of the trades that went down this week I would say that the Hamill for Wellman deal was strictly a way to get rid of that pesky "too-many veterans" problem the team had (for the second year in a row).  It doesn't feel like it was done to improve the Bears offense at all, but maybe it will.

The other trade...Beaudoin for LeBlanc, seems like it could have been more towards helping the offense...IF LeBlanc can find his scoring touch from last season.  So far this year his numbers were no more impressive then the player headed to Rockford. 

If these two moves don't spark something, does Yingst make more moves? 

The Bears have been impressive defensively this season.  They only give up 2.44 goals per game (top 5 in the league) and have consistently kept the Bears in games with solid play.  Goaltending has been a positive as well with Dany Sabourin and Philip Grubauer playing well (my pick would be Grubauer as the #1, but that's a different post altogether) since Braden Holtby took a trip south to D.C.

Unfortunately, the Bears offense remains anemic at best most nights.  Hopefully the time off this week allowed them to make some adjustments and start working back to the team that scored 12 goals in the 3 games (all wins by the way) before this recent 4 game slide.

Tonight we see if they look any different as the Manchester Monarchs come to town. 

While not a divisional game, this is a very important game for the Bears.  Manchester currently sits in the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 46 points.  Hershey sits in 11th, only 2 points back.

There are still 33 games left for the Bears so I would hardly call this a must win, but if they are going to make the playoffs, these are the teams they HAVE to beat on home ice.

The Monarchs are in a similar slide as the Bears.  They won 4 straight from the 18th to the 23rd, outscoring their opponents 14-4 and then took an offensive nosedive, scoring only 1 goal in each of their last 3 games and losing all 3 by a combined 11-3.  Including a 4-1 loss last night up 81 in Wilkes-Barre.

The main difference between the Bears and Monarchs streaks...Manchester has won their home games and lost on the road while Hershey seems intimidated by their own building.

This is Manchester's 4th road game in the past 8 days and things haven't gone well for them.  It is also their final road game on this trip as they return home after the game and have the next week off.  They surely don't want to end this streak (and begin a grueling week of practices) with a loss.  They will be ready to play.

Monarchs to Watch:
  • 26 | RW | Tyler Toffoli - the rookie has been impressive so far with 20 goals and 33 points in 42 games during his first extended taste of pro hockey.  He leads the teams in goals and is second with points and had a solid January with 6 goals and 4 assists in 9 games.
  • 9 | C | Linden Vey - another young Kings prospect, Vey leads the team with 26 assists and 37 points on the year.  He also had a good January with 3 goals and 10 assists in 11 games.  Although, he hasn't recorded an assist in his last 6 games.  (that dry spell follows 13 assists in 9 straight games.)
  • 14 | LW | Tanner Pearson - yet another top prospect, Pearson is tied for 3rd on the team in points with 29 (10g, 19a).  Not quite as good in January, 4 goals and 5 assists in 11 games, but still a solid month.  
Those three players above represent the top left wing, center, and right wing in the King's organization, according to  An impressive collection of talent to be sure.

Sunday the Bears welcome the rival Baby Penguins to Giant Center for a 2pm faceoff on Super Bowl Sunday. 

The Baby Pens were, for lack of a better term, BAD for long stretches this season.  In a recent 15 game stretch through December and into January, the Pens won a total of 3 games and endured losing streaks of 6 and 5 games.  Hershey was responsible for 3 of those defeats.

However, of late the Pens are much better.  They have won their last 2 against Hershey and have won 7 of their last 8 games. 

This is the final time the Pens will visit Hershey during this regular season and the Bears only make the trip up 81 twice more before April.

The Pens, despite their terrible stretch in December and January are still in better position then the Bears standings-wise.  They have 47 points and currently sit in 6th place in the conference.

Again, just like the Manchester game tonight, it isn't a must-win game for the Bears, but if they hope to make the playoffs they have to beat the teams directly above them in the standings.  Especially on home ice.

The Penguins will be bringing a new leading scorer into the game as well as they added Chad Kolarik from the Connecticut Whale early this month.  Kolarik had 16 goals and 19 assists in 41 games with the Whale and has 1 goal in 3 games with the Pens already.

The Penguins are winning games of late just like they did last season...with defense.  As I said before, they have won 7 of 8...they have only given up 6 goals in those 7 games.  It isn't hard to win games when the opposing team can't score on you.

Hershey has scored a total of 1 goal in their last 2 games against the Pens.

Both Wilkes-Barre goalies, Brad Thiessen and Jeff Zatkoff, have been involved in the latest run, but it is more the result of Thiessen apparently finding his game again.  In January he played in 7 games, winning 5 of them and posting a goals against average of 1.36 and a save percentage of .940.  Considering that in the 3 previous months of the season he had failed to be under 3.00 goals against or above .890 save percentage, you can see that his numbers help explain the Pens success.

No telling which goalie will make the start tomorrow, but both will surely give the Pens a chance to win.

Enjoy the games this weekend and...


Friday, February 1, 2013

Bears Trade Two

Goodbye Mathieu Beaudoin and Zach Hamill.

Hello Peter LeBlanc and Casey Wellman.

Beadoin for LeBlanc:

A simple look at the statistics shows that the Bears may have upgraded here (a bit)...on the offensive end.  Beaudoin had 3 goals and 7 assists in 32 games so far this season in Hershey.  LeBlanc had 4 goals and 8 assists in 34 games with Rockford.

But last season LeBlanc led the IceHogs in goals with maybe he just needed minutes.  This season the IceHogs had a bunch of guys that went straight to Chicago after the lockout so maybe that was keeping his top line minutes down.  Who knows.

I don't really mind this too much.  At worst it's trading depth for depth and at best the Bears get a scoring forward that isn't afraid to shoot.

Hamill for Wellman:

Based on Tim Leone's write-up about the trades this appears to be a move to clear some of the veteran presence on the team.  Hamill qualified as a veteran-exempt player, the same as Patrick McNeill, so one veteran always had to sit.  This will alleviate that issue.

If you remember last year the same thing happened when the Bears traded Danny Richmond around this time.  As it turned out, injuries and recalls to Washington ended up making the veteran limit a none-issue.  But maybe it is better to be safe then sorry and make the roster decisions easier.

(Side Note - maybe this summer Doug Yingst won't sign too many veterans and will instead learn from this problem that he has faced 2 straight seasons.)

But let's give it a chance and look at what the Bears gave up and what they get back.

First of all, Wellman isn't a veteran, so that is good.

Hamill was, in my opinion, one of Hershey's better forwards this year.  He had 11 goals and 11 assists in 40 games, which put him 3rd in goals and 4th in points on the roster.

Wellman comes from San Antonio, where he had 7 goals and 16 assists in 37 games.  Last season he scored 23 goals between Houston and Connecticut and was pretty close to a point-per-game player.

Wellman has taken 85 shots this season and has only converted on 8.2%, which is low when comparing to other top 6 forwards.  Unfortunately, I don't believe I have access to those stats from 2011-12 to see what his shooting percentage was there, but my guess is that it was a little higher.

But for now let's just look at the 85 shots.  As the new member of the Bears, he ranks....1st in shots on the season.  The previous leader was...Zach Hamill with 84.

So based on their stats I would say this, like the trade for LeBlanc, is a 6 of one, half dozen of another kind of deal.  At worst you are getting a player that will do what Hamill did and at best you might have found a guy willing to shoot a bit more.

Time will tell if these trades work out.  I think LeBlanc is more of an offensive upgrade over Beaudoin than Wellman is over Hamill, but maybe both players put up good numbers the rest of the way.  Hamill was having a career year so maybe Wellman can jump start his year a bit with the move.