Friday, April 26, 2013

Wendell Young, Mr. Perfect

There is no doubt that the Hershey Bears, currently in the midst of their 75th anniversary season, and about to embark on their adventure for another Calder Cup title, are considered the model franchise in the American Hockey League. During the course of their 75 campaigns, the club has not only been a perennial success at the box office, but they have also captured the Calder Cup 11 times, nurtured hundreds of players on their way to the National Hockey League, and also served as a stepping stone for numerous coaches and executives on their way to the NHL.
Through all of those years, there has only been one goalie who led the club to the league title in “perfect” fashion, Wendell Young, who went 12-0 in the Bears’ sweep in the 1988 Calder Cup Playoffs and now serves as the General Manager of the AHL’s Chicago Wolves.  Although the Wolves failed to qualify for this year’s post-season festivities, this season, Young reached into Hershey’s rich history, both recent and long ago, in his quest to bring the Calder Cup to the Windy City.
Young, a fourth round pick by the Vancouver Canucks in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, a draft that saw the Philadelphia Flyers, then the Bears’ NHL affiliate select defensemen Steve Smith, a teammate on the ‘88 championship club with their first round choice. After spending his first four pro seasons with the Canucks organization patrolling the pipes in 113 contests for various Canucks’ farm clubs, in addition to thirty outings with the big club, Young was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers’ organization in the summer of 1987. In that deal, the Flyers dealt former Bears’ defenseman Daryl Stanley and goaltender Darren Jensen to the Canucks in exchange for Young and a 3rd round draft pick in 1990 which turned out to be Kimbi Daniels who also spent some time in Chocolatetown during his career.
“Actually, I was quite surprised to get traded out of the organization. I guess after four years they had enough of me,” chuckled Young. “The situation with Philly was that Hextall got suspended in the playoffs the year before and they needed a goalie, actually two goalies, and Mark “Trees” Laforest and I ended up coming in because of that.”
Young’s tenure in the Flyers’ organization lasted only one season during which he spent six games with the “Boys from Broad Street”, but he spent the majority of his time that season with the Bears and appeared in 51 games, notching 33 wins in the regular season.
“As that season went on you could tell things were starting to look good, and we were turning the corner. We had a solid team talent-wise, but I think more importantly we were a very tight team who hung out a lot together.  We had a great dressing room with a lot of good leaders in it. That’s when you start realizing that you might be on to something special, when you end up winning the big games, because in those types of games, character really plays out.”
In the playoffs that season, the Bears and Young displayed their mettle and finished off their perfect 12-0 post season with a four-game sweep in the Calder Cup Finals at the expense of the Canucks’ top farm club, the Fredericton Express, in Fredericton no less, providing Young with a sense of vindication.
“Absolutely”, said Young without hesitation when asked if that championship meant more to him since it came immediately against the organization that gave up on him. “When players say it doesn’t mean anything to them, I don’t think they are being totally honest. When you leave an organization, you feel that they don’t want you, but the organization that you go to does. In so many words, I think people defend their honor by coming back to haunt people (in the old organization)” he laughed. “Also, I’m from the East Coast of Canada, and I had a lot of family and friends at the games in Fredericton, too, so it was great that a lot of people that I knew got a chance to see us achieve what we did live.”
During this season, Young’s Wolves had a distinct Hershey flavor as evidenced by the fact that three ex-Bears-Steve Pinizzotto, Zach Miskovic, and Andrew Gordon-all spent part of the season with his club.
“I should have Doug Yingst on retainer,” said Young responding to the sprinkling of Hershey players employed by his club this season. “It’s funny because before now I really didn’t realize we have had three guys on our team from Hershey this season. When we got out and look for guys, we obviously look for guys from winning organizations, and that’s just what these guys are. Andrew Gordon, you’ve got the great character that he brings; Zach, you had his talent level, but I think he was also kind of under the radar as far as a defenseman and Pinizzotto, every time I saw a game he played in, he’d be the guy I’d walk away noticing because of the way he plays the game.  He’s so intense. All three of them have been such pleasant guys to have on the team, especially from a GM standpoint of character off the ice, but they also they bring a lot to the team on the ice as well.”
“We don’t really rebuild here; we just try to win.  That’s what happens in Hershey.  Our organizations are a lot alike.  We have a lot of parallels with the older, quality guys.  We try to win every year.  Some teams are just trying to survive, and some teams are just trying to develop, but I think we try to develop and win at the same time.”
On the management side, the Wolves also have a strong Chocolate and White flavor.  Former Bears’ coach Mike Foligno is the assistant coach and former Bear Gene Ubriaco is the Wolves’ Senior Advisor/Director of Hockey Operations, and Young’s right hand man.
I think we’ve been a big help to each other,” Young said of Ubriaco. “He’s the one who really pushed for me to be the GM here. I call him my godfather.  When he was coaching in Pittsburgh, he brought me in there, and then when was in the Tampa organization, he brought me in there in the expansion draft. I also played for him in Atlanta and during the 1994-95 NHL lockout, he was here as the coach and assistant GM and they needed a goalie, so he called up Tony Esposito and brought me in here. We’ve had a long relationship and we’ve always gotten along really well. He’s my senior consultant and has been a massive help to me because of his outstanding knowledge of the game, the players and the way that the game runs from a business perspective. I’ve leaned on him a lot, and that’s the reason he’s a senior and I’m a junior.”
“When Scott Arniel was hired as the head coach and we were going over candidates for the assistant’s job, we were shocked that Mike was available,” said Young of Foligno. “Mike wasn’t so sure (he wanted the job) because he was looking for an NHL job. But when Scott approached him, he said that he would be absolutely interested in coming here. He understands the game so well, both from his extensive experience in the game from a player’s standpoint as well as from a coaching standpoint.  He’s also a great guy to have around.  He’s what we call a guy’s guy. He’s and upbeat guy who is really good with the players, and wants what’s best for them and I think that’s what impressed us most about Mike. He does it in such a great way.”
Although he has yet to win a championship as the Wolves’ GM, Young is the only player in the history of professional to hockey to win the Memorial Cup (junior hockey), Calder Cup, Turner Cup (twice) and Stanley Cup (twice), and some may wonder what he envisions his reaction to be should his club ever capture the Calder Cup under his management.
 “I think it would be a different perspective for me.  People go into the Hockey Hall of Fame as builders and some as players, and I think I’m seen as being a builder.  Gene and I in our organization, we put a team together and we pick and choose our players to an extent.  We give everybody a chance to win.  There are no excuses.  Anything they need, they get to help us win.  If we don’t win, then we always know we tried the best we could.”
With the championships that he accumulated as a player, it’s not very surprising that Young has absolutely no regrets when looking back on his playing days, and that also applies to his current position, despite the lack of a championship under his management.
“I don’t look back on my career and wonder about anything that I didn’t do, or anything that didn’t happen. I look at my career and see how fortunate I am and how lucky I’ve been to be a part of those championship teams.  I was in the right spot at the right time.  A lot of great players haven’t been on one championship team.  I’ve had the privilege of being on many of them.  There’s nothing I would change.  Hockey has been great to me.  I’ve been in the right place at the right time so many times that I should have bought lottery tickets.  It’s long days and stressful and time away from your family, and I still say I’ve never had a true day of work.  In reality, I’ve loved every minute of it.”

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Admirals Anchor Down Bears 03.08.13

By: John Sparenberg

The Hershey Bears entered Friday’s night’s matchup at Norfolk Scope against the Norfolk Admirals riding a three-game winning streak despite being the fact that they had been outshot handily in two of those encounters and had registered double digit shot totals in only one stanza during the run. However, despite both of those trends continuing on Friday night, the Bears saw their winning streak come to an end at the hands of the Admirals, 5-1.

Dany Sabourin, who was pulled in his last start on Sunday at Giant Center against the Syracuse Crunch after allowing three goals on 13 shots in just over a period of work, made the start in goal for the Bears and was tested early and often in the opening frame. He was able to hold off sixteen of the seventeen shots he faced and yielded only a slam dunk goal by Dan Sexton, who simply had to put the puck into an open net as Sabourin and the rest of the defense bought defenseman Sami Vatanen’s fake slapshot.

On the other end of the ice, Sabourin’s counterpart in the Norfolk net, Frederic Andersen, needed to make only five saves, none of which were of high quality variety, to keep the Bears off of the scoreboard after twenty minutes of action.

“We’ve had some lower shot totals in those games (the three wins), it was less concerning in those games than it was tonight,” said Hershey head coach Mark French.

The Admirals increased their lead to 2-0 at 6:08 of the second period when Vatanen, on a slick cross-ice feed from Patrick Maroon, blasted a one-timer by Sabourin on a five-on-three manpower advantage. Maroon actually contributed to another goal later in the frame, but this time it was at his club’s expense when his attempted clearing pass was intercepted by Jeff Taffe at the blueline; the veteran Taffe then proceeded to walk in unimpeded to an area just above the left faceoff circle before uncorking a low laser that eluded Andersen low to the glove side at 12:49 to make it 2-1 Admirals.

“I was just in my position, and I think it was one of those situations where he just didn’t see me out there and the puck just popped out to me. That’s kind of a tough play (for Maroon) as a forward when your back is turned,” said Taffe. “The defenseman went down to block the shot, and I don’t think the goaltender really saw much of it.”

Entering the sixth minute of the period, the Bears still only trailed 2-1 and had limited the Admirals to only seven shots on goal after the Vatanen goal, but then at the 6:33 mark, Sabourin allowed a terrible goal to Maroon which had been launched from along the left wing boards and just above the goal line, a goal which knocked the wind out of the Bears’ sails and allowed the Admirals to easily sail their way to a victory.

French said his club didn’t make any particular adjustments to their game that resulted in the Admirals decrease in their shots-on-goal total after the opening period, but instead, simply adjusted their own game to stem the tide in the shot department.

“I think it was more of our ability to find ourselves and get into the game a little bit,” said French. “We were certainly the less urgent team early, and that was indicated by the shots in the first.”

On the subject of Sabourin’s play, French gave credit to Sabourin for recovering from last Sunday’s outing, but still acknowledged that the Maroon goal was a big blow to his club.

“I thought he was good early, and as much as we shouldn’t have been in the game, we were into it up until that third one.”

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mitchell, Bears Sink Admirals 03.03.12

By: John Sparenberg

With the onset of spring just around the corner, Hershey Bears forward Garrett Mitchell has really blossomed into a solid pro in his second pro season. Entering Saturday night’s key matchup against the Norfolk Admirals at Giant Center, with having already surpassed his rookie totals in goals and assists in ten less games and being a presence in all three zones on the ice on a nightly basis and in the Bears’ thrilling 3-2 comeback victory last night at Giant Center, his budding flower was in full bloom as he played a pivotal role in the outcome of the contest.

Mitchell and his Bears’ teammates, who managed only 15 shots on goal in their road victory the previous evening against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, continued their struggles to put the puck on net in the first period, registering only six shots, one of which was by Mitchell. The Bears trailed 1-0 after twenty minutes by virtue of a goal by Josh Brittain.

Less than two minutes into the middle frame, Mitchell capped off a two-on-one foray into the Admirals zone with linemate Peter LeBlanc by taking Norfolk rookie defenseman Sami Vatanen to school, patiently waiting for him to commit to the pass, and then utilizing LeBlanc as a decoy against the Anaheim Ducks’ farm team before subsequently mesmerizing Norfolk netminder Igor Bobkov with his slick stickhandling abilities and then lofting a brilliant backhander over the befuddled Bobkov’s shoulder.

“My first instinct was to go to my backhand and have him come over to me and pass it over to LeBlanc. As soon as he laid down, I didn’t have much of an option. I had to get it up,” explained Mitchell.

The score remained tied at a goal apiece after forty minutes of action, but that didn’t mean the rest of the frame didn’t have a few highlights after the Mitchell goal. In the goaltending department, Bears’ netminder Philipp Grubauer was outstanding in thwarting two prime opportunites for the visitors, first beating back a shorthanded attempt by Brandon McMillan, who was riding a three-game goal-scoring streak entering the encounter, and later denying “Dangerous” Dan Sexton’s shot from close range. In the physical department, it was Mitchell providing the muscle when he plastered Norfolk defenseman Matt Smaby into the boards in the last minute of play. Mitchell’s “Smaby smash” was credited by Hershey head coach Mark French in his post-game press conference as a play that “really got things going” for his club.

The Admirals took the lead again 2:32 into the final frame when Troy Bodie lit the lamp, after Mitchell, while he was trying his best to get back into the play by backchecking on Brittain who had put a shot on Grubauer, laid a shoulder on Brittain, but bounced off of him and then inadvertently ran into Grubauer and knocked his goaltender out of the play in the process.

“I was coming back on the play,” said Mitchell. “I don’t know if was goaltender interference or what, but it was a tough play to make. Things happened quickly, and Gru was lying on his back. It’s a tough goal to take, but guys are going to make plays.”

With the Bears still trailing by a goal and less than three minutes remaining in the game during a promotional timeout, Mitchell’s hit on Smaby was shown on Giant Center scoreboard and the body belt received a thunderous approval from the Bears’ boosters.

On the ensuing faceoff the Bears gained control of the puck, and thanks to Mitchell’s effort of slicing between a pair of defenders to retrieve the puck and then feed a pass to linemate Ryan Stoa, they had gained a tie on that same scoreboard at the 17:27 mark.

“We got a defense zone faceoff and called a strong side out, which is where our defenseman basically just banks the puck off the glass,” said French in the post-game press conference. “The point of it is to put the puck into the neutral zone and put their D under pressure.”

And pressure is just what Mitchell provided to collect the helper on the Stoa strike.

“It was just a Hail Mary by Schilling. He just kind of said to me just go. The worst thing that could have happened is that we could have iced it and been back where we started from. I just broke for it, and it ended up bouncing right to me. Stoa made a heck of a shot to put it in to finish it off,” said Mitchell.

With less than a minute to play in regulation time, French elected to play the hot hand and put Mitchell out on the ice in place of Casey Wellman and the result was that Mitchell and his linemates, Boyd Kane and Ryan Potulny, witnessed Potulny extend his goal-scoring streak to four games in dramatic fashion, potting the game-winning goal with 47.1 seconds remaining in regulation time after gathering in the rebound of Kane’s shot.

“You just play hard and hopefully get your chances, and things are going to happen for you,” said Mitchell when asked if he was surprised to be out there in that situation. “We went hard to the net, and the puck bounced out for Potsy to pounce on it and put her home.”


The one-goal verdict was the 33rd of the season for the Bears, who improved to 14-11-3-5 with the victory.

The Admirals and Bears finish out their eight game season series next weekend when the clubs faceoff in Norfolk on Friday and Saturday nights.

The Bears scratched Danick Paquette and Dmitry Orlov (both injured), in addition to goaltender Brandon Anderson, forwards Matt Clackson, Evan Barlow, and Jonathon Kalinski and defenseman Patrick Wellar, all of whom were healthy.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bears Bounce Phantoms 02.24.13

By: John Sparenberg

When the Adirondack Phantoms called Philadelphia their home, weird things would happen often when they faced the Hershey Bears. There was the episode in Philadelphia when current Bears’ captain Boyd Kane, then skating for the Phantoms, scored a goal when he should have still in the penalty box serving out his sentence, but was instead granted an early, illegal release from his penalty sentence.

Then there was the time with a playoff berth on the line, the game in overtime, and the Bears’ goaltender pulled for an extra attacker. Their season and playoff hopes vanished in heartbreaking fashion when Shane Willis’ pass to a teammate failed to connect and the puck bounced off the boards at center ice at Giant Center and into the Bears’ vacated net.

However, since the Phantoms relocated to upper New York State, such occurrences have been rare, mostly due to the clubs not facing off against each other as often as a result of the Phantoms’ move north. But last night at Giant Center, the ghosts of games past revisited the clubs in the Bears’ 3-0 win over the Phantoms at Giant Center.

Former Phantom Matt Clackson, who nailed former Bear Danny Syvret into the end boards on his first shift of the game, laid a hearty hit on Phantoms’ defenseman Brandon Manning seconds later, and then subsequently duked it out with Manning in a spirited bout in which he gained a narrow decision, indirectly figured into the Bears’ first goal of the game when he was whistled off for an interference infraction at 12:41 of the opening frame.

With Clackson cooling his heels in the penalty box and the Phantoms on their first power play of the contest, things were moving along rather uneventfully as Hershey the defenseman gathered the puck in his own zone and fired an innocent-looking clearing pass down the ice, but at right about the same spot on the ice where Willis’ wayward pass struck the boards, the puck took a wild bounce, changed directions, and then slowly slithered into the Phantoms’ net which had been vacated by goaltender Scott Munroe who had ventured behind the net to play the clearing pass that never reached him.

“It was quite a goal,” Hershey’s head coach Mark French joked of the tally, eliciting a chuckle from the assembled media at his post-game press conference. Then French expounded on McNeill’s reaction to adversity this season, first on the shorthanded goal that his miscue led to on Friday night in Binghamton and then on his early season struggles to maintain a constant presence in Hershey’s lineup.

“Patrick is the longest serving consecutive member of this team,” explained French. “I think it’s safe to say when Patty was first breaking into the organization, the one thing he had to work on was mental toughness. It wasn’t his fault on the shorthanded goal; he mishandled it and it went down. That would have rattled a young Patrick McNeill, but he was able to steady himself and come back and help score a power play goal immediately after. I think you see a lot more maturity (in him); we all know we’re hardened by the adversity that we face, and Patrick obviously faced a little this year and has approached it the right way and has regained tremendous resolve, and I think everybody can be happy for him.”

McNeill, lending credence to French’s claims and showing the maturity that his coach spoke of, said the “Binghamton bobble” was just part of the game, and he quickly moved on from the episode.

“Those things happen; obviously when playing on the power play, shorthanded goals happen from time to time. It’s not something you want to happen, but when it does, you’ve got to get right back out there, be a professional and do my job and play the game. I was pretty fortunate to be able to come back and assist on those goals last night and help us squeak out a point, and obviously I was pretty fortunate with that bounce tonight.”

McNeill continued, “This season hasn’t gone the way I would have liked it to, but now that I’m in there getting my chance, I’m just trying to do the things that I do best out there. I’m a big believer in if you do the right things, good things will happen, and things have been going pretty good for me lately, so I’m pretty happy.”

Meanwhile, goaltender Philipp Grubauer had a relatively quiet opening frame, stopping all seven salvos he faced, and the one he didn’t stop, a shot from NHL veteran and former Philadelphia Phantom, Jon Sim, a member of their 2005 Calder Cup winning club, was ruled to have been kicked in by Sim and was waved off.

Exactly fifteen minutes into the middle frame, Ryan Potulny potted a power play goal, his ninth marker of the season to give the Bears a rare two-goal lead, a lead that was preserved in spectacular fashion in the waning minutes of the period when Grubauer made a scintillating, stretching skate save on Garrett Roe’s attempt to beat him on the glove side.

Ryan Stoa’s power play strike at 10:42 of the third stanza essentially put the game out of reach for the visitors, but Grubauer made another quality save on Roe with just over five minutes remaining to play to put an exclamation point on his first career American Hockey League shutout, a masterful 40-save performance.

“We’ve been lucky all year having Braden (Holtby), Dany (Sabourin) and Philipp; they are all great goaltenders and that gives you a lot of confidence as a team, especially our defensive corps. That’s shown by our goals against average which has been a good stat for us this year, and our whole team takes pride in that, but that starts and ends with the guy in the net and we have been very fortunate to have three quality guys back there,” said McNeill.


The Phantoms and Bears are scheduled to meet twice more this season, once more at Giant Center and once more at the Glens Falls Civic Center.

Former Bear, Matt Ford, who was dealt to the Phantoms by the Bears last February for Kevin Marshall, was a scratch for the visitors.

The Phantoms are coached by former Washington Capitals and Baltimore Skipjacks head coach, Terry Murray. Terry’s brother Bryan, currently the General Manger of the National Hockey League’s Ottawa Senators, coached the Bears before being elevated to the same position with the Caps.

Grubauer had one prior professional shutout with the Bears’ former East Coast Hockey League affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays in the 2011-2012 season, a 26-save whitewashing of the Toledo Walleye.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Bittersweet Success Story

By: John Sparenberg

When Bruce Richardson came to the Hershey Bears in 1997 out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as an undrafted 5’9” 175-pound teenager, it was without a great deal of fanfare. He arrived in Chocolatetown without any fancy press conferences, big signing bonuses, or guarantees. He did not possess any gaudy offensive numbers, having never scored more than 19 goals in any of his junior seasons.

But what he did bring in tow was a fearlessness to take on any opponent, even those who outmatched him considerably in the size category, whether it be in a fistic encounter or in a battle along the boards. That admirable trait, while leaving him with a few less teeth in his mouth, also left an indelible mark in the hearts of Bears’ faithful followers as well as members of the selection committee who selected Richardson to participate in the recent Outdoor Classic Alumni Game at Hersheypark Stadium.

“When I finished junior when I was 19 years old, I got invited by Bob Hartley to come here to training camp with no contract, just an AHL deal. It was tough, and I did well, and I got signed to a two-year deal. That first year was basically just for conditioning (10 games with the Bears). I played a little that first year, and they even sent me for a two-game stint with the Chesapeake Ice Breakers (coached by longtime NHL tough guy Chris “Knuckles” Nilan, who was assisted by former Bear, Nelson Burton). In my second year, I won the Bears’ Unsung Hero Award. Hershey meant a lot to my career; they gave me an opportunity to play professional hockey in a lot of places,” said Richardson.

After the expiration of his Hershey deal, Richardson inked another two-year pact, but this time it was a two-way (NHL-AHL) deal with the Detroit Red Wings, citing “playing for the Bears allowed that to happen.” With the Wings’ organization, Richardson skated with the Manitoba Moose of the IHL, the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks of the AHL, and the Louisiana IceGators of the ECHL where he was coached by former Bear Dave Farrish.

In the 2002-2003- season, Richardson was biding his time in the bayou with the IceGators when he received a call from Bears’ President/GM Doug Yingst who wanted to bring him back to Chocolatetown once again. While happy to receive the call, Richardson had added more responsibility to his plate since he left Hershey, and after making sure Yingst understood the circumstances, made a return to central Pennsylvania.

“I told Doug I just had my son and I couldn’t come up for just three or four games. He told me to come and trust him, that he would make sure that wouldn’t be the case. I came back and did really well, and they signed me for the rest of that year and the year after.”

Richardson’s hockey odyssey which had already seen him call Hershey, Louisiana, Ohio, Maryland, Iowa, Manitoba, Florida, and Wisconsin home when he left Hershey for the final time after the 2003-2004 season, saw him add additional stops in Connecticut, Kansas (playing for current Bears’ head coach Mark French) and Indiana, in addition to jumping across the pond to Germany and the U.K. before he retired after the 2010-11 season at the age of 34.

“I went to Germany and after that my son started school, and we went to the UK to an elite ice hockey league there. My last year there in the UK, I started to coach and GM a team there in that league,” explained Richardson. “Then I came back and started to coach in Montreal at Grenadiers de Chateauguay, a prep school, which is in Midget AAA, just under major junior. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past few years with kids ages 15 to 17 years old.”

With nearly 10 years having elapsed since his playing career ended with the Bears, Richardson obviously noticed that abundance of growth in the greater Hershey area when he returned recently for the Outdoor Classic, but he also seemed to subscribe to the popular saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

“When I left here, my son was two. I remember living at an apartment in Palmyra, and we went around this weekend and went to visit. There are a lot of things that have changed, but not that much. There are new buildings, but that’s everywhere. To me, everyone looks the same. I walked in the arena yesterday and saw some fans, and they all look the same. I don’t know if it’s the Hershey air or what. The doctor and everyone looks the same. For me, nothing has really changed.”

While pondering the answer to what his best memories were while wearing the Chocolate and White, Richardson leaned on his stick before the pre-game skate at the Classic. He paused briefly and scanned the skies, his gaze tracking in the direction of Giant Center and eventually falling right on the Hersheypark Arena.

“My first professional goal against the Adirondack Red Wings at Hersheypark Arena is one of my best memories,” Richardson remembered. “It was a two-on-one with Paul Brousseau; he gave me a pass and I buried it. That was a big moment. The day I won the Unsung Hero award was a great moment too. When I got the award, the fans were all saying “Bruuuuuce.” Also, I have great memories of just playing at Giant Center and the Hersheypark Arena. I won a championship in the UK, but there’s nothing comparable to putting on the skates in the AHL for the Hershey Bears for a player like me. For me, it was kind of like being in the NHL. I never had a chance to play there, but to me, it felt like I did when I played for the Bears.”

Perhaps it’s only fitting that Richardson’s thoughts about returning to Hershey, the Chocolate Capital of the World, for the recent affair was like some chocolate can be: bittersweet.

“For me to be here for this, it’s a big thing. But I have mixed emotions about it because it’s the place I made a lot of friends. People liked the game I played, and I liked to chat, and I gave my heart to the team. To come back here and see old faces, it’s good to be back, but I wish it was still that time and wish I could still play here and help this team.”

Friday, January 25, 2013

Tim Tookey Program Article

By: John Sparenberg

Speedy is a term that has been used to describe many professional hockey players throughout the history of the game, and many of the all-time NHL greats of the game like Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull, and Wayne Gretzky, all fit the speedy moniker and could bring the noise level of the crowds to a deafening level when they turned on the jets.

Former Hershey Bears’ great Tim Tookey, who was hobbled by knee and ankle injuries during the course of his illustrious career, never had an abundance of speed and had a quiet demeanor, but utilizing his smarts and savvy, his play brought the crowds at HERSHEYPARK Arena to it’s feet on many occasions, and rightfully eventually earned him the honor of having his number nine hung from the rafters and a place in the AHL Hall of Fame.

Tookey, who was selected by the Washington Capitals with their fourth pick in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, the same draft that saw the Caps also select forwards Errol Rausse, and Harvie Pocza, along with defensive stalwart Greg Theberge, all of whom spent substantial time in their careers with the Chocolate and White started out his professional career with the Bears in the 1980-81 after finishing up his junior career the prior campaign with the Portland Winter Hawks of the Western Hockey League, setting a then team record by registering 141 points (58 goals, 83 assists).

In his rookie season, the Edmonton, Alberta native skated in 29 games with the Caps, netting ten goals, including his first one on December 20, 1980 in the old Capital Centre in Landover, Md. against the Philadelphia Flyers and goaltender Pete Peeters, who tended the crease for the Bears in a two-game stint a few years later. He also donned the Bears’ colors for 47 outings, registering 58 points and 129 penalty minutes, the only time in his career that he reached the century mark in that category.

Tookey’s sophomore was also split between the nation’s capital and the Chocolate Capital, but ended in Fredericton, New Brunswick with the Fredericton Express of the AHL after he was traded to the Quebec Nordiques, the parent club of the Express in an in-season trade.

After a couple of seasons with the Nordiques, Tookey signed a free-agent deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the summer of 1983. In two seasons with the Pens’ organization, with the exception of games, Tookey spent all of his time playing in “Charm City” for the Baltimore Skipjacks, bitter rivals of the Bears, and was coached by a man many longtime Bears fans remember fondly from his playing days in Hershey, Gene Ubriaco.

“Tim was a very good player. Often we were a little short on players and talent, and so I had to use him like you can’t believe. He had a couple of looks in the NHL before that, but with me he played all the time. He killed penalties, played power plays, and he could really handle the puck. When I had him, he was on his way, and he certainly helped me a lot, but when he worked in Hershey he became a legend.”

Tookey played an instrumental in helping Ubriaco guide his Baltimore charges to a berth in the 1985 Calder Cup Finals, averaging just under a point per game in the regular season in 74 games, and better than a point per game in 15 post-season encounters, but in the end, it proved to be not enough as the Skipjacks’ hopes for their first Calder Cup Championship were capsized by a young, then unknown goaltender in the finals.

“I’ve got nothing but respect for Gene. I think he was a player’s coach. He was a friend of ours, and it wasn’t just a job for him. He realized we were humans, and thankfully he gave me a great opportunity to play and show my talents. We had a heck of hockey team that year and it was a great run we went on, and we just fell a little short against Montreal’s farm team in Sherbrooke. They had a kid named Patrick Roy in goal that year, and look at the legend he is now. ”

The next season, Tookey came back to the Bears for his second stint with the club when the Philadelphia Flyers, the Bears’ new NHL affiliate inked him to a free-agent deal. That campaign saw the talented centerman return to the Calder Cup Finals for a second straight year, but once again he fell just short in his “Quest for the Cup”, as the Bears were grounded by the Adirondack Red Wings.

“Moving onto Hershey again was a great experience and playing for John Paddock was a good thing. He was a family man, and worried about what was off the ice as well as on”, said Tookey, who scored 97 points in the regular season. “Again, we had a great run but ran into a team that had a lot of guys who ended up playing in the NHL for Detroit. One of them is now coaching the Washington Capitals, Adam Oates. We gave it everything we had, but there were guys hurt, and we fell a little short again, but it was a great year.”

Despite the team setback that the Bears suffered being banished by Adirondack, Tookey, who scored 19 points in 18 post-season contests was given individual acclaim for his stellar stats, being named the recipient of the Jack Butterfield Trophy as the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs. By claiming the hardware, first awarded in 1984, Tookey earned the distinction of becoming the only player on a non-Cup winning team to win the Trophy, a distinction that he still holds to this day.

On a personal note, things got even better for Tookey the following season when he devastated the AHL and demolished his previous professional season highs, leading the AHL in scoring in 1986-87 with 124 points by lighting the lamp on 51 separate occasions and aiding and abetting on 73 others, the 124 points still stand to this day as a Bears’ team record for points earned in a single season.

“When I first got there the year before, I started on the third or fourth line, and then Philly traded Len Hachborn away. That gave me an opportunity to move up the ladder. (In 1986-87) John Paddock gave me a chance to play with Ray Allison and Ross Fitzpatrick. It was probably one of the most fun times I’ve ever had playing the game. They weren’t just great hockey players, but they became good friends. We had so much playing on and off the ice, our families and everything. We had a bunch of great guys on that team, and it’s one of those years you’ll never forget. Probably one of the biggest thrills you can have as a hockey player is 50 goals in a season in any league. I’ll never forget the 50th. Don Nachbaur and I were killing a penalty and he blocked a shot and gave me a chance for a breakaway. I skated down and made the shot. I’ll never forget what Don did there, because that was a special play that will stay in my head for the rest of my life.”

No longer fitting into the Flyers’ plans, Tookey was claimed by the Los Angeles Kings in the 1987 NHL Waiver Draft and spent the next two seasons in the Kings’ and Pittsburgh Penguins’ organizations before returning to Flyers again as a free agent in the summer of 1989.

Tookey’s first two seasons after signing consisted of two injury plagued seasons for the man who ironically earned an associate’s degree in “Prevention of Athletic Injuries” from Portland (Oregon) Community College during his junior hockey days, and while those injuries kept him off the ice for a substantial part of time, it did allow him for plenty of quality time with Dan “Beaker” Stuck.

“I was around as a stick boy in the early 80s when he first came in. Everyone’s personality’s different, and when you got to know him, he opened up when he was around his comfort zone. When he was around the rink and in the locker room, he was a totally different person. I’ve been the trainer for the Bears for 25 years, but I’ve only skated three times and one of those times was with him. I put on the goalie stuff in the outdoor rink at the arena. He was hurt and I went out there to put the pads on so he could take some shots. That’s one of the only times I’ve skated in my life. I was very close with him.”

Tookey rebounded with a fine season in the 1991-92 season, playing in all 80-games and eclipsing the 100-point plateau with a 105 point season, but nearly didn’t make it back for another season when the Flyers initially balked at the Bears’ plans to bring back the very popular player, again citing that he was no longer a legitimate NHL prospect. Eventually, a deal was brokered between the Bears and Flyers that saw the clubs evenly split his salary, and he responded with another 100-point season (108), and then spent an additional season in Hershey before joining the Providence Bruins as a player-assistant coach for the 1994-95 season.

As fate would have it, Tookey and the P-Bruins had the Bears as their opponents in their opener that season and the stoked up Tookey potted a pair of goal and added a helper for the Bruins in that encounter.

“I think you are always amped up a bit when you go against your old team and teammates, even when I went from Baltimore to Hershey, you want to go back and beat your old teammates. It gives you a boost to play. I was lucky to get on a line (in Providence) where there were a lot of talented hockey players. My goals (beating Mike McHugh to the front of the net and fishing out a rebound from a sea of players in the crease) were more being in the right place at the right time. It was a nice feeling to win that hockey game.”

That season with the P-Bruins turned out to be Tookey’s last one as a player, and as a coach, and he retired as the fourth-leading scorer in AHL history with 974 points (353 goals, 621 assists) on his AHL resume, to go along with 58 points (22 goals, 36 assists) in 106 NHL encounters.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to (pursue a professional coaching career), but there are only so many coaching jobs. I think every man that plays the game wants to pursue a coaching career, but it just didn’t work out for me. I coached at junior levels and I still coach today in AA in Alberta.” The cards aren’t always meant to fall the same for everybody. It just wasn’t meant to be for me.”

Originally Tookey and his family had planned to settle in the Hershey area after retirement, but those plans changed and he and his family eventually headed out west to begin his post-playing career pursuits.

“I had an opportunity to come and coach here in Arizona, so I moved out here and my daughter was excited to see somewhere else, and so was my wife. We just took the opportunity, but it just wasn’t in the cards and didn’t work out. The financial situation in Arizona is not good, and there’s not a lot of work for people, so it fell through. We own a home here in Arizona and we reside here, but I work in Canada. I got home to Canada for most of the year and sneak down here whenever I can to be with my girls. My daughter Trista is going to the University of Arizona in Tucson and is in her third year studying physics, and my wife (of 31 years) Susan has a great job here working for a lawyer, and I install ceiling sprinklers. I had to go back to school for three years, and I made it through after all those years. I’m just becoming a journeyman in the next couple of weeks. It’s some hard work, but it keeps me in shape.”

Tookey once had ambitions of become a professional singer and songwriter in his younger years, and now at the age of 52 and nearly 20 years removed from skating in his last professional game on the hockey stage, he no longer pursues the life on the singing stage either, but he is still very much a music man at heart.

“I still play and have fun and write songs, but now they’re more for just myself and my family, but I’ve always loved music, and always will. I bought my daughter a guitar for her birthday last year. She’s going to college and trying to learn how to play a little bit, too. Music will always be in my heart and something I’ll always do.”

Any Bears fan that had the pleasure of seeing Tookey perform at HERSHEYPARK Arena will surely break into a smile remembering back fondly to those days recalling when the familiar tune of “Took” often echoed through that hallowed hall.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Monsters Mash Bears, 3-2 01.18.12

By: John Sparenberg

Midway through their encounter with the visiting Lake Erie Monsters on Friday night at Giant Center, the well-behaved Hershey Bears had to be feeling pretty good about themselves.

Up until that point the home club had been outshooting, if not outplaying, the visitors and had enjoyed the only four power plays of the contest; but the second half of the game saw the Bears’ bad side emerge in the form of the “penalty monsters.” This resulted in six consecutive power plays for the visitors, including three five-on-three advantages, that turned the tide of the game and allowed the Lake Erie Monsters to emerge from the contest with a 3-2 victory.

The Bears drew first blood when their captain, Boyd Kane, banked a power play shot off of a Monsters’ defender in the crease area, and the puck then trickled over the goal line at 12:39. Kane’s goal with his eighth of the season and was his 200th point as a member of the Bears.

With the crowd still buzzing from Kane’s caper, Bill Thomas, a former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin in the 2008-09 season, who had scored three of his eights goals in his lone season with the baby Pens at the Bears’ expense including his first and last tally in the Black and Gold, finished off an odd-man rush with Mike Sgarbossa at 12:54 to tie the score at one.

Then the Bears started beating a steady path to the penalty box that began with a penalty to defenseman Patrick McNeill at 12:02. Less than a minute later, McNeill’s fellow defenseman, Julien Brouillette, joined him in the “sin bin” giving the visitors a two-man advantage for 1:17.

Facing the dire situation, Hershey’s bench brain-trust of head coach Mark French and his trusty assistant Troy Mann sent out the trio of forwards Boyd Kane and Ryan Potulny along with rookie defenseman Cameron Schilling in an effort to stave off the situation.

Kane, Potulny and Schilling did a masterful job in not allowing the Monsters a shot on goal before McNeill was released from his sentence, but before McNeill could rejoin the play, and only two seconds after he was released, Sgarbossa’s fake slapshot from between the circles was bought hook, line, and sinker by the Bears’ penalty killers, as well as by goaltender Philipp Grubauer, which allowed Andrew Agozzino to pound the puck into a wide open net from the bottom of the left faceoff circle at 14:05.

The Bears avoided falling behind even further when they killed of another power play late in the second period, but early in the period, their dark said emerged again, beginning with a high-sticking penalty to Jeff Taffe at 1:43. Taffe was then joined in the penalty box only 20 seconds later when Jonathon Kalinski was whistled off the ice for a major penalty for elbowing. Included in Kalinski’s sentence was a game misconduct.

Given their second chance in a 5-on-3, the Lock Monsters allowed only 29 seconds to click off of the scoreboard clock before capitalizing when Sgarbossa, who had registered the primary assist on both of his club’s prior tallies, played the role of goal-scorer and netted his 14th goal of the season when his shot slithered off of Bears Defenseman Kevin Marshall and over Grubauer at 2:32. After the goal, Kane took out his wrath on one of the night’s referees in verbal fashion and received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty as a result, but his teammates bailed out their captain and kept the score at bay at 3-1 in favor of the visitors.

The Bears went on to receive the last two power plays of the event and took advantage of the situation when Taffe, with Grubauer on the bench in favor of another attacker, narrowed their deficit to a single goal. However, that was as close as they would get on this evening.