Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pinizzotto's Finally Found Niche

When the Washington Capitals inked Steve Pinizzotto to a free agent contract in March 2007, the transaction created little buzz in Chocolatetown, partially due to the fact that the team was about to embark on a defense of their Calder Cup title.

Another reason for the lack of euphoria was the fact that Pinizzotto was not a high-profile hotshot out of the junior ranks, having played his college hockey at the Rochester Institute of Technology, an establishment that had never produced an NHL player.

Fast forward now to March 2010, and the Caps’ signing three years ago looks to be a steal since the pesky Pinizzotto is in the midst of his best offensive season and regularly raises the ire of the opposition with his abrasive style of play; he is also now classified as a fully legitimate NHL prospect, something that was a long time in the making.

Pinizzotto’s decision to go the American college route to RIT as opposed to the traditional Canadian junior route may seem like a peculiar one, but he had a valid reason for choosing that path.

“I went for what was the best opportunity for me, as far as hockey goes. Going to RIT, especially at my age at the time, may not have been the best decision, but I knew that I would get some quality playing time there,” he said.

While playing hockey at RIT, Pinizzotto also found time to hit the books, majoring in a field that doesn’t exactly jump out on a resume: Packing Science. While you may initially laugh at that major, it actually factors into lives every single day.

“Packing science is just about new and innovative ways to create new packages for things such as gum and a whole variety of other products and things,” Pinizzotto explained. “You don’t hear a lot about that major, but just about everything you buy is packaged. I haven’t graduated yet though, because it’s a five-year program, and I’m still a pretty good way from that.”

After his two-year stay at RIT where he averaged better than a point per game while also averaging exactly two penalty minutes per contest, the Missisuaga, Ontario, native elected to leave the college ranks and turn pro by signing with the Caps.

“I just figured that it was the right time to move on, especially with my age; I didn’t think that I could wait a lot longer. The earlier you start your pro career, the better. I had a great time at RIT, and I could have played there a couple more years because I still have two more years left on my scholarship.”

Debuting with the Bears against the Binghamton Senators on March 25, 2007, Pinizzotto played four more regular season games for the defending Calder Cup champions before taking a backseat and riding along with the “Black Aces” during the Bears’ eventual unsuccessful defense of their title against the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Pinizzotto split the 2007-08 season, his true rookie season, shuttling between the Bears and the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays, with the majority of that time spent in the Low Country. However, that year’s first round playoff loss to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins was a coming out party for him, as he finally proved to himself that he could compete at the AHL level.

“The experience of playing in the playoffs really helps your confidence and that’s what happened with me in that series. I came to play every night and got a good bit of ice time, and also played on the PK with Jouds.”

“Jouds”, or Andrew Joudrey, is still Pinizzotto’s partner on the penalty kill. Together, the twosome is a major reason that the Bears own the top-rated penalty killing unit in the AHL this season.

“I agree with Pinner that it started coming together for both of us in that series, playing under playoff pressure,” said Joudrey. “Being in those situations, under those conditions, you get a real comfortable feeling playing with somebody. He plays the body really well, and if I can play my position well, he will force some pucks. He’s really aggressive pursuing the puck down ice on clears, and he causes the other team a lot of trouble with that approach.”

Typically, when you ask a player who is most responsible for helping them realize their potential, the answer you often get is a grizzled veteran who has been through many battles, or a top-scorer, but when asked that question, Pinizzotto had a unique answer.

“It’s the coaches,” he said. “You have a lot of communication with the assistant coaches, and since I’ve been here, both of the assistant coaches have moved up to the head coaching spot. That has given me a better connection with them.”

One of those assistant coaches, Mark French, Hershey’s head coach in this record setting season, said he knew it was just a matter of time before it all started adding up for Pinizzotto as a pro.

“There’s a big difference between playing 40 games a year in college, rather than 70 a year in junior. I think he may be a little of a late bloomer, and I think that might be a big reason for that,” French said.

“When I first got here, he was kind of a first call-up guy (from the ECHL). You could see things in him, but you were never able to get a good, consistent read on him. I think its come harder for him to get to this level, as opposed to other guys, and while it’s taken him a while, I’m really happy with his progression.”

While the previous years’ playoff was in fact a defining moment for Pinizzotto, French said he thinks the definitive turning point happened about midway through last year’s eventual Calder Cup winning season.

“Last year, about halfway through the year, our penalty kill was struggling, and he got an opportunity,” remembered French. “So, we started using him on the PK, and found out that he had a real good chemistry with Andrew Joudrey. Because he did such a good job on the PK, he earned five-on-five time ice time and he became a real abrasive SOB on the ice.”

Riding the momentum of his strong finish into the 2009 playoffs, Pinizzotto played a large role in Hershey’s playoff triumph, making his mark in every series, according to French.

“It was funny in the playoffs, because every series we were in, it would take about five minutes for him to have our opponents’ whole team going crazy. I think he’s really carried that momentum into this year, and he has parlayed that into the next stage of his development, which is to become a complete two-way player.”

With a handful of games remaining in the 2009-10 regular season, Pinizzotto has already surpassed his previous AHL career high in penalty minutes, and obliterated his previous offensive totals, currently residing at the 39 points mark (12g, 27a).

“I always knew the offensive ability was there, but you kind of get assigned to a role in the pros, and you just have to wait for the opportunity to prove otherwise,” said Pinizzotto. “I just try to combine the two elements of my game, and make the best of it.”

Obviously, the Capitals are tuned in to Pinizzotto’s potential, which was represented by them signing him to a two-year pact last summer and giving him his first NHL recall last season to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs, conveniently located near his hometown.

Although the recall had all of the potential of a happy ending, reality reared its ugly head and Pinizzotto never got a chance to suit up for the Caps when the player he was potentially replacing in the lineup was able to play.

“It was frustrating for sure. I know I can play at that the level, and the opportunity was right there for me, just a foot away. You never know how things will turn out in this business; you just have to keep working as hard as you can to get that chance again in the future,” said Pinizzotto, who is signed through next season.

However, earlier this season when the Bears made their only scheduled stop in Toronto to play the Marlies, the top farm club of the Leafs, there was a happy ending. In that encounter, not only did Pinizzotto suit up, he even lit the goal lamp for the family and friends on hand to watch him play.

“Playing in Hershey, it’s about an eight hour drive from home and my family does not get many chances to see me play. It was great to have so many family members at that game. For a lot of them, it was the first goal that they had ever seen me score in my pro career,” he smiled.

Most people consider the number 13 an unlucky one, but for Pinizzotto, it has worked out just fine; besides, he had little choice when the number was given to him as a rookie.

“They just kind of gave it to me. I didn’t ask any questions, and I just took it; but it doesn’t really matter what’s on your back, what matters is how hard you play the game.”

Monday, March 29, 2010

Beagle Takes Bite Out of Sens

When a team win 55 games in a season like the Hershey Bears have entering Sunday’s matchup against the Binghamton Senators, logic dictates that they must find a myriad of ways to accomplish that impressive feat, and the Bears did just that it the contest.

The boys from Hershey, employing the “Oreo cookie approach” by sandwiching a creamy second period in the middle, in which they scored three goals in rapid fire succession, between dark first and third periods, ultimately emerged from the encounter with their 56th win, a 3-2 triumph.

Binghamton defenseman, Paul Baier, netted the only goal of the first period, canning the rebound of a Geoff Kincade point shot behind Hershey netminder, Braden Holtby.

Playing their third game in as many nights, the Bears could only muster seven shots on net in the first period, with Francois Bouchard’s bid at the buzzer the best of the bunch; they were unable to manage any sustained pressure against the stingy Senators defense.

“They played a bit of a different strategy tonight,” explained Hershey head coach, Mark French. “They were playing a 2-3, which meant that in the offensive zone, they sent two guys in and kept three guys back. I thought we struggled with that. We turned over the puck a lot coming through the neutral zone because there were even man situations...”

The Bears altered their approach from the outset of the second frame, putting immediate pressure on Binghamton netminder, Mike Brodeur, with Alexandre Giroux eventually getting the equalizing goal at 2:02.

Giroux’s goal, the 300th of his AHL career came with his parents in attendance after he was allowed to wander uninhibited to Brodeur’s doorstep. Brodeur, while able to beat back Giroux’s initial attempt, could not prevent his rebound attempt from finding paydirt.

“It was originally an odd man rush and Coiner took a shot and it got deflected into the corner,” said Giroux. “I saw Gordo getting the puck and the D overplayed it. I was able to get my own rebound and put it in on the far side.”

Andrew Gordon and Keith Aucoin were credited with the assists on Giroux’s goal; however, Karl Alzner, who absorbed a punishing check from Binghamton’s Jason Bailey just after he launched a long outlet pass to Aucoin, started the Bears march into the offensive zone and deserves an honorable mention for ‘taking one for the team’.

Less than a minute after the Giroux goal, the Bears sensed the kill against their wounded opponents and took their first lead of the night when Bouchard beat Brodeur at 3:00. Bouchard, by virtue of being on his off wing, was able to release a one-time rocket after receiving a pass from Kyle Wilson, something that would not have been possible were he on the left wing.

The Boys from Chocolate town finished off their bruising of Brodeur when Jay Beagle deflected a Bryan Helmer point shot home at 5:07 to give the Bears a 3-1 lead heading into the third period.

“There were so many people in front, and it was just bouncing off bodies,” Beagle said. “It could have hit my pants on the way. I just know it was hitting bodies and I got a piece of it; thank goodness it went in.”

While Beagle is not a goal-scoring machine like Giroux, when he finds the back of the net, he makes them count, as seven of his 14 goals of the season have been game winners.

“I didn’t even know I had that many game-winning goals. I just try to contribute to the team, if that’s getting a goal or trying to get some energy for the team,” said Beagle.

In the third period, the Bears and Holtby allowed a single strike by Jim O’Brien, but did not allow the B-Sens to garner the tying goal, even with Brodeur on the bench for an extra attacker in the final moments.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Balanced Attack Grounds Pens

Every successful act has an understated line of supporting characters, and Saturday night for the Hershey Bears, their understudies proved to be the difference in their battle against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Karl Alzner, Andrew Joudrey, and Zach Miskovic each added single strikes around the game-winning goal by Hershey’s headliner, Alexandre Giroux, leading the Bears to their 4-2 win and their 55th triumph of the season.

The Penguins drew first blood while in short-handed mode when Tim Wallace wrestled the puck away from Chris Bourque deep in the Bears zone and then whipped a shot by Bears’ netminder, Jason Bacashihua, who was making his first home start since a February 20th outing against the Lake Erie Monsters.

“When they get the first goal on the first shot, it wakes you up a little bit,” Bacashihua said. “After that, I got run into, and it kind of rung my bell a little bit. You tell yourself as a goalie, they’ve only scored one, try not to let them get two. With a team like this, holding a team to two goals or less, you have a pretty good chance of winning.”

Zach Miskovic, a healthy scratch for Hershey head coach, Mark French, a night earlier, beat Pens’ goalie, John Curry, with a blueline blast to knot the contest at a goal apiece at 14:47. Miskovic’s marker, his fourth of the season, angled behind Curry after caroming off the skate of former Bear, Deryk Engelland.

“In that situation, I was just recovering a puck that the other player was trying to get out of the zone, and I was fortunate enough to cradle it in and get by the first guy and it went off their guy’s skate,” Miskovic said. “It was just luck of the draw.”

With Hershey captain, Bryan Helmer, in the penalty box to start the second period thanks to a roughing call incurred in the first period, Bacashihua committed highway robbery on WBS defenseman Steve Wagner’s shot from point-blank range, preventing the Pens from regaining control of the game.

Hershey came within inches of taking the lead in the third minute of the second period when Keith Aucoin’s shot struck the glove of Curry and then clanged off the post; but the persistent Pens, on their subsequent rush down the ice, gained a 2-1 lead when Eric Tangradi tallied his 15th goal at 3:34.

Alzner’s power play goal at 9:27 of the middle frame tied the game at two as the Bears employed a new strategy by aligning Alzner down low, away from his usual spot on the blue line.

“We had been talking about maybe using me in the slot for some passes from Aucoin there, and he gave me one that I got a little too excited for and just timed it a little bit off and was a little bit ahead of it,” Alzner explained.

“I was pretty upset about it, but Gordon did a great job getting the puck back and he found me. It’s a tough play, but it’s something guys practice a lot-putting pucks high in the net when you’re that close right inside the crease area.”

Alzner, who is in his second pro season and faces a bright future with the Washington Capitals in the coming years, knows full well how imperative the power play exposure is to the advancement of his career.

“It’s huge. That’s one thing I’ve struggled with, offensive confidence. I’ve, at times, put up numbers in juniors, and decent numbers last year for not playing too much power play down here, and I pretty happy with that,” Alzner said.

“I’ve got to find that part of my game because Washington likes a high-powered offense and they love a guy like Mike Green and if I can play a similar style to what he plays, that’s going to be beneficial for me.”

Giroux, while on a 2-on-1 with Aucoin, and after exhausting all passing options, reluctantly dribbled the puck behind Curry to give the Bears their first lead of the game at 15:28.

“I was trying to pass about 28 times to Coiner and I when I couldn’t, I just thought I’d let it go,” he said. “I tried to make a move and the goalie never moved or bit on anything. I was just lucky that it went in.”

During an elongated shift, the unlikely trio of Joudrey, Pinizzotto and Aucoin kept the Pens bottled up in their own zone, and combined for the eventual last goal of the game, with Joudrey backhanding his 14th goal of the season behind Curry at 8:52, and giving the Bears the final margin of victory.

Based on recent history, Saturday’s matchup between the two Keystone State clubs may very well have been a preview of things to come in the playoffs. However, no matter whom the Chocolate and White face in their Calder Cup pursuit, Miskovic is eager to get his first taste of playoff action.

“I’m ready for the next stretch here for what they call another season is what I’m hearing, so I’m ready for it. It will be exciting with this team.”

**Photo courtesy of Just Sports Photography**

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bears Bite Sharks to Claim Eastern Supremacy

The sequel to the battle of the Eastern Conference titans ended on a much higher note for the Hershey Bears on Friday night, as the Bears swarmed the Worcester Sharks at Giant Center, 7-2.

In the teams’ previous meeting in Massachusetts on March 14th, the Sharks smothered a road-weary Hershey club, 6-2, scoring all of their goals before the Bears were able to respond late in the third period.

Hershey winger, Jay Beagle was the first Bear to buzz Worcester’s starting goalie, Alex Stalock, beating him from close range 3:41 into the game for his 13th goal of the season, after receiving a pretty pass from Mathieu Perreault.

“It was a good play by Bourque to give the puck to Perreault, and for Perre to make that pass. It was such a good saucer pass from Perre and I knew I had to put the puck in the net, and it got us off to a good start,” Beagle said.

Alexandre Giroux, tied for the league lead in goal with 37 entering the contest, took the lead in that category with his 38th marker of the campaign, only forty-six seconds after Beagle’s bellowing, and gave the Bears a 2-0 lead.

The Bears continued their first period stalking of Stalock, with Patrick McNeill, returning to the lineup after a 16 game absence due to injury, wristing a low laser by the besieged rookie at 5:55, for the home teams’ third goal in three shots, staking them to a 3-0 lead.

“I just got it and fired it at the net like it went off one of their sticks and took a fortunate bounce for me and went in,” said McNeill.

“The hardest part about being out for so long was staying positive,” said McNeill. “It’s tough to sit out for a long period of time and then keep your legs and lungs strong. I went into tonight a little bit nervous; I haven’t played in 16 games and I was contributing quite a bit before I went out so I kind of wanted to come back into the lineup and make a good impression in my first game back.”

In the second period, only six seconds after a Bears fruitless and frustrating power play, Keith Aucoin banked in a billiard shot off Worcester defenseman, Mike Moore to increase the Hershey lead to 4-0.

“I didn’t call the bank shot, but I should have,” Aucoin chuckled. “I knew the penalty was just ending and I had to get it off and I just wanted to throw it to the net, hoping something good would happen and I got lucky.”

Midway through the second period, Hershey’s 37-year-old captain, Bryan Helmer, showed that age has no boundaries by impressively racing back into his own zone to thwart a potential breakaway goal by Worcester’s Dwight Helminen.

“It must have been my new skates,” joked Helmer. “He was ahead of me, so I just put my head down and skated as hard as I could. Holtby made a great save.”

With less than a minute to go before the second intermission, the Sharks finally struck for a goal when defenseman, Jason Demers, took advantage of a turnover by Bears’ defenseman, McNeill, and turned it into into a short-side goal to trim the Bears bulge to 4-1 heading into the third period.

Slightly bruised, but not battered from Demers’ denting of the twine, the Bears quickly restored their four-goal cushion early in the third period when Giroux beat Stalock on an excellent solo effort only seventeen seconds into the frame.

Giroux then capped off his hat trick at 7:10, coincidentally only seventeen seconds after Stalock had denied him from point blank range. Giroux’s linemate, Aucoin, picked up the secondary assist on the goal, giving him four points on the evening.

Giroux, Aucoin and Andrew Gordon line, which combined for zero points and a plus-minus rating of -9 in the Bears’ road defeat to the Sharks, combined on Friday night to score seven points, even with Gordon being tossed out of the game early in the second period.

John McCarthy cut the Sharks’ deep deficit to 6-2 at 18:21, and it looked like the game was going to end with that which was incidentally the exact score of the Bears lopsided loss in Worcester earlier in the month.

However, Hershey ironman, Kyle Wilson made sure his team one-upped Worcester, netting the final goal of the game at 19:38, with Steve Pinizzotto and Francois Bouchard picking up the helpers, sending the 10,000 plus spectators home on a happy note.

With this win, their 54th of the season, the Bears clinched the Eastern Conference title for the second straight year.

“When you look at last year and what we did and compare it to what we’re doing in the regular season this year, it’s pretty impressive and hard to fathom,” said Helmer, who was also the captain last season.. “It’s a good bunch of guys in this dressing room and it’s well-deserved.”


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Arsene finally lives his dream

During his six-year term in Chocolatetown, Dean Arsene was one of the most popular players on the team each year due to his no frills, blood and guts style of play on the ice, and his pleasant, approachable demeanor away from the rink.

A by-product of Arsene’s enormous popularity in Hershey was him being tagged with the title “The Mayor of Hershey” for the way he could charm and handle a crowd of any size with his rugged good looks and witty ways.

While also called a “warrior” and “ultimate team player” during his Hershey tenure, there was one thing he was never called during that timeframe: NHL player. That fact led to his difficult decision last summer to leave the Bears and sign with the Edmonton Oilers for a chance to fulfill the dream that had eluded him.

“From a personal standpoint, I did not want to leave. I think that I very easily could have re-signed with the Bears and probably could have played out the rest of my career there; I loved Hershey. I had a lot of great memories there, obviously winning, but even outside of the game as well. I became close with a lot of people there, and it was tough to leave.”

“From a career standpoint, I was kind of getting up in age and didn’t know how many opportunities I would have to sign with a club and get a shot to play in the NHL. That was the number one factor in my ultimate decision, to try to get to the NHL, and thankfully that came true this year.”

Fortunately for Arsene, but unfortunately, for the many Bears’ fans that grew to adore him and his style of play, he missed his chance to return to Giant Center as a visitor earlier this season because of his first recall to the NHL.

Recently, when the Bears journeyed to Springfield to face the Falcons, Arsene finally got his chance to skate against many of the players that he grew close to during his stay in Hershey, and he said it was not difficult to put aside personal relationships and take care of the business of hockey.

“It wasn’t tough to play against these guys. It was one of those games where we knew how much firepower they have there. I know that especially well, and I tried to tell the guys that if we didn’t come out hard, we would be in for a tough battle, and we don’t want to get embarrassed at home.”
Making the occasion ever sweeter for Arsene, he netted his first goal of the season at the Bears’ expense, with a helping hand from former teammate Keith Aucoin, who deftly deflected Arsene’s shot into his own net.

“My defensive partner shot it around the boards, and I saw it was coming off the boards with a lot of spin. I was thinking that if I tried to handle it, I might lose it, so I just tried to throw it on net because I knew we had guys in the crease area. I saw it go off Aucoin’s stick and between Holtby’s legs.

“To get a goal for me anytime is pretty special, but to be able to get one against my former club felt pretty good, I’m not going to lie. I was schocked initially. I was like, ‘oh my goodness, I just scored’, and I was pretty pumped about it.”

The Springfield and Hershey franchises are two of the most storied in the AHL, with the two cities combining for 17 Calder Cups, and while Arsene had had the pleasure of captaining both, they are some substantial differences, particularly with this year’s edition of the Falcons.

“It’s been extremely difficult at times this year,” he confessed. “We went through a spell earlier this season where we lost 17 in a row. That’s just unheard of, to be quite honest, not just for me, but for anybody. I had a very difficult time with it at the start of the year. It’s very frustrating when you’re losing games. It took a big adjustment and I think I learned a lot this year in terms of trying to stay positive.

“Positive reinforcement goes a long way, especially with a young team like us. We have guys who never made the playoffs and have never won, and I try to build them up instead of tearing them down. It’s so easy to get negative. Staying positive has been a big learning experience.”

Arsene continued, “When you get used to winning, it’s an addiction really. I think this year, with us losing, the team missing playoffs for so many years; it’s a lot harder with a younger team, to get them to do the little things. There are so many little things that make the difference in a hockey game and often those little things are the difference between winning and losing.”

“Typically in Hershey, we had older teams, and you didn’t have to say a lot. Guys knew their job and they’re prepared mentally every night and they’re going to go out and work hard. It wasn’t so much where you had to get on guys in Hershey; you just tried to keep the peace and bring the team closer together.”

Even when dreams are fulfilled, as was the case when Arsene received his initial recall earlier this season, there can be the devil in the details, such as when Arsene was poised to make his NHL debut in Atlanta. Arsene’s parents flew in from Canada to witness the occasion, but unfortunately for them and their son, he was scratched from the game.

“They flew to Atlanta because they thought I was going to be playing and we played the next night in Columbus, so they were actually on the plane back home when I played my first game. It was just too much money to try to globetrot across the country, so they weren’t able to do it. I was scheduled to play one game in Edmonton, and they made the trip for that one, but I sat out that one too. They haven’t seen me play in the NHL in person; but they have watched me on TV.”

When you’ve been through many trying situations like Arsene has endured in his pro career, like the major injuries and countless hours of rehab spent in trying to make it back, getting scratched for your pro debut can you’re your head spinning with thoughts, and not good ones.

“When I didn’t play the first game, I thought for a second that I might just get sent back down without playing a game. Thankfully, they kept me up and I was able to play the very next game. That was a big load off of my shoulders, because I was sweating it there when I sat out the first game.”

Finally, after years--and a day--of waiting, the native of British Columbia, who was never drafted, finally made his NHL debut against the Columbus Blue Jackets on November 16th.

“I thought I was going to be really nervous, and had some anxiety in the dressing room more than anything, but once I got on the ice I was able to put everything else aside and go out there and play the game. My best memory of it was just being out there and being with the guys. Everything was top notch, and was everything I dreamt it would be; it was a special moment.”

Currently on his third recall to the Oilers, Arsene undoubtedly has a few admirers in high places in the organization, so a return to the Oilers is not out of the question for the 29-year-old defenseman.

“I’m just signed for this year, so we’ll re-evaluate this summer if they’re interested and to see what happens. Obviously, I’ve made some in-roads with them as far as getting a chance up and I had a lot of positive feedback from the coaching staff and management of what I did up there.”

It is said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and Arsene certainly seems like a person who left at least part of his heart in Central Pennsylvania, as evidenced by his extensive answer about what one thing he misses most about playing in Hershey.

“I can’t just pick one thing, there are so many--the fans, the building, the people within the organization, the teammates, and just the town itself. It’s an endless answer. It’s one of those things where it’s every little part of Hershey that makes a tremendous difference. I’d love to come back. It’s a place I’ll always hold dear to my heart. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up there next year or in the years to come.”

Monday, March 22, 2010

Willsie captaining the cause and leading by example

When former Hershey Bear, Brian Willsie, was growing up, his first job was framing houses with his dad. This, of course, is a job that can leave those who choose that line of employment with various aches and pains of body and mind.

However, that initiation into the working world was probably a breeze to the 31-year old native of Belmont, Ontario, compared to his rookie campaign in Chocolatetown during the 1998-99 season, in which he endured a lengthy goalless streak to start the season, before finishing strongly with a very respectable 19 goals.

“The adjustment to pro was more difficult than I expected; I didn’t score a goal until my 26th game,” said Willsie, a junior teammate of former Bear, Nick Bootland, with Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League. “I had a big zero on the board up until that time, but Mike Foligno who was the coach, still showed a lot of confidence in me, and worked a lot with me. Once I got those first couple, I was fine, but getting there was a challenge.”

Willsie’s second season in Hershey, which saw him earn his first NHL recall, a one-game stint with Colorado Avalanche, started just like the first one, very slowly, with him finding the net only once in his first 16 contests before he again found his stride and finished the season right at the 20-goal plateau.

Hampered by a nagging back injury incurred during training camp, Willsie missed the first 30 games of his third season and spent the entire season in Hershey. He again finished the season hovering around the 20-goal mark, with 18 markers.

The 2001-02 season brought a couple of firsts for the wily Willsie: his first full season in the NHL and his first NHL goal, the game winner, scored against the Carolina Hurricanes and goaltender, Arturs Irbe. Irbe is currently the goaltending coach of the Washington Capitals and also periodically commutes to Hershey to mentor the Bears’ goalies. Willsie’s goal also had another Hershey flavor, with former Bear, Brad Larsen, picking up a helper.

Willsie’s fifth and final season in the Avs’ fold, 2002-03, was a roller coaster ride filled with ups and downs, consisting of five rides on the Hershey-Denver shuttle; however, that season also saw him register a career high 29 goal with the Bears, including the first overtime game-winning goal by a Bear in Giant Center history.

While his impressive showing in the previous season was not enough to earn a spot on Colorado’s talent-laden opening night roster, the Washington Capitals took a flyer on Willsie and acquired him in the NHL waiver draft just prior to the opening of the 2003-04 NHL season.

Willsie spent the entire season in the district and netted 10 goals, including the game-winning goal against the Atlanta Thrashers and goaltender, Byron Dafoe. Dafoe and Willsie, intertwined by Wilsie’s first game winner as a Capital, also are both members of Athletes Against Autism, an organization founded by a group of athletes to raise awareness and funds for autism research, treatment and education programs. The group was founded by a pair of former Baltimore Skipjacks and Washington Capitals netminders, Dafoe and Olaf Kolzig.

When the NHL returned in 2005-06 after a lockout wiped out the previous season, Willsie found himself back with the Capitals, and the Capitals thought enough of his leadership skills, first honed in Hershey, to entrust him with mentoring future NHL superstar, Alex Ovechkin, in his rookie season.

“I was actually the captain for a few games here in Hershey (2002-03), when Brent Thompson was out of the lineup with an injury,” said Willsie. “It was kind of a last minute thing that I ended up being his roommate. It was a lot of fun, and I tried my best to teach him a little bit of the off the ice stuff. Obviously, he’s turned into a pretty special player.”

Willsie continued, “Likewise, the Capitals have developed into one of the marquee organizations in the league--not only the parent club, but the club they have here in Hershey. George McPhee has done a spectacular job in the trades before the lockout and developing the players and championships here, and I’m sure there will be championships there in the years to come.”

After a couple of seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, Willsie rejoined the Avs organization prior to the 2008-09 season, and has spent the majority of those two campaigns in the AHL with the Lake Erie Monsters, but has also spent a few games with the Avalanche in each season.

This season, Willsie has taken on the full-time captaincy role with the Monsters, a role he has enjoyed.

“It’s been fun. Darren Haydar is part of the leadership group and he’s been around a while, and Tom Preissing and Brian Fahey (former Bear) has also been a big help. It’s a fun group, and it’s nice to have the honor. It’s rewarding to see how far the team has come and the direction we are heading.”

While he may be enjoying his leadership role in the city that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame calls home, Willsie, who at 31-years of age, could be considered old by AHL standards, but in his prime for an NHL player, was very honest in answering the question of how he can balance his role of captain while on one hand he is partially responsible for nurturing the Avs prospects for a shot in the NHL, but on the other hand is still keeping his eyes on the NHL prize himself.

“That’s a good question, but I think that’s part of the leadership role,” Willsie said. “ I’ve played quite a few games in both leagues, so not only do I want to get back there, but I can also show the young guys what it takes to get there. In one sense, it’s rewarding to see the guys go up, but at the same time, a little bit selfishly, I want to be going up as well.”

Willsie, who stated that he always looks forward to retuning to Hershey, and recently he returned to Giant Center for the second time as a visiting player. Just like his first visit as a member of the Portland Pirates in 2004-05, he netted a goal, this time against former Monsters’ teammate, Jason Bacashihua.

“It’s partly due to the crowd and the building. I seem to get up a little more for games, where there are big crowds, especially in the former places that I’ve played.”

Like just about any other player who donned the Chocolate and White and skated for the Bears in their former barn, the HERSHEYPARK Arena, Willsie gets very sentimental about the venue and about the special players that he called teammates during his time spent there.

“I was trying to tell some of my teammates here how great it was to play over there. I was trying to explain to them how the crowd was right on top of you and the wonderful atmosphere that was in the building. Some of the playoff series we had against Philadelphia there were great to play in. I was fortunate to play with a lot of good players in that building. A couple that come immediately to mind are Mitch Lamoureux and Steffon Walby, but there were so many of them; it was a very special place to play.”


Desperate teams take drastic measures to secure victories, and the Adirondack Phantoms were a testament to that on Sunday evening at Giant Center when they foiled Hershey’s 25th consecutive win on home ice, skating out of town with a 4-3 win.

The Phantoms came into the game desperate for a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, and rode the strong play of recently signed rookie goalkeeper, Carter Hutton, and three power play goals against the league’s number one penalty kill unit.

The Phantoms got off to a fast start, putting 5 unanswered shots on net in the first two minutes of the game against the Bears who were playing their 4th game in five nights.

“I don’t like to make that excuse,” said Bears’ head coach, Mark French, of how fatigue factored into his team’s performance. “They traveled from Norfolk last night. Everybody in this league has to face travel. Did we have our legs? No. Is the travel an excuse? We’re not going to use that as an excuse.”

The Bears power play, operating at an efficiency rate of 22.0% entering the game, clicked on their second opportunity of the game at 9:53 of the first period, with Andrew Gordon activating the red light.

Gordon had an easy tap-in after gaining position on a Phantoms’ defender just outside of the crease area.

“That’s what I’ve gotten used to this season; if I put my stick down and squeeze it, pucks are going to bounce off of my blade in a good direction. I tried to put myself where the defenseman couldn’t reach me. I didn’t really see the puck coming through; I just put my hand down the shaft of my stick and tried to stay strong. The puck just bounced right off my stick and slid slowly into the net.”

Early in the second period, the Bears’ power play struck again when Kyle Wilson redirected Karl Alzner’s point shot to Mathieu Perreault, who was all alone at the side of the net and potted his 15th goal of the season.

Hershey’s power play unit was responsible for the only other goal during the period, but unfortunately, it came at the expense of the Bears’ starting netminder, Braden Holtby, who was victimized by Jared Ross’s shorthanded breakaway after a turnover by defenseman, Zach Miskovic, cutting the Bears’ lead in half.

Holtby’s costly turnover 7:37 into the third period with the Phantoms on a power play, allowed the visitors to tie the game at two.

Holtby, while trying to clear the puck out of his own zone from behind the net found his attempt thwarted, with the turnover eventually leading to Joonas Lehtibuori’s tying goal.

“On the clearing pass, I didn’t find the hole like I usually do. That was one mistake, and a second mistake is that I didn’t battle hard enough on that screen shot,” said Holtby.

After the Phantoms took their first lead of the night on Stefan Legein’s power play goal, Gordon countered with his league-tying 18th power play goal to tie the game at three at 16:10.

“Bourqie dumped it in, and their goalie went out to play it and I saw Coiner get to it,” Gordon said. “I did what I usually do; go straight to the net, which I’m going to go to the net regardless of where that thing is going. I didn’t have to beat anybody for that one. It sprung loose to me and I had a pretty easy tap-in.”

Due to a controversial call on Bears’ captain, Bryan Helmer at 17:20, the Phantoms were afforded a golden opportunity on the power play. They took full advantage of that opportunity when Mika Pyorala, who rang a shot off the post in the first period with his team on the power play, found nothing but net on a rebound attempt to give the Phantoms a win.

“It’s a disappointing loss, but I guess everything has to come to an end. 24 games is a heck of a record; guys should be proud of themselves. If we’re going to lose, we might as well do it now than in the playoffs,” commented Helmer.

The meeting between the two teams was their last of the regular season, although a post-season meeting is not out of the question.

“I didn’t even though this was the last time we were playing them until you mentioned it,” Gordon said. “I don’t really care who we are playing on any given night to be honest with you, I think we are going to win every single game and I come into the game expecting to win knowing we have the better team; but tonight, they played their game plan pretty well, as they’ve done against us all year.”

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Nearly unbeatable at home all season, the Hershey Bears are no slouches on the road, either, and on Saturday night in Syracuse, they crushed the Syracuse Crunch, 6-2.

The Bears, who received a pair of goals from Andrew Gordon, and single strikes from Chris Bourque, Ashton Rome, Jay Beagle and Kyle Wilson, have now accumulated 109 points on the season, with 49 of those points garnered on foreign ice.

Hershey’s power play, ranked first in the American Hockey League entering the game, generated the first goal of the game only 1:19 into the contest. Andrew Gordon produced the power play strike, netting his 16th extra man tally of the year, and 33rd overall goal.

The Crunch tied the game at one when NHL veteran, Dan Fritsche, backhanded a pretty pass to Tom Stestito who went on to beat Bears' netminder, Jason Bacashihua at 6:54.

Jay Beagle took a pass from Bears' defenseman Grant Lewis that eminated from behind the net and gave the Bears a 2-1 lead at 9:26 of the second period by lofting a top shelf shot over the Crunch's goalkeeper, Kevin Lalande.

Chris Bourque’s power play goal at 17:53, his 22nd goal of the campaign and ninth extra man strike, gave the Bears a 3-1 lead to take into the second intermission.

Ashton Rome, who scored a goal in last night’s win over Albany in his Hershey debut, added another goal 2:55 into the period, poking the puck by Lalande with a diving effort from the crease to extend the Bears lead to 4-1.

Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman gave the Crunch a glimmer of hope when he beat Bacashihua at 8:25 of the final stanza to make it a 4-2 game.

However, Kyle Wilson and Gordon snuffed out any hopes the Crunch had of a comeback by adding late third period tallies to give the Bears the 6-2 win.

Bacashihua, who was making his first start since February 24th and his first start since being left off of Hershey’s clear day roster, stopped 29 shots to register his 15th win of the season.


The Hershey Bears continued their record-setting ways on home ice on Friday night at Giant Center, racing by the Albany River Rats with six unanswered goals to cruise to their 24th consecutive home ice victory by a score of 8-2.

The Bears displayed their offensive balance with seven different players finding the back of the net, and by scoring eight goals in the game, which was the 9th time this season they have accomplished that feat.

The first 13 minutes of the game were relatively quiet because of neither team generating much offense, with only a subplot being newsworthy. The sideshow involved former Bear, Oskar Osala, taking a run at new Bears’ defenseman, Grant Lewis, and then being pursued and checked by Andrew Gordon.

“My first reaction was one of the guys on our team got hit, and it’s one of the new guys, so I wanted to let him know that we were going to back him up,” said Gordon. “I know he’s only been here a couple days, but at the same time, he’s on the team, and we’re going to stick up for him like anybody else. When I saw it was Oskar, I wasn’t going to do anything crazy. I know he’s not out there trying to hurt guys.”

The Bears lit the lamp for the first time of many when Chris Bourque buzzed a running wrist shot by the glove of Albany netminder, Mike Morrison, at 13:18.

Former Bears defenseman, Jonathan Paiement, authored Albany’s first goal of the game and tied the contest at one when he beat starting Bears netminder, Michal Neuvirth, with a blueline blast at 15:01.

Andrew Gordon, the Bears workaholic winger who is having a career year in the goal scoring department, added his 32nd goal of the season with only 42 seconds remaining in the first period.

“I was trying to slide it doing to Aucoin and do a little give and go, but I sort of fanned on it and the puck bobbled,” said Gordon, who has scored in five of the last six home outings. “Once I bobbled it, the D bit down towards Aucoin which opened me up. It was an accidental bobble that turned out in my favor. Hard work pays off, I guess.”

Neuvirth, the second year pro from the Czech Republic who was pulled in his last start in Worcester on Sunday after allowing five goals on twenty-one shots before being replaced, was replaced once again by Braden Holtby when the teams returned to the ice to start the second period, departing the contest with a lower body injury.

“I actually found out I was going in with about a minute left in the first,” Holtby said. “I had no idea what was going on. Alzner nudged me and told me that I was going in. I was wondering why because he had only given up one goal, but I think it was his knee again. It’s unfortunate for him, but as a backup, I had to be prepared for that. I was lucky the guys played an outstanding game after I came in.”

Paiement again dialed long distance and found another connection early in the second period at 4:42, beating Holtby for at 4:42 with Albany on the power play. With the two goals on the evening, Paiement now counts four goals to his credit this campaign, with three of those being struck at Giant Center against the Bears.

“It went through so many legs, and I have no idea how it got through. It’s just one of those seeing-eye shots you can’t do anything about,” said Holtby of the only goal he allowed on the evening.

Hershey regained the lead for good less than a minute after Paiement’s game-tying goal when Keith Aucoin batted an airborne Alexandre Giroux pass behind Morrison at 5:30.

“I knew Giroux was going to pass it to me, and it kind of rolled on him,” Aucoin said. “I got lucky because the puck was wobbling, and I was able to get my stick on it and it went in.”

Exactly one minute after Gordon’s goal that was disallowed because of the puck being kicked into the net, Michael Dubuc’s fifth goal of the season, and second in his last three games, finished off the scoring in the second period and gave the home team a 4-2 lead entering the third period.

Boyd Kane and Alexandre Giroux each added a goal to the Bears’ total in the third period before fisticuffs became the story and the focal point of the festivities. The first bout of the third period fight card began when Francois Bouchard and Drayson Bowman squared off in a middle-weight tilt.

“It goes back to the last game when we played them and he jabbed me, so I just wanted to go back and show him if he did that kind of stuff, we would have a good fight,” said Bouchard. “I won it clean with him and I was really pumped. It was the first fight in my career. I just got caught up in the moment at the end.”

Less than a minute later when Nicolas Blanchard hit Kyle Wilson from behind, chaos ensued when a pair of secondary fights broke out. When the dust has settled, both the Bears involved in those battles, Boyd Kane and Patrick Wellar, along with their River Rat counterparts, were issued game misconducts.

When play finally resumed, Keith Aucoin and newcomer, Ashton Rome, put the exclamation points on the Bears’ goal total.

“I got a few shots, some good shots, and I think I was just due,” said Rome who rang a shot off the post in the first period. “It felt pretty good. I kind of fanned on it, but I put it on the side I wanted to.”

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


The Hershey Bears, coming off of one of their worst losses of the season, took to the road and responded in fine fashion on Wednesday night against the Binghamton Senators, sinking the Sens 5-3 and clinching the Eastern Division title in the process.

With the win, the Bears upped their AHL league-leading total to 105 points, nine more than their closest competitors, the Hamilton Bulldogs. The Bears and Bulldogs each have thirteen games remaining on their respective schedules, but the Hamiltonians have just four more home dates at Copps Colisem while the Bears have seven games remaining on their Giant Center slate.

The Bears jumped out to an early lead on Sean Collins’ first goal of the season, only 1:45 into the contest. Collins’ goal was only the second of his AHL career, with his only prior tally coming over a year ago on March 8, 2009, at Lake Erie.

Kyle Wilson, who has made a habit of stinging the Senators in his tenure in Chocolatetown, sacked the second goal of the game at 9:32 by converting the rebound of Michael Dubuc’s shot to give the Bears a 2-0 lead.

Still in the first period, Senators’ winger and former NHL 50-goal scorer, Jonathan Cheechoo, sliced into the Bears lead at 14:17, ridding himself of the check of Hershey captain, Bryan Helmer, before roofing a shot by Hershey netminder, Braden Holtby.

With Hershey on an early second period power play, Wilson collected his second goal of the game 1:58 into the session, canning his 22nd tally of the season and fifth on the power play. Wilson’s two-goal outing was his fifth career multi-goal effort against the B-Sens, and fourth at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.

It looked like the rout was on for the Bears just prior to the halfway point of the game when Andrew Joudrey wristed a shot by Binghamton netminder, Chris Holt, 9:59 into the second period to give the Bears a 4-1 lead.

However, the boys from Binghamton, still clinging to their faint playoff hopes, closed the Bears’ bulge late in the stanza with goals from Geoff Kinrade (shorthanded) and Kaspars Daugavins, making it a one-goal game entering the third period.

Before the third period, the Bears penalty-killing unit, ranked top in the league, had not faced a single Senators’ power play opportunity. However, they showed their mettle in shutting down three B-Sens manpower advantages before Andrew Joudrey’s empty net, short-handed goal sealed the deal at 18:59, giving the Bears the 5-3 win.

Holtby, the fine rookie backstopper who faced down 44 shots, the most shots he has ever faced in a game while tending the twine for the Bears, earned his 20th win by collecting 41 saves.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Sunday afternoon’s meeting at the DCU Center between the respective divisional leaders in the AHL’s Eastern Conference, the Hershey Bears and Worcester Sharks, was billed as a “Battle of the Titans”; however, the contest ended up being a titanic mismatch, as the Sharks swam circles around the Bears and departed the affair with a convincing 6-2 win.

The Bears, finishing up a three game in three nights road swing that started in Adirondack on Friday night, followed by Springfield last night, were never able to sustain an attack against the Sharks’ defense and goaltender, Alex Stalock, who leads the AHL in wins, until the final minutes of the game when the outcome had been settled long before.

The Sharks controlled the play from the opening faceoff by depositing a pair of goals off the sticks of Derek Joslin and John McCarthy past Hershey starting goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, to take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.

Hershey’s high scoring offensive line of Alexandre Giroux, Andrew Gordon and Keith Aucoin, along with the defensive pairing of Patrick Wellar and Zach Miskovic, were on the ice for both first period strikes against. Miskovic, the Bears’ rookie out of St. Lawrence University, bobbled a puck at his own blueline that led to the Joslin goal and allowed McCarthy to skate around him on the second goal.

After the game, when questioned about Miskovic’s play on both goals, Bears head coach, Mark French, chose not to single out Miskovic’s individual efforts, but lay the blame on the play of the whole team.

“We didn’t have a good period as a team. I’m not going to single out anybody,” he said.

The Sharks relentless attack continued in the second period when they added three goals off the sticks of Mike Moore (penalty shot), Brandon Mashinter and Andrew Desjardins to take a 5-0 lead.

Desjardins’ goal spelled the end of the night for Neuvirth, who departed after allowing five goals on 21 shots in 33:58 of action.

“I thought it was an opportunity; he faced his fair share of shots,” French said of his decision to pull Neuvirth.

Goals by the Bears’ Michal Dubuc and Chris Bourque late in the third period cut the Sharks lead to 5-2, but Desjardins’ second goal of the game sealed the deal for the Sharks.

French, whose club still sits comfortably atop the AHL standings in spite of the loss on Sunday, had a short answer when asked to “put in perspective” occasional lopsided losses like Sunday’s and if they are to be expected.

“What do we have, 103 points? I think you answered your own question,” said French.

If there is a silver lining in the Bears’ failure to clinch the division title because of the setback, it’s that they get a chance to do it on Friday night on home ice against the Albany River Rats, their closest pursuers.

“It will be a good game; Albany is a good team,” French commented.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


A night after they bounced back twice from one-goal deficits to secure an overtime victory in Adirondack, the Hershey Bears could not overcome a pair of two-goal deficits in Springfield against the Falcons, falling in a shootout, 5-4.

The Falcons, cellar dwellers in the AHL’s Atlantic Division, also triumphed over the Bears in shootout fashion in the previous meeting between the teams this season on November 21 at Giant Center.

Things started well for the visitors when they jumped out to an early 1-0 first period lead at 2:12 on Alexandre Giroux’s 36th goal of the season. Giroux, the AHL’s leading goal scorer was left totally alone to the left of Springfield backstopper, J.P. Levasseur, and wasted no time rifling a shot past him after receiving a beautiful pass from defenseman, Dylan Yeo, who registered his first point of the season with the helper.

Shortly after Giroux’s marker, the Falcons tied the game at one when Charles Linglet lit the lamp for the 19th time this season, beating Bryan Helmer to a rebound of his own shot and then thumping Bears’ goaltender, Braden Holtby at 4:43.

Former Bears’ defenseman, Dean Arsene, who left the Bears den over the summer and is now firmly entrenched in the Falcons’ nest, gave the home team their first lead of the game at 5:22 of the first frame. After gathering in the puck along the left wing boards in the Bears’ zone, Arsene proceeded to launch an innocent looking wrist shot in the direction of the net. Fortunately for the Bears, Keith Aucoin was on the spot of the Arsene shot, but unfortunately, he redirected the puck behind Holtby.

“My defensive partner shot it around the boards, and I saw it was coming off the boards with a lot of spin. I was thinking that if I tried to handle it, I might lose it, so I just tried to throw it on net, because I knew we had guys in the crease area. I saw it goes off Aucoin’s stick and between Holtby’s legs and I was pretty happy,” said the former “mayor” of Hershey.

Arsene’s goal was his first of the season, and he admitted afterwards that it was a tad bittersweet to get his first against his former mates from Chocolatetown.

“I was shocked initially, and thought, ‘oh my goodness, I scored’. I’m not going to lie and say that scoring a goal against my former team wasn’t special, but any time I get a goal is special,” Arsene said.

Still in the first period, Hershey’s Chris Bourque, whose father, NHL hall-of-famer, Ray Bourque, was in attendance at the game, put the Bears in a bind. Bourque, after being signaled for a hooking call by referee, Chris Brown, took exception to the call and earned an additional unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty for his complaining.

Bourque’s blunder was then followed by a minor penalty to Steve Pinizzotto, which created a 5-on-3 power play for the Falcons and eventually evolved into a 5-on-3 power play goal off the stick of former Bear, Chad Wiseman. Wiseman’s goal was assisted by another former Bear, Chris Armstrong.

“The first goal is the one that I really wanted back; it was a rebound that I got twisted up on,” said Holtby. “The second goal went off of my own guy, and the third goal was a cross-up by everyone on the ice. I was looking the wrong way, the way I though the guys would be, and the guys thought they had to be somewhere else."

Bears’ head coach, Mark French, had thoughts of removing his rookie netmider in the first intermission, but due to a couple of factors, opted to let him try to finish what he started.

“To be honest, me and Troy (Bears assistant coach, Troy Mann) talked about it, but we wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and I thought he responded quite well,” said French. “We looked at the goals and we also looked at what we wanted to do tomorrow as well” (start Michal Neuvirth in Worcester).

“I don’t think he had much of a chance on the first one, and the second goal went it off of Coiner’s stick; but the third goal, I didn’t think it was a great shot that beat him. He didn’t seem to move when the pass was made to the wide guy (Wiseman), and he said that he couldn’t see the puck. I thought that he would have reacted to pass, he probably would have been over.”

French also said that the fact that the Bears did not get another shot on goal in the first period after the Giroux goal and finishing the period being outshot 16-2 did not factor into his decision to let Holtby remain between the pipes.

“We were only down by two goals at that point and were starting the next period on the power play, and if we got one on that, it would be a different hockey game,” French said.

Early in the second period, a controversial major penalty assessed to Springfield’s Ryan MacMurchy for boarding Yeo at 1:46 gave the Bears a five minute power play. Referee, Chris Brown, did not initially make the call on MacMurchy, but after Yeo remained on the ice after the collision, he doled out the major infraction.

The Bears were able to cash in once on the MacMurchy major penalty when Andrew Gordon finished up a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing sequence that started with Giorux and then progressed to Bouchard, who found Gordon all alone on the doorstep for his 31st goal of the campaign at 3:48.

With the Falcons on another power play in the latter stages of the second period, they received a fortunate bounce when Helmer’s attempt rim the puck around the boards behind his own net caromed off of the net and then onto the stick of Linglet, who found Wiseman cruising down the slot, for his second goal of the evening at 15:06.

With the second stanza winding down, Bears defenseman, Patrick Wellar connected with the stick of Aucoin in the neutral zone, and sent the speedy centerman in alone on Levasseur. Aucoin froze the Springfield stopper by faking a slapshot, and then took a few more strides before blasting a shot by him low to the glove side at 17:43.

“I looked up and saw it was a left-handed goalie, so that look reminded me of that. Then I saw he gave that little opening and I used it to my advantage,” said Aucoin.

Steve Pinizzotto who netted a shorthanded goal in Friday night’s game, potted the only goal of third period, sizzling a short-side shot by Levasseur at 7:30.

“Collins made a nice play there on the wall by chipping it up and sending me and Joudrey on a 2-on-1. I turned a little and tried to make it look like I was going to pass, and then just shot it on net,” said Pinizzotto.

Following a scoreless final twelve and a half minutes of third period play, the game went into overtime with the teams skating at three aside thanks to each club having a player in the penalty box serving a minor penalty.

Springfileld’s Rob Hisey, who scored the eventual shootout winning goal, had the best chance of the overtime, but was narrowly halted by Holtby in his wraparound attempt.

“I tried to play him as aggressively as I could when he was in front because he made a few nice plays to get loose, and was by himself in front. When he went behind the net, I tried to get a stick on his to throw him off. Then he threw it out front and it went off Aucoin’s skate; fortunately I was able to get it before it went in,” said Holtby.

French, whose team continues to pace the AHL with 103 points, was very frank after game when asked if he could be satisfied that his team managed to escape Springfield with one point.

“I think we were relatively embarrassing in the first period, and you have to play 60 minutes to earn a victory. So, I’m disappointed in getting only the one point.”

Saturday, March 13, 2010


The Hershey Bears entered Friday night’s matchup against the Adirondack Phantoms seeking their 50th win of the season, and after a seesaw battle, the boys from Chocolatetown escaped from Glens Falls with a 5-4 overtime win.

The Phantoms, the only team in the AHL that can boast of placing three blemishes on the Bears’ record, gave the visitors all that they could handle in the oscillating affair, twice grabbing one-goal leads after falling behind early in the contest.

The Bears took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Jay Beagle at 4:34. Beagle pounced upon the rebound of a Mathieu Perreault point blank attempt, and poked the puck behind Phantoms’ netminder, Johan Backlund, to pot his 11th goal of the season.

Less than two minutes after Beagle’s goal, an outstanding individual effort by Alexandre Giroux led to his 34th marker of the campaign, an unassisted tally.

“I was coming from the bench and the guy bobbled it,” Giroux said. “The guy in the zone was standing still, so I tried to make a move on him. Then, I didn’t have enough speed to go around the defenseman, so I stopped and took a shot between his legs. I don’t think the goalie saw it.”

Greg Amadio’s cross checking infraction at 9:50 put the Phantoms on their first power play, and ultimately put them on the board for the first time, with defenseman, Marc-Andre Bourdon, lighting the lamp at 11:32.

Steve Pinizzotto’s punishing hit on Bourdon behind the Phantoms’ net, which put Bourdon on his back, resulted in his defensive partner, Sean Curry, taking a double minor penalty on Pinizzotto at 16:02.

Curry’s aggressive actions gave the Bears a golden opportunity to finish out the period on a positive note by potting a power play goal, but Adirondack’s penalty killing unit thwarted those plans and the teams retreated to the locker room after twenty minutes with the Bears leading, 2-1.

The second period belonged solely to the Phantoms, who netted the only two goals of the frame, including a soft goal that went in off of the back of Bears’ netminder, Michal Neuvirth.

“I thought we played well in the first, and came into the locker room with the 2-1 lead,” said Bears’ head coach, Mark French. “I thought in the second, we were dominated physically, and lost a lot of battles and races to the puck.”

In the forgetful second period, the Bears did not officially test Backlund for the first time until 10:25 into the frame. In all, the high-powered Bears’ offense put just three shots on net in the period, with Andrew Gordon garnering the only shot on net by a forward.

Early in the third period, Hershey captain, Bryan Helmer, was whistled off by referee, Jamie Koharski, for a cross-checking penalty on Phantoms’ forward, Stefan Legein. After realizing that he was being penalized, Helmer blew a fuse and drew an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty as well as ten-minute misconduct.

“Sure, the guy embellished it,” said Helmer. “He got in my way when I had a chance to get the puck out of the zone, and then they got a great scoring chance because of that. I just lost my cool, and I shouldn’t have done that, but that’s the stuff you learn by.”

With Helmer in the penalty box, Steve Pinizzotto struck with in shorthanded mode, netting his 11th goal of the season, and fourth in short-handed style.

“They tried to dump it in, and they missed the puck,” Pinizzotto said. “Wellar made it a good play by throwing it up to Joudrey, who dove and sent me in on the breakaway, and I beat him low to the glove side.”

Pinizzotto, who of late seems to be able to draw the wrath of his opponents even quicker while sporting the protective cage apparatus that he wears after being injured in a scrap against Albany, wishes he could drop the mitts, but has found another way to contribute by putting up consistent offensive numbers.

“It sucks that I can’t fight, particularly against team like this who want to put on a show for their fans,” Pinizzotto admitted. “The points are starting to come now, which is good, and I feel that I can do a lot to help this team out.”

Ironically, just as Helmer’s first penalty was about to expire, Legein struck on the power to give the Phantoms another one-goal lead.

Amadio, making amends for his earlier actions, drew an interference penalty on Phantoms’ defenseman, Joey Mormina, at 10:37.

While Mormina waited out his sentence, Giroux struck again on the power play at 11:58 to tie up the affair. For Giroux, the multi-goal effort was his second in his last two games played in Glens Falls.

“We know what we have to do when we come here. It’s always a battle and these guys always play really, really hard, and they are particularly intense against our line,” said Giroux.

“I thought all night we moved the puck well, but didn’t shoot enough. Then we were shooting and they were blocking the shots and getting in the lanes; but, on my goal, Miskovic made a great play to Aucoin and he did what he always does, finds me in an open spot.”

Giroux’s goal would be the last of regulation and the teams needed extra time to settle the score in the topsy-turvy battle.

Justice was served for the visitors from the Keystone State when Helmer roofed a wrist shot over the fallen Backlund just 1:33 into the session, giving the Bears their 22nd road triumph of the season.

“I thought the guys played really well in the third period, responding from a bad second period,” said Helmer, who watched the majority of the third period from the penalty box.

“Bourque and Pinizzotto made the play on the overtime goal, and I actually had two chances. The first one I put right in his pads, but I got a second chance, and put it in the net. It’s nice when you can come back and chip in like that.”

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Trailing for the first time at home during their record-tying 22 home winning streak, it looked like the Hershey Bears might have to reset the clock and start another home run because of the relentless Adirondack Phantoms; however, buoyed by a pair of goals by former Phantom, Boyd Kane, the Bears extended their streak to a record-breaking 23 home wins.

“We really came out hard in the third. Going into the third, we weren’t happy because we hadn’t played a good game. We wanted to break the record, and we knew what was on the line,” said Bears’ center, Keith Aucoin.

Kane initiated the scoring at 16:10 of the first period denting the twine for the 20th time this season.

“I gave it to Bourque up high and he went down low and made a great pass to me,” said Kane, who has reached the 20-goal mark twice in his career, both times with the Bears. “I was all alone in the slot and I was able to put it far side.”

Adirondack’s Andreas Nodl knotted the score at one by fending off defenseman, Karl Alzner, and then beating Bears’ goaltender, Michal Neuvirth through the five-hole at 18:24.

Rob Bellamy gave the Phantoms a 2-1 lead 6:11 into the second period by taking advantage of Neuvirth turning the puck over in the trapezoid behind the net and banking the puck off the glove and body of the second year netminder.

The Bears opened the third period on a power play and seemingly tied the game when Chris Bourque’s bullet appeared to bounce quickly in and out of the net. Though the goal light went on, the goal was waived off and play continued. Shortly after the controversial shot, Zach Miskovic’s missile from the point eluded Phantoms’ netminder, Johan Backlund, and officially tied the game at two.

At 6:25 of the final frame, Aucoin, thanks to a solid screen provided by Kane, put the home team in front for the second time.

“My job on the power play is to go stand in front of the net and screen the goalie,” Kane said. “That’s what I was doing, and Aucoin was actually trying to pass it to me and it just went through me and Mormina and got through the goalie, too.”

Hershey head coach, Mark French, who was not with the organization when Kane captained the club to the Calder Cup in 2006, realizes what Kane’s presence means to the team.

“He’s every bit a professional,” said French. “He’s a great asset in our dressing room, and a workman’s type player. You appreciate his work ethic. He shows up every day with his lunch box and his work shoes and he goes to work. I think everybody can appreciate the type of player he is. He’s very versatile, as you mentioned. He can step up and play, as he did at times this year, on our top line, or he could play on your third-line checking line and do each equally as well.”

Kane capped off the scoring with an empty net goal at 19:40, establishing a new career-high goal total of 21.

“It’s nice. When you come so close and don’t get there, you want to get there,” said Kane of breaking the 20-goal barrier. “It’s a good feeling to get it out of the way, and now I’ll just keep going.”

While playing against players that one called teammates just last season may present problems for younger, less experienced players, for Kane, it’s all in a day’s work.

“It’s a lot of fun to go out there and play against your friends. I’ve been around a bit and done it a lot, so I think it brings the best out of me sometimes.”



Some say that a good defense will beat a good offense, but it has taken the Hershey Bears a perfect combination of both to be able to claim a 22 home game winning streak Saturday night was a prime example of both in action as the Bears downed the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, 4-0 at Giant Center.

The Bears received a single goal from Francois Bouchard, and from each member of their top-scoring line which consists of Alexandre Giroux, Keith Aucoin, and Andrew Gordon. Those goals, coupled with a 25 save shutout by netminder, Braden Holtby, propelled the Bears to within two points of becoming the first team to reach 100 points this season.

Although often overshadowed by the offensive arsenal that defines the Bears, the defensive unit, which includes the league’s top penalty kill, has been rock-solid throughout the home winning streak, not giving up any goals in 26 of 66 periods during the run.

“I think our team defense has been good tonight,” said Bears’ bench boss, Mark French. “I thought it was more about Braden Holtby…overall, through the stretch, I think our commitment to defense has been very good; offense comes fairly easy for us, but if I see that our team’s sharp, it’s usually by us playing strong defense.”

After a scoreless first period that saw the Bears put only four shots on net, they came out storming early in the second, beginning with Giroux’s breakaway attempt that was thwarted by Penguins goaltender, Brad Theissen. Although Giroux was denied in his attempt, Aucoin would not be denied, pickpocketing former Bears’ defenseman, Deryk Engelland, and joined Giroux in the 30 goal club.

“I’ve never gotten 30 before, and it’s my ninth year,” said Aucoin. “It’s one of those things that I didn’t think would happen, especially when I’ve played with G and Gordon and knowing those guys are going to get a lot of goals. It’s a great accomplishment. I finally did it. I think 30 goals is pretty hard to get in this league, and it was good to get that done.”

Shortly after Aucoin’s monumental marker, Holtby showcased some of his best work of the night by stopping Chris Conner’s breakaway attempt and narrowly avoided disaster on a goal-mouth scramble.

“I was talking to Ammo about it and he said he was trying to cross check Kaner to knock the net off,” joked Holtby. “It was a quick shot to my left pad, then on the rebound, they shot it back to my far right and kind of hit me on a weird spot—my toe—and it rolled up and over the net.”

Gordon joined his linemates in the 30 goal club with his 14th power play strike with Aucoin and Chris Bourque picking up the assists.

“I was trying to stand perfectly still so I wouldn’t be in the way of the pass because I figured he was looking for Giroux on the back side,” Gordon said. “Once that pass went past me, I knew it didn’t get all the way to Giroux, so I just took a look around and saw it sitting in the crease for me to poke home.”

“Reaching that plateau means I’m going to have to try to score a lot next year, or I’ll feel like a failure,” laughed Gordon. “It’s nice milestone to make; it’s sort of how I’ve been contributing to the team this year, by picking up those dirty rebounds. For me it’s a symbol of the work I’m putting in, and the fact that I’m doing a decent job at the role I’ve been given this year.”

Giroux and Bouchard tacked on third period goals to ensure the Bears’ that their record-breaking home winning streak would continue to be improved.

Despite the fact that Aucoin has assisted on 18 of Gordon’s goals, he takes little credit for his linemate’s success.

“I think he earned it. He’s a hard worker and gets in the corners and gets us the puck and gets in front of the net. He gets the dirty goals and has a great shot. I don’t think it has anything to do with me and G. He’s earned it and he’s worked hard, and I’m happy for him.”