Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bears Annoint Themselves Kings of the East

Throughout the course of history, many great leaders have motivated their troops with inspiring speeches as they go into battle, but in this current playoff season in which the Bears have overcome their adversaries seven times in overtime fashion, their head coach, Mark French, has employed a revolutionary “silent speech” tactic.

“…We play with a different swagger in overtime, and I don’t know quite what it is. I often go in between periods and give them a little bit of lip service for 30-40 seconds, but I don’t go in during the overtime intermission because I figure they know what they’re doing. They’ve proved me right…” said French of his strategy.

French’s charges, which by virtue of their record-setting seventh overtime triumph of the playoffs on Saturday night at Giant center, a 3-2 verdict, have advanced to the Calder Cup Finals for the fourth time in five years while flying under the flag of their parent club, the Washington Capitals.

Despite enjoying a big territorial advantage in the opening period, the Bears could only get five shots through on Manchester netminder, Jonathan Bernier. Bernier stopped four of the shots, and a fifth, a deflection by Boyd Kane, bounced off of the crossbar and away from the net.

“Some of the guys in the dressing room mentioned not to worry about the numbers on the shot clock because we were in their zone a lot, but just not getting the pucks on net,” said Alexandre Giroux, who gave the Monarchs credit for their ability to block so many shots in the series. “We knew we believed in ourselves, and if we kept getting shots, we would get some rebounds and have some luck.”

With less than a minute remaining in the first period, and just seconds after an apparent whistle resulting from Hershey defenseman’s Karl Alzner’s touch-up of an icing call was waved off, the Monarchs netted the only goal of the first period with 16.9 seconds left on the clock when John Zeiler struck.

The Bears had an excellent chance to tie the game less than a minute into the second period with Keith Aucoin had the puck on his stick right in front of Bernier, but Bernier was equal to the task, snuffing out Aucoin’s bid.

The Monarchs were also in offensive mode early in the second, and would have had the second goal of the game at 2:55, but were thwarted by Patrick McNeill’s sweeping effort which saved the day just as the puck was about to cross the goal line.

“Me and Helms were having a rough shift there and I just saw it sneaking through Neuvy’s five-hole, and I just happened to be the guy standing there,” said McNeill. “It was just a reaction play; anybody would have whacked it out of there, but luckily I was right there.”

Zeiler missed a golden opportunity in the latter stages of the second period, somehow missing an open net on a 2-on-1 foray into the Hershey zone with Bud Holloway, but the Monarchs managed to maintain puck possession in the Hershey zone after Zeiler’s misfire, with Joe Piskula eventually potting a rebound goal at 17:44 to give the Monarchs a 2-0 lead.

Entering the third period facing a familiar situation, trailing, the Bears started their climb back when Giroux backhanded home his 12th goal of the playoffs, pouncing upon an Aucoin rebound, after defenseman, John Carlson, had kept the play alive by intercepting a clearing attempt by the Monarchs.

“He’s such a good goalie, one of the best in the league,” said Giroux of Bernier. “It’s hard to beat him with a clean shot. We use traffic, and I think tonight we did a little better job getting rebounds and second chances, and that goal was a good indication of that.”

Patrick McNeill’s first career playoff goal as a Bear tied the game at two at 14:09. McNeill, after gathering in a Chris Bourque pass, drifted laterally along the blue line before launching a wrist shot that eluded Bernier.

“I just wanted to get more to the center of the ice just to give myself a better angle and give myself a little more time to see what was going on,” explained McNeill. “Once I saw that Perry and Bouch were creating traffic in front of the net, I put it on net.”

After neither team was able to get another puck into the back of the net in the final five minutes of regulation play, the teams headed to overtime for the fourth time in the series.

One essential key to Hershey’s success in overtime sessions has been their ability to not only outscore, but to outshoot their opponents, as evidenced by 51-18 shot advantage coming into this 7th overtime.

In the extra session, the Bears had the first quality opportunity to end the series, but Kane, after receiving a pass from Steve Pinizzotto, was denied by Bernier at the doorstep at 4:43. However, Kane would not be denied at 7:06, denting the twine for his first goal of the playoffs.

“Pinner made a great play coming down the wall (going low to avoid a tag-team effort by a pair of Monarchs), and got it back to me. I got it back to the point to P-Mac and he took a shot, and Willy picked it up behind the net. I was going to the net, and he put it right on my stick,” said Kane.

Although Kane has registered a modest six points in the playoffs (1 goal, 5 assists), he certainly has made the points count, counting four game-winners among his five helpers.

“We have a lot of guys who can score and we need everybody pitching in, but I have to be playing physical and grinding it out. If the points come for me, that’s a bonus,” said Kane, who became the eighth different Hershey player to score a game-winning goal at Giant Center this playoff season.

**Photo courtesy of JUSTSPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY**

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