Saturday, November 21, 2009

Catching Up with the Hershey Bears...

In an effort to promote the American Hockey League and their quality players and coaches north of the border, The Voice of Sport will look at teams in the AHL every Saturday throughout the season. The teams in the AHL play an exciting brand of hockey and with a mix of veterans and NHL draft picks; the league is a great place to watch some tremendous hockey at a reasonable price. To start things off, let’s check in on one of my favourites, the Hershey Bears.

Catching up with the Hershey Bears...

The defending Calder Cup Champions in the AHL keep rolling along, as the Hershey Bears defeated the Binghamton Senators by a 5-2 score on Friday evening. For Hershey, it was their fifth win a row and the team is now 9-1 in their last ten games. The Bears sit atop the East Division with 26 points and they have a five-point lead over the Norfolk Admirals. Overall, Hershey is one point back of the Manchester Monarchs for first place in the Eastern Conference and are fourth in the entire league.

Considering the number of call-ups to the Washington Capitals in recent weeks, a list that includes last season’s Calder Cup MVP, goaltender Michal Neuvrith, it is remarkable that this team continues to win. The overall success of the Bears demonstrates the quality of the organization, the coaching staff and the leadership on the ice from team Captain Bryan Helmer.

General Manager Doug Yingst and Head Coach Mark French have assembled a talented group of players and with the support of the Hershey fans; it is easy to see why the Bears have won 10 Calder Cups in the history of the franchise. As the season approaches the quarter mark, the Bears are in great shape on all fronts; two of their players are in the top-six in AHL scoring, their defence has provided offence without sacrificing their own zone and the goaltending has been exceptional.

Leading the way offensively for the Bears is Quebec City native, Alexandre Giroux. A seventh round pick of the Ottawa Senators in the 1999 entry draft, he is second in league scoring with 9 goals and 24 points in 14 games; only five points behind Hartford’s Corey Locke in the AHL scoring race. Andrew Gordon, another seventh round pick (Washington) in the 2004 entry draft from Halifax, Nova Scotia, is sixth in league scoring with 8 goals and 20 points in 18 games. Both players illustrate the importance of the AHL; as seventh round draft picks, they have flourished in the league and may be taking regular shifts in the NHL in the future.

On defence, their Captain, 17-year hockey veteran Bryan Helmer, leads the Bears. While he is yet to score this season, he has 3 assists in 14 games and his presence in the locker room is immeasurable. (Regular readers will know, Helmer is a personal favourite - had to give him a mention!)

The plus/minus rating can be deceptive at times but it does illustrate a team’s play while 5-on-5 and the Bears defence is led by recent Washington call-up, John Carlson. In 17 games with Hershey this season, he has 10 points and is a +14. Other D-men to watch: Karl Alzner (4 points, +15), Sean Collins (4 points, +7), Patrick McNeill (6 points, +4) and Sault Ste. Marie native Greg Amadio (3 points, +4).

Hershey is third in the AHL in the goals against category due to a committed defensive squad and timely goaltending. Michal Neuvrith and Jason Bacashihua have handled the bulk of the net minding duties this season with former Saskatoon Blades (WHL) goaltender Braden Holtby playing in three games as well. The statistics for these three goalies are remarkable and they are a key factor in Hershey’s rise to the top once again.

Jason Bacashihua: six games played with a 5-1-0 win/loss record, 1.84 GAA and a .926 save percentage.

Braden Holtby: three games played, a 2-1-0 win/loss record, 1.01 GAA and a .967 save percentage.

Michal Neuvrith: nine games played, a 6-3-0 win/loss record, 2.34 GAA and a .915 save percentage.

The week ahead for the Bears will be a tough one as they take on the Springfield Falcons (9-6-3-1, 22 points) Saturday evening, the Providence Bruins (8-9-1-0, 17 points) on Thursday, and then back-to-back games against their East Division rivals - the Adirondack Phantoms (8-6-1-0, 17 points). Next week at The Voice of Sport, we will be closer to home, looking at the North Division’s Toronto Marlies. Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by Dinur on Flickr

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