Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2nd Period Lifts Bears To Win

In the final home game of the calendar year, the Bears came up with a  big second period (back stopped by Philip Grubauer) to win 2-1 over the last place Norfolk Admirals. This was another one of those games where the teams traded periods out shooting and out playing each other.

The Admirals outshot Hershey 9 to 2 in the first period while getting two power play chances in both the first and second periods each, including a 5-on-3 for 1:50. The Bears would outshoot Norfolk 16 to 8 in the second period and score both goals in that frame. They also had a 5-on-3 for a minute early in a the third but wouldn't be able to capitalize.

In addition to doubling up the shots in the second period, Hershey played tough defensively in front of Grubauer, especially during the 5-on-3 penalty kill. In Tim Leone's PennLive blog post about Garrett Mitchell's first goal of 2014, Troy Mann confirmed that the kill provided a big momentum change for the Bears in the game.

At one point during the 5-on-3, Grubauer came up with three consecutive saves to keep the game scoreless. A point shot lead to a rebound which then provided a wide open chance for Brandon Yip to bury the puck. Grubauer stayed relatively upright and square in the middle of the crease to fight off all three shots. And only diving with his right pad to make the save on Yip.

The expiration of the last penalty would send Garrett Mitchell on a breakaway from the penalty to make it 1-0 Bears. The pump fake and back hand shot past John Gibson puts Mitchell's goal in contention for one of the top highlight reel goals of the year.

While Wellman's goal in the last minute of the second appeared to be a bit underrated, the play leading to the goal displayed Hershey's offensive aggression last night. With about 15 seconds remaining, Kris Newbury skated hard into the right corner to beat the Norfolk defender to negate the icing call.

Newbury threw the puck into the slot where Wellman roofed it over Gibson's left shoulder. Gibson as well as the Admiral defenders were definitely stunned by how quickly the play transpired. Both teams could have been content to get the icing or to let the clock run out but Newbury showed good vision in reading the play. In the past 4 or 5 games both Newbury and Wellman have begun to pick it up offensively again.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The One That Got Away

Well, the Springfield Falcons rolled into town Saturday night and handed the Bears, as well as the fans, some coal in their skate boots with a 2-1 overtime loss. The way the overtime was going and how the goal was scored, I can't remember the last time I've seen almost all those in attendance stay seated with a stunned expression on their faces.

Hershey controlled the pace of the overtime with most of the time being spent the Falcons' zone. Andre Burakovsky was a beast in OT and it seemed like he was playing every other shift. Casey Wellman and Chris Brown both had excellent chances to put the game away. Wellman had a one-timer from the slot while Brown's chance moving left to right across the crease was just stopped by the toe pad of Falcons' goalie Anton Forsberg.

This was one of those run and gun type games but also a goaltenders battle. Both Philip Grubauer and Forsberg put on a display last night that showcased why they're two of the top 10 goalies in the league right now.

The Bears were outshot 10 to 6 in the first period and found themselves down 1-0. However, they would outshoot the Falcons 14 to 8 in the second and tie it 1-1 on a nice goal by Chandler Stephenson. On a rush in the early part of the period, as Stephenson skated over the blue line he received a pass from Byers and, at about the face-off dot, roofed the puck over the right shoulder of Forsberg into the top left corner.

As well as Grubauer played, the overtime goal was a tough one to let in. As Falcons' T.J. Tynan deked to his right, Grubauer moved with him but there was just enough room for the puck to hit the post and then bounce off Grubauer's leg to make it over the goal line.

Overall, the team had speed and were really gunning for the win last night. Unfortunately, the overtime got away from them and the Bears end up 0-1-1 for the weekend.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Lots Of Shots, But No Goals

Amid some controversy, Washington Capitals rookie Andrew Burakovsky has been assigned to Hershey for at least this weekend before the Christmas break. Some see the move as a way for Burakovsky to get more optimum playing time and aid the Bears offensive woes. Others think this is just a step towards his assignment to the Swedish team for the WJC over the holiday break. Either way, the fans in Hershey will be happy on Saturday night and packing Giant Center to see the Caps/Bears newest prospect.

My question is why they didn't use Burakovsky on a line with Tim Kennedy. I realize Troy Mann wants to put him on a top line so he'll get a lot of playing time, but playing with the Newbury, Casey Wellman and Dane Byers doesn't seem to be the wisest choice. There's a reason Kennedy has the most assists on the team and is second in the league. Although Burakovsky did play with Galiev at times, to spark Burakvosky's scoring prowess he should really be playing with Kennedy.

Anyway, the Bears came out on Friday night firing on all cylinders against LeHigh Valley. That translated into the Bears outshooting the Phantoms 16 to 1 in the first period. Unfortunately, they didn't plan on Phantoms' goalie Anthony Stolarz giving an outstanding performance for his second shutout of the season.

Except for not scoring, Hershey's offense was as good if not better than the wins over Binghamton and Bridgeport on the 13th and 5th of the month, respectively. Their passing was crisp and got shots on Stolarz from different areas of the ice. While the Bears only received two power play chances, they made the most of the opportunities with plenty of point shots and passes to the slot from out of the corner.

At the end of the night Burakovsky and Wellman recorded 4 shots a piece while Galiev and Byers had each.

Regarding goaltending, I've always liked the comparison to baseball. No matter how good a team is playing, if you run into a hot pitcher there's nothing you can do about it. The same with goaltending. When a goalie is on, he's on. Of course, I prefer it when that goalie is Philip Grubauer.

Not taking anything away from him, though he faced 18 total shots Grubauer played just as strong in keeping the score 1-0. The Phantoms had two power plays in the third period and could have gone up 2-0. But Grubauer came up with some big saves to keep Hershey in it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Bears, Pens and Overtime

Of the seven games between the Bears and Pens so far, three have gone to overtime with the Bears winning one and the Pens two (including last night). I've about had my fill of Wilkes-Barre so far this season. After the New Year's Eve game, the new year can't come soon enough.

With the third game of the 3-in-3 scheduled for 4 PM on Sunday afternoon, you know the Bears weren't going to be able to bring the same intensity as they did Saturday night. That's not to say the game against the Pens was routine. Nothing with these teams ever is.

Instead, this meeting between the Bears and Pens was one of those quirky games where the first half completely different than the second and a bunch of odd things happened that no one expected.

Another low scoring game, the first period was again strategic and tight checking with both teams only recording about a hand full of shots a piece. Since Hershey and Wilkes-Barre have trended to these types of games this season, this Sunday game seemed like it was going to be tough to slog through being scoreless after one.

Making it 1-0 with a one-timer point shot from Conner Carrick on the power play early in the second, the Bears played evenly against Wilkes-Barre despite being outshot in the period 13-8.

Taking 4 penalties in the second, Hershey's penalty kill looked outstanding and Grubauer came up with some big saves on an extended 5-on-3. Unfortunately, the Bears took one too many as the Pens finally capitalized on their 6th power play chance.

To make matters worse, the Pens came right back and scored less than a minute later when the puck found Dominik Uher in the slot. And just like that it was 2-1 Wilkes-Barre.

The end of the third period showed how an odd bounce at one end of the ice can lead to another at the opposite end. With less than a minute to go and Grubauer pulled, the Pens came through the neutral zone on a two on two but missed the empty net. The Bears came back the other way and with 2.7 seconds remaining, Chris Brown, skating over the Pens' blue line, blasted a shot past Jeff Zatkoff.

Heading to overtime, it seemed like the Bears might be able to squeak out a win. Unfortunately, Wilkes-Barre would score off the rebound of a 3-on-1. After the initial shot and an excellent save by Grubauer, the trailing Bears' defenseman wasn't able to handle the puck. Conor Sheary re-corralled the puck and shipped it to Adam Payerl, who was standing to the right of the net.

The Bears captured 3 of a possible 6 points for the weekend. There are now two more games next weekend before the Christmas break.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Fights, Shots & Goals

With two fights within the first 3 minutes, Saturday night's game against the Binghamton Senators looked like it was going to be one of "those" games. By the end of the 5-2 win, Hershey would out shoot Binghamton 32 to 20 and combine for a total of 28 individual penalties.

Before the 10 minute mark of the first, Hershey was up 2-0 and would eventually outshoot the Senators 13 to 3 in the period. The second period would shake down the same way with the Bears out shooting Binghamton 14 to 8 and notching two more goals to lead 4-1.

The Bears passing and cycle game along the boards and in the corners were on point. In Tim Leone's post game Penn Live article, coach Troy Mann is quoted as saying the team took advantage of the Senator's vulnerability to cycling in certain areas. I've noted throughout the season so far that this Bears teams plays its best offensive game when it gets the cycle game going. It's not going to beat teams with plays off the rush.

Another area that the Bears excelled in last night was the back check. There were at least half a dozen instances when Hershey back checkers caused the Senators, coming out of their own end, to turn the puck over before they got to the red line. Because of Binghamton's aggressive offense, this led to quite a few 2-on-1's of the Bears.

Receiving the CCM Player of the Week award before the start of the game and then going on to be the game's number one star, Chris Conner continues to pile on the points. It's good timing that Conner and Stan Galiev have started to come on strong offensively just as Kris Newbury and Casey Wellman have tapered off. Once the Newbury, Wellman and Byers line gets rolling again, the Bears will be able to use two solid offensive lines interchangeably against an opponent's top lines.

Tim Kennedy finally notched only his second goal of the season but recorded his team and league leading 23rd assist.

Liam O'Brien was once again in the thick of it last night. Less than 2 minutes after the Joel Broda and Shane Prince fight to start the game, some post whistle activities involving O'Brien, Tim Spencer, and Michal Cajkovsky and Binghamton players broke out. In this go round, Spencer jumped in protect O'Brien and ended up fighting Darren Kramer.

Late in the second period, another skirmish would break out in the corner of the Senator's zone and O'Brien would face-off against Brad Mills while Cajkovsky squared off against Max McCormick. Luckily for both O'Brien Cajkovsky, both only received unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the first period or they would have kicked out of the game for their second fights.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Third Period Goals Sink Bears

And so it continues. Another stellar performance by Philip Grubauer. Another goal by Stan Galiev, yet an overall lack of team offense. Despite being evenly matched against the Crunch last night, 3 goals in the last 5 minutes of the game were Hershey's undoing. Oh yeah, and Syracuse only had 4 total shots in the third period. So far this season, the Bears are 0-3 against Syracuse and have been outscored 13-3.

Stan Galiev now has 8 goals on the season and is second on the team behind Kris Newbury's 10. It seems like Galiev is becoming Hershey's version of Ovechkin. Just as long as he keeps putting up goals like he's has. On the power play setup, Troy Mann has plugged Galiev into the "Ovi spot".

And it payed off with the Bears only goal last night. Galiev's one-timer from right above the left face-off dot powered its way past the Syracuse goaltender's glove to make it 1-0 Bears.Philip Grubauer was again superb in net once more facing at least 30 shots in a game. Even though he gave up 3 goals and an empty netter, Grubauer was especially sharp in the 2nd and 3rd periods when the Crunch held extended offensive pressure in the Bears' zone.

The second period saw Grubauer fight off 14 shots by the Crunch including a late period 2-on-1 in which the rebound just rolled past the left post to keep it tied 1-1.

The effort of the night came from Liam O'Brien who fought Dalton Smith early in the 3rd period. Both are pretty evenly matched in size and weight. While O'Brien got in some really good shots, he took a couple big hits from Smith and was bloodied up quite a bit. About half way through you could tell O'Brien was dazed from a few punches from Smith, but O'Brien battled and threw some good ones of his own.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Bears Drop to Pens 3-2

With Steve Oleksy's goal coming just 39 seconds into the game to ignite the annual Teddy Bear Toss, it seemed like the excitement in the building would continue with the end-to-end action the Bears and Pens showed in the first period. However, no one expected the game to become a display of Hershey's outstanding penalty killing ability.

In the second period alone, Hershey had 5 penalties within twelve minutes including a 5-on-3 kill for two minutes. By the end of the second, the Bears had killed off all 7 penalties of the game while the Pens were 1 for 5 on theirs.

The frustration of the calls appeared to have gotten to the Bears when Chris Brown was called for a rather suspect tripping penalty. Brown was clearly not pleased with the penalty and even less so when Wilkes-Barres scored to take a 3-2 lead. Exiting the penalty box, Brown made his frustration known to referee Dave Lewis, who sent Brown right back in for an Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty.

The Bears would get a few more calls in their favor but unfortunately weren't able to capitalize on them. The end of the game saw Hershey 1 for 8 on the penalty kill and Wilkes-Barre 1 for 7.

Another bright spot in the game was Stan Galiev continuing his torrid goal scoring pace. Three minutes into the second period and with the teams grouped in the left corner, Chris Conner found Galiev skating all alone down the slot. Taking a few strides, Galiev fired the puck into the top right corner over Zatkoff's glove hand. As Scott Stuccio commented during the broadcast, Galiev's goal was of NHL caliber. Indeed, his shots and goals recently have been hard and accurate in the way of NHL players.

While it would have been nice to see Hershey go 3-0 for the weekend, their overall play in each game shows that they're starting to turn the corner on the offensive struggles.

Next weekend sees the Bears up and down I-81 with Friday night in Syracuse, Saturday back in Hershey against Binghamton and Sunday up in Wilkes-Barre.

Bears Win Chess Match Against Pens

For most of the first period when it was scoreless and in the second with it 1-0 Hershey, I couldn't help but get the feeling of the Bears possible reversion to the struggle for offense. While last night's game against Wilkes-Barre was another low scoring affair, both teams battled strategically as was evidenced with the amount of board play along the half wall and in the corners. The Bears and Pens would get equal amounts of shots while Pheonix Copley and Matt Murray would each have to fight through extended pressure by the opposition in their respective ends.

Luckily, Chris Conner would exact some revenge on his former team by scoring the Bears' two goals in the 2-1 win. This was Conner's best game since returning from injury a few weeks ago. He's played well in prior games and recorded some assists, but last night it seemed like his speed and stick handling returned to form.

Conner's second goal and ultimate game winner displayed his precise shooting ability, which we haven't been able to see much of this season. Because of his injury, Conner only has 2 goals in 8 games coming into Saturday night's game. On the rush and skating down the right side of the ice, Conner took a pass from Kennedy and ended up with some extra room as he entered the Pens' zone.

Taking a shot from around the right face-off dot, Conner hit the top left corner of the net just over Murray's shoulder and knocked the water bottle off the top of the net.

Pheonix Copley continued his excellent play and was strong all game. Heading into the backend of the third period, it looked like Copley might get his third shutout of the season. Unfortunately, Bryan Rust fanned on a shot attempt which left Copley out of position when Rust buried the puck on his second try.

Even still, with his record now 4-3-0 Copley has a 1.84 GAA and .929 SAA. Those are very solid numbers considering that he's played sparingly in the past few weeks. And with Hershey playing so well defensively, his numbers should continue to improve once he gets another 5-10 games under him this season. With where things sit so far, that says quite a lot about not only the team's overall play but Copley's as well.

Which brings to mind: with so much talk about the Bears' current offensive struggles, are we seeing Barry Trotz's defensive influence now starting to show up in Troy Mann's coaching style? Before the start of the season I mentioned that Mann has now been mentored under quite diverse coaching styles. He learned the offensive game from Boudreau and French. Now he's learning the defensive side from Trotz. The fact that they're winning games through solid defensive play might show that those weekly conversations between Mann and Trotz is paying off.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Bears Bust Out With 6 Goals

It's a bit disheartening to see the depth of the Northeast Division. The Bridgeport Sound Tigers have more points than the Bears but are next to last in their division. The Bears have the same record as the Hartford Wolf Pack and they're in last place in the Northeast. As the conference grouping currently stands, the Bears sit in eighth place. It's a good thing Hershey has had success against the Wolf Pack so far this season.

Granted, things will change and some of those Northeast teams will drop out of playoff contention (hopefully). But it's going to be a tough slog in the back end of the season. Depending on how things pan out, it could eventually be a fierce battle for playoff position down the stretch.

Anyway, back to the game at hand. It looks like the changes Troy Mann has made in the past week might have paid off as the Bears defeated Bridgeport 6-3. This was a much more open and looser game. Both teams brought speed and there was continual end to end action that both goalies needed to be sharp.

Through the first and second periods, it appeared as though the Stan Galiev Show was going to continue as he notched 2 goals (5 total in 4 games). Most impressive was his power play goal late in the 2nd. With a lateral, cross crease pass from Chris Conner, Galiev one-timed the puck just over David Leggio's right. That's an NHL type shot that isn't seen much in the AHL. Not many guys can hit the 4 to 5 inch spot just above the goalie's shoulder at that speed.

With the Bears up 2-1, the Sound Tigers would end up taking a delay of game penalty at the close of the second and Hershey started the third on the power play. While not converting on the power play (going 2 for 7 in the game), shortly after the Bears would make it 3-1 with some incredible passing off the rush by the Broda-Mitchell-Gazley line. I don't know what was better: Broda's backhand shot to hit the top left corner of the net or Mitchell's backhand pass between the legs of the Bridgeport defender to Broda.

A few minutes later Chris Brown would make it 4-1 and it appeared as though Hershey had gotten over its offensive slump. With all the talk of Galiev's two goals, Brown scored 2 himself and was the game's number #2 star. But the Sound Tigers would climb back to make it 4-3 with around 11 minutes left in the game.

With the clock ticking down, it seemed as though it was going to be a battle to the end and Bridgeport would pull its goalie. But Brown would score his second with about two minutes left to make it 5-3. Less than a minute later Chris Brown scored on the power play and it was lights out Bridgeport. Hershey never gave the Sound Tigers a chance to pull Leggio. Which I think will give the Bears much needed confidence not having to eek out another one goal game.

Finally, Dane Byers was all over Bridgeport defenseman Mark Nemec. Byers had at least two highlight reel checks on Nemec in the third. Both times as Nemec was trying to skate out of his zone, Byers dumped him with a hip check in the left corner and drilled him with a stand up open ice hit in the right corner. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Bears Experiencing Scoring Woes...Solutions?

Editors Note - Sorry in advance, I got a little long-winded.

In the Bears first 9 games this season they scored at least 4 goals in a game 6 times.  Combined they scored 31 goals in those 9 games.

In their last 12 games they have scored 4 goals in a game only once.  Combined they have scored 19 goals.

First 9 games...32 goals.

Last 12 games...19 goals.


And that doesn't even tell you how bad it as been.

In the Bears last 5 games they have failed to score more than 1 goal in regulation.  Seriously.  In their last 5 games the Bears have scored a total of 4 goals.

The amazing part is that in those 5 games they are 3-2-0-0.

Yeah, I know.  The Bears have won 3 of their last 5 despite only scoring 4 goals in those 5 games.

There is little chance that many other AHL teams have ever acomplished that feat.

Alright, more than likely you already knew all of this.  But let me say that I believe this is good for the Bears.  This stretch tells us two things:

1. The defense and goaltending are really good.
2. When the playoffs come and games typically get tighter and lower scoring, the Bears will be experienced in that.

However, I would feel a whole lot better about their playoff chances if they could score some goals.

While waiting in line for the turkey shoot last Wednesday (I scored by the way) one guy made a pretty accurate comment to me.  He said that after the first 2 home games this season he was ready to send in his money for the playoff tickets.  But after this recent stretch he said he will hold on to his money for a while.

I completely agree.

So how do the Bears fix it?

Before the season even started I mentioned that there were no true go-to scorers on this team.  And that has proven true.

Sure, there is a ton of talent.  But 2 things stand out to me:

1. There seems to be no difference in how each line plays in the offensive zone.
2. The best offensive weapon is stuck with less talented line mates.

That player is Stanislav Galiev.  Everyone has known about his talent for a while now.  And damn, we have seen his skills in flashes this season.

In fact, he is the only Bear to score in the last 3 games.

So what's the problem?

The problem is all of those goals have come on the power play.

That's important, sure.  But what the Bears need is production at even strength.  Yet Galiev is playing with Chandler Stephenson and Nathan Walker.

Now let me stop and say this...I think Stephenson was the BEST forward on the ice (all-around) for Hershey the last few games and Walker is definitely fun to watch.

But neither are offensive stars in the making.  They aren't playmakers.  They are energy line guys.  There is nothing wrong with that.

Except when the 3rd guy on that line is also the best offensive weapon the Bears have.

Which brings me to point #1 from above, there is no separation of lines in Hershey.  Thanks the incredible depth the Bears seem to be running 4 scoring lines.

That sounds terrific...4 lines that can produce and score goals.  Awesome. is that working out?

What the Bears NEED are 2, maybe 3, scoring lines, and 2, or at least 1, energy line.

What is the difference?

For starters, the style is different.  Scoring lines enter the zone and try to create.  They move around, try to get open, and make extra passes trying to get the best shot.

That's a fine strategy.  It leads to goals because over the course of a game, the energy lines are tiring out the defense with a different style.

Except the Bears don't have an energy line.  They don't have a line that comes out, cycles the puck down low, and makes the defense really work to get the puck away from them.

So, in turn, the scoring lines don't have the luxury of space when the come on the ice.  Which results in stolen passes or never seeing a good look at the net.

Truth be told, Hershey's roster isn't constructed with a ton of energy line type guys.  Or checking line type guys.  It's a smaller roster overall, laden with playmakers.  But there are guys that can serve the role.

Here is what I want to see:

Brown - Newbury - Galiev

That would be my top line intially.  Brown is listed as a RW but I am sure he could make the switch.  You have the playmaking of Newbury with the scoring of Galiev and a guy in Brown that is big enough (and seemingly willing) to get dirty in front of the net.

Plus you know Galiev will be protected against physical defenseman since Newbury seems to be a rather angry person and Brown will stick his nose in as well.

Next up:

Cornet/Conner - Kennedy - Wellman

There is my second line.  Cornet would move to the press box when Conner is healthy, but both guys need to step it up a bit.  A smaller line, but some good offensive potential here.  If Wellman could play LW I would consider him for the top line.

So there are our two scoring lines.  Notice that Dane Byers hasn't been mentioned.  I love Dane.  Think he is a TERRIFIC player.

But he isn't an offensive weapon.  Not like the other guys. up:

Byers - Stephenson - Herbert/Mitchell

This is Garrett's spot when healthy, but Herbert's for now.  The old guy with the young guys.  An energy line.  Get the puck down low and start cycling.  Keep it moving and make the defense work to earn it.

And score a goal or two.  This would also be the line you want out against the other teams top scoring line since all these guys can play in their own zone.

And finally:

Walker - Broda - Gazley

Another energy line.  Throw this line out there and watch the speed take over.  Broda isn't fast, but the other two are and they will cause problems when they are out there together.

I personally believe if the Bears would create true scoring and energy lines they would be a better team going forward.

Unfortunately it does not appear that the coaching staff feels the same way.  The lines they were running at practice this week were the following:

Conner - Kennedy - Brown
Cornet - Wellman - Gazley/Herbert
Byers - Broda - Mitchell
Walker - Stephenson - Galiev

Newbury was sidelined with a back injury so he didn't practice, but I would expect him back at C on line 2 if he was healthy with Wellman moving to right wing.

The top 2 lines aren't terrible...but they still have the most talented offensive player Hershey has playing with 2 guys that aren't going to help him create.

Personally I think that this team will always be performing below their potential until they make room for Galiev to play with the top offensive playmakers like Wellman, Newbury, or Kennedy.

But hey, what do I know.

Hopefully the drills Mann is running and the (slightly) adjusted lines will do the trick.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Weekend of Shutouts

While the Bears got the shutout last night against Worcester, tonight it would be the St. John's Ice Caps who would roll into Giant Center and blank Hershey 2-0. Notwithstanding the shutout, the Bears actually played better on Sunday than they did in their win. Unfortunately, Ice Caps goalie Conner Hellebuyck came up with some big saves during Hershey's power plays in the second and third period.

Chris Brown, Kris Newbury and Conner Carrick were all notable throughout the game. In the first period, any time these guys were on the ice the Bears had some good drives to the net. Brown and Newbury really got in around the blue paint and caused some scrums in front. At one point Newbury went after one of the Ice Caps' defenders because of a behind the play shot he had given him. There were times when it seemed like the game would delve into more outright physical play after the whistle but it never did.

Hershey started the second period on a penalty kill but found themselves on the power play shortly thereafter. Despite good passing on a power play at the beginning of the period and another at the end, the Ice Caps collapsing defense kept the Bears' shot to the perimeter.

While the Bears played a strong game in the second and outshot St. John's 16-11, a defensive breakdown half way through the period left Ice Cap Chase Bailey alone in front of Copley. Bailey only needed moment to snap a quick shot over Copley's right shoulder to make it 2-0.

The Bears came out flying in the third period but frustrations set in early with Newbury and Byers battling in front of Hellebuyck. Newbury would end up taking his second penalty of the game. It was clear a lack of offense this weekend was wearing on Newbury.

Hershey had some good opportunities in the back half of the third when Dane Byers caught a rebound off Hellebuyck's pad but failed to bury the puck. Likewise, Conner Carrick had Hershey's best chance to get on the score board but his heavy shot from the point hit off the post to the right of the Ice Caps' goalie.

The Bears were 1 for 8 on the power play this week which includes the game Wednesday against the Phantoms. The puck movement and shots are there, but Hershey has to get the power play clicking more consistently. A couple power play goals in each game and the Bears could have come away with a much needed "w".

Grubauer Gets Much Deserved Shutout

Coming up on the quarter way point of the season, it can be argued that perhaps Philip Grubauer has been the Bears' best player so far. With Hershey's 1-0 win against the Worcester Sharks at Giant Center last night, Grubauer notched his second shutout of the season. Starting the last four games, he has faced 119 shots and made 111 saves. The one aberration being the 5-1 loss to Syracuse on November 14th.

Granted, Kris Newbury has 21 points and leads the AHL in scoring but Grubauer has been more instrumental in keeping Hershey in games. Like the game this past Wednesday against Lehigh Valley in in which the Bears found themselves down 2-0 in the first. Grubauer's 37 saves gave Hershey the opportunity to climb back into the game despite eventually losing in overtime.

The same can be said about Saturday night. The Bears came out with more speed in the first period than they have in prior games and executed breakouts more effectively despite a strong Worcester forecheck. There were even moments when Hershey's cycle game had the Sharks running around in their own end.

But leading 1-0 at the first intermission, Grubauer would give the team at chance to win as the Bears would be outshot 27-12 through the second and third periods. However, the save of the game would come in the first period as Grubauer made a diving split toe save with his right pad on Daniil Tarasov. With the puck in the corner, Tarasov snuck into the slot and found himself all alone to the right of Grubauer. His position was steady and push-off from the post was strong as the cross crease pass was close in.

Notwithstanding being outshot again by a wide margin, the Bears' overall play last night against Worcester showed that they may be turning a corner and digging themselves out of this rut of inconsistency.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bears Lose in OT Despite Comeback

Wednesday night's game in Allentown against the Phantoms continued the current trend of the Bears inability to generate sustained pressure in the opponents end for any length of time. At least in the past few weeks. In Tim Leone's Penn Live Blog Post after last weekend's 3-2 win over Wilkes-Barre, Troy Mann perfectly sums up the Bears' current predicament:

"We were wondering, Well, maybe did our team jell a little bit too early, because things came together so quickly those first three weeks. We were very good defensively. From a systems perspective, we were excellent. But then you start winning some games early. A rut and a groove, there's a fine line there."

If you lose one or two games in a row, that's one thing. But patterns have been emerging recently and this is Hershey's first taste of adversity in the 2014-15 season. The question is how they will dig themselves out of this current "rut".

The Bears certainly didn't start the game appearing as though they have an answer. In their worst first period so far, the Bears were outshot in the period 20-9 and down 2-0 within the first seven minutes. It took almost that long for Hershey to register it's first shot of the game.

Granted, the Bears were able to claw back into the game with a goal in each of the second and third periods while limiting the Phantoms to 5 and 7 shots per period, respectively. However, Hershey wasn't able to control the play in either the offensive or defensive zones. The main difference compared to earlier in the season that keeps coming up is the absence of the great passing and cycle game.

Perhaps it's in reaction to their struggles, but Hershey has been playing the dump and chase game while trying to get chances off the rush. Other than Dane Byers power play goal, the Bears' best opportunities and Newbury's goal came off the rush.

The game appeared to become equitable when both teams devolved into a run and gun style the last half of the third period. Chandler Stephenson had the best chance in the last 10 minutes when he blew down the left wing past the Phantom's defenseman for a partial breakaway. Stephenson made a nice deke for a backhand shot but Rob Zepp just got a piece of it with his glove.

At the start of the overtime, Connor Carrick somehow gets called for tripping that no one saw except for the referee. Despite the bad call, Joel Broda found himself on a breakaway right off the face-off and could have ended the game but unfortunately shot the puck wide and missed the net.

So now to the 3-on-3 overtime. You've no doubt read my previous post about this. And watching this extended 3-on-3, the following came to mind: this is pond hockey. During the NHL's Winter Classic they always make such a big to-do about playing outside on the frozen pond. Well, the 3-on-3 overtime is the perfect representation of that. So much for a structured and professional game.

Also, both teams attempted to hold back and play the zone to limit the 2-on-1 chances. The thing about the 3-on-3 overtime is that because there are so few players on the ice an abundance of offensive chances are inevitable.

Chris Conner had a breakaway and almost won the game with a Peter Forsberg move but Zepp made an outstanding left toe save. Likewise, Lehigh Valley forward Kevin Goumas had a breakaway in the final seconds of the overtime.

So apparently the AHL has shifted from 5 shooters to 3 in the shootout. After newcomer Blair Jones scored the Phantom's only shootout goal, Dustin Gazley stick handled himself out of a shot and the game was over. However, no one on the ice  knew it; not even the refs. Everyone stood around for awhile until they figured it out. The only person who did know was the Phantom's broadcaster, Steve Degler. To quote, "The Phantoms have won the game. I might be an idiot, but at least I know the rule change and there are only 3 shooters instead of 5".

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


A few weeks ago in the Bears' first meeting against the Hartford Wolf Pack, we got a brief look at the new 3-on-3 overtime rule change. While the teams only played 3-on-3 for a couple minutes before the Bears scored, seeing so much open ice was a bit discomforting. Scott Stuccio even commented during the broadcast that it looked odd.

Before commenting on the new overtime, I wanted to wait and see if Hershey would get into any more 3-on-3 situations to determine if my first impression was correct. Well, it's been a couple weeks and the only overtime game has been against Wilkes-Barre this past Friday night and it lasted about a minute.

However, on Monday James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail just so happened to post an article about 3-on-3 situations occurring in overtime. So I'm glad I waited because now I at least have another reference point. The articles discusses both the AHL and NHL in regards to overtime and 3-on-3 play. Likewise, my perspective floats between the two.

So first off, I'll admit that I have always been (and still am) a big fan of the tie. It has historical significance for both leagues and uniquely separates itself from the winner take all mentality of the other major American sports leagues. And just because the New Jersey Devils made the playoffs and won the Stanley Cup in 1995 by having the most ties and notably "playing to tie," a backlash started against this aspect of the game. This would essentially cause the AHL and NHL to move to a 4-on-4 overtime format and eventually the shootout in 2004-05 and 2005-06, respectively.

The purpose of these changes was to open up the ice in hopes of generating offense and if not then the shootout would be an exciting way to decide a game with a 1-on-1; player versus the goalie. Well, here we are again. Discussing how to open up the ice so that more games are decided in OT instead of the shootout. And 3-on-3 is what the NHL/AHL powers that be came up with?

Some say the most exciting play in hockey is the penalty shot. I beg to differ. The most exciting play is the 2-on-1. And that's because of the possibilities. In that brief moment a 2-on-1 contains all aspects of the game that makes hockey great. Offense, defense and goaltending. Does the player with the puck pass or shoot? If he shoots, does he shoot for a goal or a rebound? If he passes, does the defense break up the pass? If not, does the other offensive player take the shot (for goal or rebound) or attempt a pass back? And through all that, what does the goalie do?

From the little bit we've seen, because of so much open ice and so few players, the new AHL overtime format is basically just 2-on-1's back and forth. That may sound like a good idea on paper but in reality it is definitely a case of too much of a good thing. In the same way a penalty shot can be exciting, a 2-on-1 is exhilarating because it doesn't happen all the time. The scarcity of it drives demand which makes it that much more intense when it occurs.

But this is where we're at; this is what the decision makers have come up with. With the way things are going, I predict that by the 2019-2020 season the overtime format will consist solely of the two goalies on the ice just shooting the puck at each other.

The shootout was supposed to be an exciting way to decide a game. Now that's not viewed as proper so they're going to 3-on-3 overtime to try and move away from the shootout as much as possible. This speaks volumes about where both the NHL and AHL are at and how they got here since the 2005-06 lockout (which is coming up on the 10 year anniversary next season).

Instead of focusing on overtime, how about the decision makers figure out how to get the game back to the way it was coming out of the 05-06 lockout. No one can deny that the most exciting hockey (offensively speaking) of the past 20 years happened between 2005-06 and 2010-11. But 3-on-3 overtime is what they think is the most important in creating more offense in the game.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Bears Hang Tough Despite Loss

Some overarching issues from this past weekend's games can be seen as insufficient passing and problematic breakouts, thus leading to a multitude of turnovers. But despite being mostly outplayed and outshot in all three games, the Bears were able to hang around in them all and accrue 3 out of a possible 6 points.

The loss to the Hartford Wolf Pack on Sunday 3-2 wasn't as disappointing as Friday night's game and Sunday appeared to be the Bears' better overall, albeit subdued, effort even though they were outshot 13-2 in the first period. Down 3-2 late in the third period Hershey pushed hard, with even a 6-on-4 in the final minute, to try and tie the game. But these late in the game heroics didn't work like in Saturday night's game.

In Tim Leone's "Morning Takeaways" blog post, Coach Troy Mann referred to Sunday's game as a "trap game" since the Bears were playing 3 in 3 while Hartford only had the two games in Hershey. Granted, the extra game should be taken into consideration but there seems to be larger trends at play here.

The main characteristic of all three games has been that the Bears are not playing a full 60 minutes. In each game the Bears struggled in at least 2 if not all 3 periods. For all three games combined, Hershey was outshot in five of the nine periods (the overtime wasn't included since it only lasted a minute). In addition, the Bears were 1 for 12 on the power play with six of them coming in the third game. If there was any time where the power play needed to succeed it was Sunday.

Considering all that, the Bears were still able to hang around in all three games with each being tied 2-2 at some point in the third periods. The forwards and defense should thank both Philip Grubauer and Pheonix Copley for keeping the team competitive as they had to come up with some big saves to keep the games close. Grubauer was especially the Bears' best player.

The question is how Troy Mann is going to get things turned around. It's not like the Bears are facing adversity with injuries and/or call-ups. Passing and the cycle game has to get back to the way it was at the start of the season. The Bears had been dominate in their cycle game in the opponent's zone and this generated a lot of their offense.

And as mentioned previously, the power play has to start clicking again. Through the first 6 games, the power play was 7 for 34. Since then in the next 7 games (including Sunday night), it has been 2 for 24. The passing on the power play has been good but there needs to be more player movement and shots.

Or perhaps the overall play of this past weekend has been just an aberration that is typically seen at the end of a long road trip. It's a good thing that in the last 8 games in November, 6 of them are at Giant Center.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Amazing Comeback in 3rd Period

Saturday night's game at Giant Center against the Hartford Wolf Pack was definitely a "tale of two games" for the Bears. The first 50 minutes saw the Wolf Pack dominate the Bears both in overall play and on the score sheet as the Bears found themselves down 2-0. However, at the 10 minute mark of the 3rd period Hershey would overtake Hartford and score 4 unanswered goals in route to a 4-2 win.

While Hershey came out skating better than they did Friday night, the team continued to struggle with passing and break outs of the defensive zone as was also apparent in the Wilkes-Barre game. This breakdown in the basics of the game is a bit disconcerting as passing and the cycle game in all zones of the ice has been one of the Bears strongest points so far this season.

Despite being outshot in the first period, it appeared like we might be in for a goaltenders battle as both Grubauer and Desjardins had to come up with some big saves early on. Most notable was on a Wolf Pack power play when both Ryan Bourque and Chris Mueller found themselves alone in front of Grubauer who had to make two quick saves (the one on Mueller with a lunging right pad and blocker) to keep the game scoreless.

Hartford would make it 1-0 in the back end of the first period and 2-0 about midway through the second. At that point the energy seemed to be gone from the Bears in much the same way it was in the prior night's game against the Pens. The tension with the fans in attendance was noticeable.

A bright spot came towards the end of the second when Conner Carrick plastered Ryan Potulny in the right corner behind Grubauer. This would prove to be one of the turning points in the game as it got the Bears more physically engaged in the game and put some energy back in the crowd. Tim Leone has a good write-up on Penn Live about the hit and the overall play of Conner Carrick last night. I actually thought the Carrick hit would be the Crunch of the Game but that honor went to Steve Olesky who lined up Ryan Bourque who had his head down as he had just crossed the Bears blue line along the boards.

The Bears struggled on the power play all game long going 0-4 until around the 10 minute mark of the third when Casey Wellman would notch a power play goal to get the Bears on the board. It should be noted that the Bears' fifth power play opportunity is owed to Dustin Gazley who blew by Wolf Pack defender Dallas Jackson and then was blatantly hooked down. Gazley was clearly far enough ahead of Jackson that it should have been a penalty shot. Either way, Hershey was back in the game now only down 2-1.

At that point the whole game turned on a dime and the Bears controlled the play. A little more than a minute later Conner Carrick, while cutting to the middle of the ice just above the hash marks, would put a long wrist shot between the pads of Desjardins to tie the game at 2. Then with about 4 minutes left Kris Newbury would tip in a huge slap shot from Wellman standing along far side wall and to make it 3-2 Hershey. Upon replay, it was tough to tell if anyone touched that shot or if Wellman just blew it right by the Wolf Pack goalie.

Newbury would add an empty netter to seal the win 4-2 and the Bears' comeback was complete. Watching the first and second periods of last night's game I don't think anyone expected Hershey to pull off that win in the last 10 minutes. However, going into the third Scott Stuccio kept commenting on how the Bears could spark a comeback like the Pens did the night before.

The two games the Bears have played against the Wolf Pack this season have been Hershey's most exciting so far. The 1-0 overtime victory for Pheonix Copely's first career shutout and last night's comeback have provided the kind of action a fan likes to see in a hockey game. Let's hope that the third game against Hartford tonight at Giant Center continues that trend.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Listless Bears Fall to Pens in OT

Friday night's game against the Penguins was definitely an odd one for the Bears. Despite being outplayed and out shot throughout the game, the Bears led 2-0 after two periods and then lost 3-2 in overtime. No one really stood out for Hershey except for Philip Grubauer, who faced 34 total shots and kept the team in it until the end.

The first period was all Wilkes-Barre as the Pens dominated the Bears. The Pens controlled the majority of the play and at times kept Hershey stuck in its own end. The Bears had some good rushes but were unable to get any sustained pressure on goalie Matt Murray. In fact, the Bears were only able to register 2 shots in that first period.

Hershey came out looking a little better in the second period as it seemed like they had gotten their legs under them. The play was a bit more even as Hershey tried to keep pace even though they were outshot by Wilkes-Barre 11-7. And with goals by Jon Landry and Casey Wellman it appeared the Bears might be able to squeak out a win.

The third period tilted decidedly in the Pens favor as they out shot the Bears 13-6. The Pens made it 2-1 about halfway through the period on a goal by Taylor Chorney. He would factor into the game tying goal with 47 seconds left as his point shot was deflected by Jason Megna.

Interestingly, late in the third when it was still 2-1 Bears, Nathan Walker had a breakaway and could have made it 3-1 with his first goal of the year but shot the puck wide. It ended up being big missed opportunity.

The Pens would win a minute into overtime on another goal by Megna from a nice cross crease pass by Derrik Pouliot. Beau Bennett of the Pittsburgh Penguins appears to be in Wilkes-Barre on a conditioning stint. The line of Bennett-Megna-Andrew Ebbett was dominate for the Pens and at times looked to be on the ice every other shift.

Regardless, the Bears just didn't seem to have any life and even Troy Mann (per Tim Leone's Penn Live post game blog post) stated that this was Hershey's worst game so far. However, had Hershey hung on to win 2-1 or 3-1, today everyone would be saying that the Bears won a game they didn't deserve to win. Or that it was a game stolen by Gurbauer.

Let's hope Saturday and Sunday's games at Giant Center show a better effort and outcome.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Some Lucky Bounces, Some Unlucky Bounces

One couldn't help but think that things weren't going to go the Bears' way when the Monarchs received a penalty shot less than 2 minutes into the game and went up 1-0. It was just one of many bounces that didn't go Hershey's way Sunday afternoon in Manchester.

The teams skated pretty evenly throughout the first period but the Monarchs controlled most of the play and got 4 power plays to Hershey's 1. It took at least 6-7 minutes before the Bears even registered a shot on goal. Soon after, Kris Newbury got his sixth goal of the year when, with a one handed stick sweep, he chipped the puck over Manchester goalie Patrik Bartosak's catching glove.

Coming out in the 2nd, the Bears showed some speed and were able to keep sustained offensive pressure in the Monarchs' zone. Their best chance was when Stan Galiev skated out from behind Manchester's net completely untouched for a nice wraparound.

Hershey's best save and luckiest bounce of the game was owed to the reactions of the left goal post. A Monarchs' point shot found its way through Grubauer's blocker side and slowly bounced off the bottom of the  post. The puck bobbled toward the goal line where it was pretty much half on the line and half in the goal. After a lengthy review, it was deemed no goal. Good call, good break for the Bears.

However, the good fortune wouldn't last long. Failing to capitalize on only their second power play of the game, the Bears then gave up a breakaway to Nick Shore, who would score the first of his two highlight reel goals of the game. Grubauer did keep Hershey in the game when defenseman Jamie McBain, of all players, had a breakaway late in the second.

Most of the third period appeared to be the Bears' strongest both offensively and defensively. They had quite a few scoring opportunities throughout, registering 9 shots while limiting the Monarchs to just 3. Unfortunately, one of those three shorts was enough to put the game out of reach.

While on the power play for a Monarchs' too many men penalty, Hershey was moving the puck well and it looked like they might tie the game. But Nick Shore would notch his second goal as he split two Hershey defenders, got a shot away and put in his own rebound past Grubauer's blocker to make it 3-1.

A tough loss to be sure. But the bounces just didn't go Hershey's way. Some of the outcomes of this weekend have been a bit of a letdown Hershey considering how well they have play even in the games they lost. The games against the Wolf Pack next Saturday and Sunday at Giant Center will be very welcome.

Bears Left in Sharks' Wake

The aggressive forecheck of the Worcester Sharks was too much for the Hershey Bears on Saturday night as the Sharks held on to win 5-4. The Sharks were all over the Bears' defensemen in the defensive zone and really made them have to move the puck quickly. Likewise, Hershey's offense found it tough to even get through the neutral zone and sustain pressure in the Sharks' end.

This is not to say that the Sharks dominated the Bears. Every time Hershey tied the game or got close the Sharks would just pull away. However, the Bears clawed their way back into the game late in the third period but it was too little too late.

The Sharks scored a minute and a half into the game but Joel Broda tied in less than 15 seconds later. Former Penguin (Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh) Tyler Kennedy, who's in Worcester on a conditioning stint, made it 2-1 around the midway point of the period. There were no penalties in the first period as the referees just let the guys play.

Five minutes into the second Cameron Shilling lasered a nice one-timer that found a way through Worcester goalie Troy Grosenick to make it 2-2. However, a minute later Freddie Hamilton would score to give the Sharks another lead 3-2. From there and into the third period Worcester would add two more goals to make it 5-2.

A few minutes after the Sharks took the 3 goal lead, Kris Newbury continued his torrid point streak by deflecting a Tomas Kundratek point shot. This goal gave Hershey some life and they kept the pressure on Worcester. It looked like the Bears might get back in it and tie the game when in the last two minutes, and with Pheonix Copley pulled, Steve Olesky fired a bomb from the point to make it 5-4. But the Sharks' defense held tough around Grosenick to get the win.

Pheonix Copley sustained his first loss of the season and this was definitely his hardest test so far. Some bounces didn't go his way but he also let a couple goals get by him that he probably should have had. Notably, the goals by Freddie Hamilton and Daniil Tasarov in which both players had clear chances in the slot and around the net. At the same time, Hamilton and Tarasov were wide open with no Hershey defender even close enough to get a stick on puck. There were many instances of defensive breakdowns by the Bears so Copley certainly cannot be held solely responsible.

The Bears head back to Manchester, NH for an afternoon game against the Monarchs in hopes of finishing the weekend 2-1-0.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Sparse Crowd Watches Bears Gnaw on Monarchs

I realize it was Halloween night, but I expected a better turnout by the fans in Manchester, NH. There were what looked like maybe 500 people in attendance. Probably more fans watching on AHL Live. Regardless, they missed a well fought game between the Bears and Monarchs. It wasn't an overly physical game and there was no after the whistle activities or fights, but it was well played offensively and defensively by both teams. However, the Bears would end up rolling over Manchester 4-0.

For the first period and most of the second, it seemed like it was going to be one of those back and forth defensive affairs with neither team giving ground. Manchester controlled the majority of the play in that time. There was even a stint in the middle of the first period when the Monarchs had the Bears pinned in their own end 5-on-5. And it seemed like the Monarchs always got a stick on Hershey's passes and scoring chances.

The second period started out the same way until Kris Newbury, behind the Monarch's net, quickly fed the puck to Dane Byers in the slot and made it 1-0 Hershey. The assist gave Newbury his 500th AHL career point.

The play of Newbury and Casey Wellman has really been impressive in the first month of the season. These two have just clicked and they're putting up a lot of points. Obviously it's early in the season but to a certain extent Newbury and Wellman seem like the new Aucoin/Giroux tandem. They're not as offensively gifted and flashy as Aucoin and Giroux, but Newbury and Wellman know where to find each other on the ice and how to put the puck in the back of the net.

Newbury's goal tilted the ice in the Bears' favor as they now controlled the play and would put in two more goals before the end of the period to make it 3-0 going into the 3rd.

Casey Wellman made it 2-0 on the power play with a perfectly placed tip in off Tomas Kundratek's shot pass. It's good to see the Hershey defense utilizing different types of shots. Everyone always wants to wind up for the slap shot on the power play and typically a snap shot is mostly used for the shot pass. But Kundratek placed a hard wrist shot right on the tape of Wellman's stick.

Philip Grubauer got his first shutout of the season and should be commended for keeping Hershey in it for the first half of the game. Even though the Bears kept the Monarchs to the outside of the ice, Grubauer had to be sharp during the three penalty kills. The third period was mostly uneventful and Steve Olesky got the empty net to make it 4-0.

Hershey, with two consecutive shutouts going, heads up to Worcester, MA to face a Sharks team that is 4-2-1 so far. The Bears will be back in Manchester on Sunday to closeout the weekend.

Friday, October 31, 2014

4 Thoughts on the Bears in the Early Going

Don has written nice postgame pieces of each Bears game so far (you can find this past weekends write-ups here here and here).

But I haven't given any thoughts on the matter yet as I was waiting to see the team in person (and then waiting to find the time to write it).  So here it goes:

Bears vs Penguins, picture courtesy of Kyle Mace and Chocolate Hockey

In watching the Bears live twice last weekend I think 4 things jumped out at me:

1. Team Speed

It isn't that the Bears are lightning fast and just skating circles around the opposition...they aren't that fast.

But the other teams aren't either.

In recent years you could sit down at Giant Center and immediately the speed discrepancy between the Bears and the opposition was apparent.  It wasn't that the other teams were unusually fast...the Bears were just slow.

A lack of prospects in the system will do that as Hershey filled their roster with slightly older legs and hoped that the veteran positioning would counter the speedier teams.

It didn't.

But this year looks different so far.  The Bears are just as fast as the other teams and a lack of speed will not be the problem it was for the Bears in recent years.

2.  Depth

We kind of suspected this coming in to the season, but after seeing it live it is obvious.

What is the Bears best line?  Go ahead, try and convince me of one.

You can't.  Why?  Because there is little difference between the 1st and 12th forward on this team.  Seriously.

Sure, some players struggle with certain things and consistency for the young guys is sometimes lacking, but ultimately this team runs 4 very good lines that others have to account for.

The saying goes, you are only as good as your weakest link.

If that is the measurement model...these Bears are pretty darn good.

3.  Focus in the Moment

Last season was probably the worst for this.  The Bears would score a goal and almost immediately the opposition would come down and score as well.

It happens.  When one team allows a goal they are going to have new found motivation to get one of their own.

We saw during both games this weekend.

Hershey went up in both games.  They scored 7 goals in the 2 home games and only gave up 1.  And that one came at the start of a period...never right after a Bears goal.

I noticed it right away Saturday night.  Wilkes-Barre came hard after the Bears scored 2 midway through the 1st, but the Bears were focused and ready for it.

This is a credit to the new coaching staff.  They have them ready to play in situations where last years team seemed to be lacking.

4.  Aggressive Pinching by the D

I have noticed this both in Hershey and Washington and it brings memories to the Bruce Boudreau days.

Any time the puck is headed up the boards the Bears d-men were pinching in aggressively to keep it in.

The Phantoms and Penguins had few easy clears out of the zone.

Now, this style play can obviously lead to odd man breaks and while that didn't happen this weekend it surely will.  BUT, in order to create opportunities for your forwards the defensemen have to be willing to step up and keep the puck in the zone.

These kinds of plays often go unnoticed on the scoresheet, but they are critical to winning games and the entire organization seems committed to this system.

Obviously there were other thoughts (including what seemed to be better success in the faceoff circle) but those 4 things really stuck out to me after seeing the Bears for one weekend.

Do you agree?  Did you see anything else that stuck out to you?  Share in the comments.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Copley's Second Consecutive Shutout Powers Bears

Sometimes I like the third game of these three game weekend stints. Usually you'll hear that the teams are extra tired, the play isn't as crisp and more mistakes are made. This all can be true. But occasionally that's a good thing.

The less structured play can allow players to be more creative against a team than say on Friday or Saturday night, when the opposition might be on its defensive game. And sometimes that additional creativity is rewarded more in a Sunday night game. Which can make for a more overall exciting game.

This is one of my biggest complaints about the current progression and state of the NHL. The systems employed by NHL teams in general are so structured (both offensively and defensively) that players are always in position and major errors rarely made. It has lost some of the "chaotic creativity" that comes from a looser system and play.

The tiredness was evident for both the Bears and Phantoms. But the Bears had one of their nicest goals of the young season when Kennedy skated into the left corner and threw a pass out to Philip Cornet in the slot. While a pass like that might have been intercepted on a Friday or Saturday night game, Cornet was able to handle the pass and, as he was being tripped up and falling to the ice, chipped the puck past Lehigh Valley goalie Anthony Stolarz. As Scott Stuccio mentioned during the broadcast, Cornet was falling and in the air when he knocked that puck in. Nice highlight reel goal.

However, it was Pheonix Copley who would end up being the star of the game with his second consecutive shutout. Copley wasn't overly tested as the Phantoms were once again held to only single digit shots in each period. But the Hershey goalie was sharp when Lehigh Valley had some good chances late in the third. Most notably the glove save on Darroll Powe's semi-breakaway and left pad save on Scott Laughton right in around the goal.

Overall, this was a fine ending to the up and down weekend for the Bears. And to get the first two wins at Giant Center this season is extra special in ushering in this new era of sorts to the hometown crowd. Hershey now heads back out on the road and won't be home until the weekend of November 8-9 when they'll face the Hartford Wolf Pack.

Big 2nd Period In Home Opener

During the first 5 games of the season so far, the Bears played their best in either the first or third periods. The majority of their goals have come in the first period. In Saturday night's home opener against the Pens, it was all about the second period.

The first and third periods displayed a pretty evenly matched yet scrappy game with both teams getting a few chances at both ends. However, it would be the Bears who would take period one with Tim Kennedy and Dane Byers scoring quick back to back goals. Philip Grubauer was tested a bit and his best save came on a breakaway by Jason Megna early on.

Ending the first period, the Bears were definitely in control. And Bobby Farnum and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond tried to get Hershey off its game by chirping at Olesky and Mitchell. These tactics would set the pace for the rest for the second and third.

The Pens came out more poised in the second and got a quick goal less than minute into the period. Wilkes-Barre controlled much of the period in what became choppy play with a bunch of penalties and starts/stops. In addition, the Pens had some really good chances in close around Grubauer and he had to be tough to fight them off. There was certainly some tension with the Bears' play considering what happened in last night's game versus the Phantoms.

But the Bears grabbed the game back with about 5 minutes left in the period when Casey Wellman scored on the power play with a nice tip-in from the slot. It has been mentioned before but Hershey's power play looks really good so far this season. The tape to tape passing is excellent and they're not afraid to move the puck to different areas of the ice to open up different opportunities.

Then with a  couple minutes left in the second, Gazley scored on a penalty shot where he turned Pens' goalie Matt Murray inside out with some great stick work. At that point, Giant Center erupted and the Bears went into the third period up 4-1.

The third period was another lesson in discipline for the Bears. Not much happened in the offensive category as Hershey didn't record their first shot of the period until there was only about 3-4 minutes remaining. But the Bears limited Wilkes-Barre's chances and the Pens never really had a chance to get back into the game.

Granted, the chippy-ness all game long finally boiled over when Steve Olesky fought Dominik Uher after Olesky put a big hit on Bobby Farnum behind the Bears' net.

A great home opener to be sure. Now the Bear's will face the Phantoms again and try to get some payback for Friday night's game.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Test In Holding A One Goal Lead

During the first half of the 3rd period, I thought to myself how this was a good early season test for the Bears in holding onto a one goal lead. By the time there was 5 minutes left in the game, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms were up 4-2 and would go on to win the game.

Hershey had the better overall play throughout the game up until that last half of the third period. Continuing to use their speed, cycle game and excellent passing, there were times when the Bears overwhelmed the Phantoms and pinned them in their own end. But the Phantoms kept hanging in there and just wouldn't go away. So how did the Bears let the game slip away?

As Coach Troy Mann is quoted in Tim Leone's post game Penn Live blog post, the Bears ended up playing too much in the neutral zone and there were too many turnovers. The worst turnover came on the Phantom's third goal when Andrew Gordon stripped the puck from the Hershey defender trying to skate out of the corner. Gordon then spun around, got a quick shot off and Darroll Powe put in the rebound for his second of the game. This was about a minute after Lehigh Valley had tied it 2-2.

Physicality and fights were also prevalent. The Phantoms used their size well and doled out some big hits. The most notable was Jay Rosehill lining up Patrick Wey along the far boards near the Phantom's blue line. Wey didn't return and no penalty was called on the hit. Now, while I saw the hit coming, it was difficult to tell to what degree Wey had his head down and how much control of the puck he had. So it could have been just a bit of a late hit. Either way, it lead to a fight between Rosehill and Tim Spencer.

The third period saw a huge fight between Garrett Mitchell and defenseman Steven Delisle. I got to hand it to Mitchell. He was outmatched in overall size and took a pounding in the process, but he really hung in there against Delisle. Mitchell is listed as 5'10", 188lbs. while Delisle goes 6'6", 209lbs. But Garrett seemed to be wound up and ready to go last night as he previously got a roughing penalty (basically an instigator) in the second for going after Rosehill before Spencer got involved in that fight.

This Phantoms team played a lot better than I expected and definitely had the backing of their boisterous hometown crowd. However, this loss is a good early lesson for the young Bears. As Mann further stated post game, "you've got to buckle down and play the right way." A tough lesson to be sure, but next time they'll be ready when another game like this arises.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Bears over Hartford 1-0 in OT

So…how does one go about scoring on a 6'8" goaltender? Very good question.

First let me try to wrap my head around this. A 6'8" goaltender. That's like having Zdeno Chara, but with quick reflexes and the ability to move about on the ice even faster, in net. Many of you may already be familiar with Jason Missiaen since he's been with Hartford for a couple season now. However, he's definitely fallen under my radar for prospect goalies.  And I thought Pekka Rinne and Anders Nilsson were big.

Anyway, back to my question. How does one score on such a goaltender. The answer is with as many shots as possible and hope for a lucky bounce. And that's exactly what Hershey got on Sunday afternoon as they defeated the Wolf Pack with a power play goal in overtime with 1.5 seconds remaining.

This was a very high tempo game for both clubs as they definitely matched each other for speed. However, it was the Bear's continued excellence in the defensive zone that really stood out last night. In Saturday night's game against the Falcon's, the Bears allowed just 8 and 7 shots in the first and second periods, respectively. Last night, 8 total shots were allowed in the first and second periods (4/4). And Hartford's first shot of the second didn't come until 7:43 left in the period. That's pretty amazing against an offensively talented team like the Wolf Pack.

That being said, this was the goalies' night. And while much of the spotlight was put on Missiaen because of his numerous outstanding saves, Pheonix Copley, though not facing as many shots, was equally up to the task and deserved the shutout.

As Scott Stuccio mentions in his post game PennLive blog post, Missiaen's best saves came in the third period when he stopped both Chandler Stephenson and Garrett Mitchell back-to-back at point blank range. However, about a minute before, Copley made his own save of the game with a diving blocker on a Hartford 2 on 1. What's interesting about the lead up to this save is that the Bears had the Wolf Pack pinned in their zone 5-on-5 for what felt like at least 2 minutes. And Hershey played it like they were on the power play. You see plenty of times when one team has all the momentum but the opposition fights through and scores a goal. And it just kills the other team's energy. So Copley's save was definitely big.

So in overtime on the power play with both the Bears and Wolf Pack scrambling around the front of the net, Casey Wellman was somehow able to get the puck free and sort of flip it over Missiaen who was sprawled on the ice. Plenty of shots and a lucky bounce. I must admit that I was relieved that the Bears scored with 1.5 seconds left because I was wondering how they were going to get anything past Missiaen in the shootout.

One last thing. The Bears briefly played 3-on-3 in overtime per the new rules implemented in the off season. Scott Stuccio called it weird to watch. And I agree. However, I'm going to wait until after this weekend to see if we get another game where the 3-on-3 is played before I give my opinion on this new overtime setup.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Bears beat Falcons 4-1

While the two games against Norfolk displayed the Bears excellent play in the first period, last night's game in Springfield, MA was all about the 3rd. The first and second periods were pretty uneventful despite Casey Wellman scoring in each.

Actually, it seemed like most of the action was taking place with the rowdy crowd that was sitting directly below the press box and really giving to the Bears and refs. Scott Stuccio noted it all game long and hilariously stated in the early third period that they should close the concession stands; "and not the ones where everyone can buy something."

The Bears played a very strong defensive game in those periods and didn't allow many scoring chances (only 8 shots in the 1st and 7 in the 2nd). However, the Bears did allow too many odd man rushes; with 2-on-1's for the Falcons way too prevalent. Luckily, Springfield wasn't able to generate much from those opportunities. Even with those chances, Philip Grubauer wasn't tested a whole lot and was well positioned and strong for the few times he needed to be.

The great puck movement of the team is really a bright spot this early in the season. And it especially showed on the power play in the first when Tim Kennedy took a pass from Kris Newbury and then needled a pass between a Falcon's defenders legs to Casey Wellman for the tap-in goal.

The third period really broke loose and opened up after Springfield finally scored their first goal of the game. Both teams traded scoring chances and power play opportunities in end-to-end action that didn't have many stoppages. The teams were pretty much evenly matched with only a slight edge going to the Falcons because of the momentum from their goal. And up until Philip Cornet's goal with about 7 minutes left, the Bears best scoring chance came from Joel Broda's short handed breakaway.

Philip Cornet, who received a nice backhand pass from Caleb Herbert, showed great patience in front of Falcon's goalie Anton Forsberg as he was able to sneak the puck up under Forsberg's arm on the blocker side. Really glad to see Cornet get his first of the year in a Bears' jersey. Let's hope he reaches that 20 goal mark like he did back in 2011-12 when he was with Oklahoma City and an AHL All-Star.

Next the Bears move on to Hartford where they'll face former Hershey hero Chris Bourque, former Bear Ryan Potulny and the Wolf Pack, who are 2-0-0 to start the season.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Complete 60 Minute Game

If Monday night's game against the Norfolk Admirals was an indication of what Hershey fans can expect from the Bears this season, then it's going to be an exciting year. Granted, I realize that it is only the second game of the season and there will be more difficult teams that the Bears will face but this was a very solid game throughout the lineup. The Bears played a full 60 minutes and didn't let up the couple of times the Admirals tried to shift the momentum to their side.

As Scott Stuccio noted in his post game PennLive post, the Bears once again came busting out of the gate in the first period and peppered opposing goalie Igor Bobkov with 15 shots. In addition, they continued their excellent play along the boards and close in around the goal. Both first period goals, by Stan Galiev and Chris Conner, were shot right in around the hash marks. However, Kris Newbury gets the goal of the game with the beautiful tip in about half way through the third period as he drove to the net. 

Pheonix Copley put in a very good performance for his AHL debut. While facing at least double digit shots every period, there weren't a whole lot of incredible scoring chances for the Admirals. However, Copley's biggest challenges were Norfolk's first two power plays (one in the first and one in the second). The Admirals had some really good chances on both power plays and Copley fought them off really well. Throughout the game he looked calm in the different types of situations that were thrown at him. Let's hope he gets a fair amount of starts this year in Hershey.

The defense played very stable and gave up few turnovers or chances to Norfolk. The defensive play of the night was made by Steve Olesky when he broke up a 3-1 about mid-way through the third period. The score was still 4-2 so there was still a chance the Admirals could sneak back in. Olesky blocked the pass with his body and calmly sticked the puck to the side boards. Perfectly played.

And let's not forget the stand up check by Mike Moore on Chris Wagner at the Bears' blue line, which resulted in a quite a melee. Speaking of which, Brad Winchester was quite a loose canon last night and got what he deserved with the 2 and 10 from that "so called" fight; which consisted of Wagner hanging onto Carrick while Winchester pummeled him. This, in addition to Winchester fighting Mitchell early in the first.

The biggest take away from these first two games of the season: LOTS of shots. 37 each game both Saturday and Monday. Troy Mann has put together a very up tempo system and this team is not afraid to shoot.

Next up is a trip up to New England for a Saturday tilt against Springfield and Sunday against Hartford.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Plenty of Work Needed

As was mentioned at the beginning of the third period on Saturday night, no matter at what level of the game "opening night jitters are always a factor". This seems to have been the case for the Bears as they dropped the opening game of the 2014-15 season to the Norfolk Admirals 5-4.

The game started off well enough for the Bears as they took the lead in the first period three different times. However, Norfolk was able to come back each time and tie the score; notably on Chris Wagner's two short handed goals of his three total for the night.

A bright spot for Hershey in that first period was its play below the face-off dots, in the corners and behind the net. Instead of using the usual grinding tactics along the wall, the Bears really used their speed to cycle the puck between the half wall to the corner and to the hash marks to generate the majority of its scoring chances and produce those three goals.

Unfortunately, the Bears' defensive game gave them the most problems. It seemed to get progressively worse over the course of the game and that prevented the Bears' from being able to maintain any pressure in the offensive zone. This was unexpected considering the coaching and system changes in the off-season. Even still, the team looked fairly solid in the first period.

The same can not be said for the second and third periods. Credit should be given to the Admirals for adjusting their game between both periods and it showed in the first half of the second period. The turning point appeared to be in the beginning of the second period when Steve Olesky took a hooking penalty. The ensuing delayed call had Hershey running around in its defensive zone for at least a minute and a half despite the Bears touching the puck about half way through. Granted, the rules state that the team needs to gain control of the puck but I have seen play at both the NHL and AHL levels stopped for less than that. It was almost like giving the Admirals a four minute power play. And the resulting goal to give Norfolk the lead just sort of killed any momentum the Bears might have had coming out of the first period.

The second period settled in and while Steve Olesky was able to tie the game 4-4 the Bears always seemed be playing reactionary instead of proactively. From there the game became bogged down in the latter half of the period due to a series of penalties. The third period didn't fair much better with the Bears not being able to get any sustained pressure on Norfolk. And Chris Wagner's hat trick half way through the period pretty much ended it.

Hershey's continued defensive breakdowns in the third period prevented them generating many quality scoring chances despite having 11 shots. Their best opportunity  of the period was when Chris Conner blew past the Admirals defenseman down the left side wall for a partial breakaway and looking to sneak it short side on Jason LaBarbera. And the play basically went completely unnoticed by everyone.

While certainly not a bad game for the Bears, it is clear that two areas they need to work on are overall team defense and putting in a complete 60 minute game. The next game is on Monday still in Norfolk. Let's hope the Bears can split this two game road trip to Virginia to the start the season.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Bears Start the Season in Norfolk

9 of the first 11.

That is how many games the Bears play on the road at the beginning of the season.  From tonight through November 7, basically 4 full weeks, the Bears will play a total of 2 home games.

Tough way to start the season.

The first two games are in Norfolk, tonight and Monday night.

Last season the Norfolk Admirals finished 8th in the Eastern Conference, just edging the Bears on the final weekend of play in April for that spot.

Many of us remember that all too well.

So let's move on.

Tonight our new Bears will take the ice against a new looking Norfolk team.

In 2013-14 the Admirals had 9 different players that scored double digit goals.  Of those 9 only 4 remain.

Their top returning scorer is 21 year old Max Friberg who had 17 goals and 23 assists in 74 AHL games last season.

4 of their top 5 scorers are no longer even on the team as 3 graduated to the NHL with the Ducks and one (Andre Petersson, their top scorer) went to the KHL.

So like I said...a mostly new team.

And still a pretty young one.  Of their top 11 scorers last season, 5 were AHL rookies.  4 of them are still in Norfolk (including Steven Whitney who I am guessing is injured as he doesn't show up on Anaheim or Norfolk's roster).

In addition to them, a number of late season tryout players are shown on their roster for this season.  Including Nic Kerdiles, Matt Bailey, and Stefan Noesen.  Those guys didn't light the world on fire in their 19 games - 3 goals 4 assists combined - but I suspect they will get additional minutes this season.  (Although Kerdiles did record 1 goal and 3 assists in his 6 games, so he is one to watch.)

They also brought in a couple of veterans to help out.  Specifically two former double digit goal scorers in the NHL, Brad Winchester and Brandon Yip.

Neither are prolific scorers any more, but both are capable of contributing.  Winchester scored 19 goals last season and Yip tallied 14.

Add in Louis Leblanc and his 13 goals last season for Hamilton and you have a lineup that looks quite similar to the Bears.  Lots of potential offense, but a bit of an unknown on who will be the main scorers throughout the year.

Based on their roster the Admirals will be able to roll 3/4 solid scoring lines throughout the year.  Just like Hershey.

On defense they also seem to be similar to Hershey.

Of their 7 defenseman, 2 are older than 25 and 6 of the 7 are 6'1" or taller.  In Hershey it is similar, 3 of 7 are older than 25 and 6 of the 7 are 6'0" or taller.

And they are puck movers.  Jesse Blacker and Kevin Gagne return to Norfolk after both finished in the top 10 on the team in scoring last year, combining for 9 goals and 38 assists.

Goaltending is where the teams no longer compare.  Jason LaBarbera is likely at least goalie #1a for the start of the season.  He is coming off an average season with a 15-15-2 record, 2.94 gaa, and .901 save % in 32 games with Rockford.

But he will turn 34 midway through the season.

Sharing the goaltending duties will be Igor Bobkov who only played in 10 games for Norfolk last year.  He had decent numbers though going 5-3-1 with a 2.43 gaa and .919 save %.

While goaltending is probably Hershey's strength, it is probably Norfolk's biggest weakness.

Obviously rosters will change a lot during the season and injuries can change a teams fate early and often, but these teams will likely have many close battles throughout the season.

Tonight's game is game 1 of 8 against the Admirals this season.  And after Monday night the Bears don't return to Norfolk until their road trip in April.  (In fact, the two teams don't meet again until December 30.)

All I know for sure going into this one is that I am excited for the season to finally be here.

It was too long of an offseason and what is hopefully game 1 of the 12th Calder Cup season in Bears franchise history starts tonight at 7:15!


Friday, October 10, 2014

A Look at Your 2014-15 Hershey Bears

A new season is upon us.  The question is, what type of season will it be?

From 2005-2010 the Bears saw unprecedented success.  Since that 2009-10 team won the 11th Calder Cup in franchise history, the Bears have failed to win a playoff series.

So, what should we expect from this group of Bears?

The Goalies

Philip Grubauer is back for another season in Hershey.  Last year (as it was for many Bears) wasn't his best.  He went 13-13-2 with a 2.60 goals against average and a .916 save percentage.

Not terrible numbers.  But definitely down from the 15-9-2, 2.25 gaa, .919% we all saw in 2012-13.

Until injuries in Washington dictate otherwise, we should see plenty of Gruby early in the season.  Mann has said that he will split games between the tenders early in the season, but my guess is that Gruby solidifies himself as the #1 in that time period.

Backing him up to start the year will be Pheonix Copley.  Copley is entering his first full professional season after getting a brief stint in South Carolina last year and finishing his college career.

You can't tell much about Copley from his stats, but the organization has been impressed with him.  Once Eddie Pasquale returns to health I would expect Copley to head back to South Carolina, but who knows.  Being able to split games in Hershey to open the year could result in him sticking around.

And since we know something will happen in Washington, he will likely get plenty of chances to earn his stripes in Hershey.

Pasquale is out with a hip injury right now and I don't think he is expected back anytime soon.  He spent the last few years with the St. John's Icecaps.  Last year was his best year as he posted a 17-13-1 record with a 2.43 gaa and .920 save percentage.

He was signed with the vision of him backing up Gruby but his injury has left the door open for Copley to take that role.

Beyond them is Brandon Anderson who returns for his 3rd season in the organization and is coming off a pretty good year himself.  He spent the entire season with Reading and posted a 25-10-2 record with a 2.35 gaa and .916 save percentage.

Not bad numbers.

All in all it means that no matter who the Bears put between the pipes, there shouldn't be too much concern from the coaching staff or the fans.

In the crease...the Bears look pretty damn solid from the top down.

But what about outside of the crease.  I mean let's be honest...the crease hasn't really been Hershey's issue the past couple of years.

The Defense.

While there are plenty of new faces at forward for the Bears this year, the defense remains largely intact.

The opening night roster will look like this:
  • Cameron Schilling
  • Tomas Kundratek
  • Steve Oleksy
  • Patrick Wey
  • Connor Carrick
  • Mike Moore
  • Jon Landry
And Nate Schmidt will likely report to Hershey once the Capitals injuries work themselves out (although he looked pretty good in the Caps opener last night).

I think we are all excited to see Kundy back on the ice after he missed almost the entire season due to a knee injury early last season.

There doesn't seem to be much of a weak link beyond him either.  This is a unit that is mostly built on the new premise that d-men should be puck movers first and physical players second.

With the exception of Oleksy (who isn't a bad puck mover either) the rest of these guys fit that mold pretty well, including the two new names on the list.

Moore comes to the Bears after 1 season in Providence.  He is an AHL veteran that has produced decent offensive numbers over the years.  Last year he scored 7 goals and added 21 assists in 75 games.

And he is solid in his own end too.  Only one of his career AHL seasons has finished with him as a minus player.  Obviously that stat isn't cut and dry, but still a positive.

Landry comes to Hershey after only his second full season in the AHL with Iowa.  When I first learned that he wasn't a veteran I figured he was a younger guy.  But in actuality he is the oldest defenseman on the team at 31 and spent many seasons in the recently-folded Central Hockey League.

After finally getting a chance to play a full season a couple of years ago he did alright for himself producing 8 goals and 25 assists in 2012-13.  Last year he didn't score a goal but recorded 18 assists in only 50 games.

Calling them all puck-moving defenseman doesn't mean that they don't have size or hit.  Landry is 6'3" 220lbs and I am sure he can lay into someone.  Moore is 6'1" and over 200 as well.

While the defense last year might not have been as consistent as needed I don't think they were the weak link on the team either.  And with so many guys returning after playing together last year it should help keep things moving nicely.

The opening night roster will likely feature Wey as a healthy scratch, but my guess is that there is no "weak-link" among them and they will all just rotate through with each guy playing the role of healthy scratch from time to time.

But again, I don't think the defense was really a problem last year.  And neither was the goaltending.  So (other than the coaching) that would leave the forwards as the main problem.

And they were.

The Forwards

It seemed that no one was capable of scoring goals last year (or the year before).

And while I hate to say might be a problem again.

I have said it each of the past couple of seasons.  The Bears forwards look really good.  The team looks quite stacked.  Yet there is one weakness.

They don't have a go-to scorer.  Someone that you can count on late in games (or on the power play) to score the big goal.

An Alexandre Giroux type.  Or Andrew Gordon.  Or even for a bit, Chris Bourque.  Those guys could all score in bunches.

The 2014-15 Bears?   That remains to be seen.  The last thing any of us want to see is a bunch of players still looking for that perfect pass instead of getting the pucks on net.

First let's look at the group:
  • Dustin Gazley
  • Kris Newbury
  • Nathan Walker
  • Casey Wellman
  • Stanislav Galiev
  • Garrett Mitchell
  • Dane Byers
  • Chris Conner
  • Caleb Herbert
  • Chandler Stephenson
  • Joel Broda
  • Tim Kennedy
  • Philippe Cornet
  • Tim Spencer
That is your opening night roster (although Herbert is currently sidelined with an injury).  At some point the Bears are likely to see Chris Brown, Liam O'Brien, and possibly even Michael Latta, Andre Burakovsky, Tom Wilson, or even Evgeny Kuznetsov.

All of those players are currently with the Caps, but assuming injured players return to the lineup and no one else gets hurt, some or all are likely to spend some time in Hershey.  Quite honestly I think the most unlikely one will be Latta due to his having to clear waivers to come down.  That doesn't mean I expect to see the other guys either, but losing Latta isn't something I suspect the organization wants to risk.

But let's focus on the opening night guys.

Talented.  No question.

And productive.  Wellman, Conner, and Kennedy have all averaged at least .75 points per game in their careers.  And Newbury is just behind them at .70.

Awesome.  Except none of them are pure goal scorers.  They are more the guy who sets them up.

Think of them as the Keith Aucoin to Giroux.  Sure, they can score goals, but they are better at setting them up.

Combined, the four players I mentioned have played 27 AHL seasons.  In those they have a combined FOUR 20 goal seasons.  And three belong to Newbury.

Now, in fairness, that is because many of those seasons resulted in trips to the NHL.  But still, they never have been consistent, go-to scorers in the AHL.

Is anyone else on the roster?  Well, we aren't sure yet.

Galiev has that ability.  He scored about .5 goals per game in the ECHL the last two years.  Unfortunately when he would get recalled to Hershey the coaches insisted on putting him on the 4th line.  Maybe if Mann gives him top 6 minutes he could blossom.

Broda maybe?  He was Mann's captain in Bakersfield last year when we scored 21 goals in 41 games.  And in his last 2 years of junior hockey he scored 92 goals in 137 games.  (And was actually drafted by the Caps but never played for the was Kennedy actually.)

Gazley scored 25 back in 2011-12 in the ECHL but only 8 last year in Hershey.  Byers scored 25 back in the 2009-10 season, but he isn't a top 6 forward anymore and doesn't pretend to be.

Cornet scored 24 in 2011-12 but only 13 last year.  Stephenson scored 30 last season in juniors.

The potential is definitely there.

The one thing that I basically touched on without actually mentioning is depth.  I just went through 10 of the 14 players on the list and all of them are offensive weapons.

And the 4 I didn't mention - Walker, Mitchell, Herbert, and Spencer - all have offensive skill of their own...well, maybe Spencer is limited, but he is the only one.

I think this Bear's team will score plenty of goals to win.  I think they will make the playoffs.  And once they are there I am certain they can win it all.

But who are they going to look to late in a close game to get them that goal?  Who is Coach Mann going to put out on the ice with time running down in an effort to get that elusive tying goal?

That player isn't known yet.

Hopefully someone steps up.

Quite honestly, I like this team MORE than last year.  The 2013-14 Bears were talented, but they were also old.

The 2014-15 Bears finally have some youth returning to the lineup.  After years of waiting, Washington prospects are finally making their way back to Chocolate Town for some seasoning.

In addition, some good trades have resulted in a few prospects being added to the pool.  Granted the top prospects are still skipping Hershey altogether, but at least we are seeing some of them.

And they should bring some speed to the lineup that we in Hershey haven't seen in a while.

Last year we all saw the difference when Gazley was in the lineup.  His speed changed the games and that resulted in scoring chances and the opposing defense being on their heels.

More speed is expected of this group.

It will be fun to watch.

Image Credits - I borrowed all these images from Sweetest Hockey on Earth (hope they don't mind).