Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Stuccio's First Season in Chocolatetown a Sweet Success

By: John Sparenberg

Regardless of how the Hershey Bears fare in their upcoming playoff series against their bitter rivals the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins that begins on Friday night in Wilkes-Barre, their fans will have a lot to look forward to next season. Not only will it be the year to celebrate the 75th anniversary season of the club, but it will also mark the return of Scott Stuccio behind the radio microphone for a second season with a valuable year of experience under his play-by-play broadcasting belt.

Stuccio’s first season at the helm of the Bears’ radio network recently concluded with the culmination of the regular season portion of the schedule last Sunday, and the season was full of turbulent times as well as turbulent waters that delayed his arrival in Hershey.

“I think it went pretty smoothly,” Stuccio remembers. “The hardest part at the beginning was just getting to Hershey in the first place with all of stuff related to the flooding. I was basically forced to go right into training camp and the pre-season without getting much of a chance to prepare, let alone get to have any time to know the area. John (Walton, his predecessor) and I were talking a lot in the beginning of the season and then it kind of trailed off because he’s obviously very busy now and travelling all over creation with the Capitals. If I had needed something from him early on, it was a nice, easy question and lately it’s been kind of hard to get ahold of him. But he was always there and eventually always got back to me which was great.”

Stuccio continued, “The (radio) job itself was actually just getting used to calling the games again because I was not doing play-by-play last year, but I thought I did well. I dealt with a few people that still thought that I got a little excited when the Penguins scored in that first game. It’s not showing excitement for the team in particular; I get excited for other teams when they score really nice goals-it’s hard not too. Over the 76 gamed that have transpired already, I think I proved very well which team I work for, root for, and really get excited for.”

Although he had the opportunity to call 244 goals during the season, Stuccio singled out the first two games and first two goals of the campaign as well as the camaraderie he developed with a few of the players on their way to the NHL as memorable out moments.

“The first goal was Christian Hanson’s and short-handed, and then the second goal also was scored short-handed by Chris Bourque up in Binghamton, which was a very strange way to start a season. Having my first game being on the road where I had to fill an extra half hour because they had a Calder Cup ceremony to do was a challenge. Then the next night, which was also on the road in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and was their home opener, I had to fill even more time in a building that I used to call home. They definitely stood out as being a little nerve-wracking because of the amount of time I had to fill for a brand new network of listeners.”

“Also, the month of March was a memorable one, without Braden Holtby and without a lot of our stars,” Stuccio said. “To watch a great guy like Dany Sabourin take us through a run like he did and lock up a playoff spot, that was really special for me, like any time that I get to call goals and get to know guys like Cody Eakin, Keith Aucoin, Holtby, Sabourin, and Dmitry Orlov. I got to meet those guys and then you get to root them on as they go on to the National Hockey League. Those are all standout moments.”

With St. John’s, Newfoundland, gaining an AHL affiliate again this past season, Stuccio and the Bears were afforded the opportunity to venture to “The Rock”, and while getting to that destination is a travel ordeal, the IceCaps’ rink, the Mile One Centre, as well as the people on the island, made the trip much more bearable.

“St. John’s,” said Stuccio without hesitation when asked what building made the most impression on him this season, good or bad. “The arena is really nice, and the fans are ridiculously passionate about that team in a great way which was really neat to see. The place was sold out all year, and I think they are also sold out for the next three years as well. To see the way the fans have taken to that team that used to be a Toronto Maple Leafs affiliate, and now they are a Winnipeg Jets affiliate, so quickly is amazing. The crew that worked in that building and the entire organization were all awesome; they were really helpful and very friendly and hospitable. I had been to all of others before, but St. John’s was the one spot that I hadn’t been to, and it was certainly something to see.”

Now that he has had a chance to visit the Penguins’ barn, the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, numerous times this past season as a visitor while calling thr action for the Bears broadcasts, I asked him if he noticed anything this year about the building that he hadn’t noticed before when he worked for the club at the venue.

“Not really. The thing you notice is that it’s obviously a very passionate fan base. I’ve really noticed the rivalry from both sides being on the home broadcasts with Wilkes-Barre and now the home broadcasts for Hershey, it’s all within the fans. I said this when I got here. The fan bases have developed that rivalry and it’s a fun one to watch and be a part of. The professionalism in both organizations from top to bottom is second to none; they are the best in the league. I’ve seen this from the home side too, but from the visitor’s side, I actually have less prep time to get my work done because I have so many people come and say hello and ask how things are in Hershey.”

I asked Stuccio if he thought it was destiny that the Bears and Penguins, the only two AHL clubs that he has worked for in his broadcasting career were meeting in the playoffs, and his answer was well, maybe no, but maybe yes.

“It’s something else,” he chuckled. “I think to a lot of people it’s annoying more than anything. It’s two pre-season games, it’s 12 regular season games, and now a best of five in the playoffs. The funny part about is that they extended the season one week, they shortened it four games, and they realigned the playoff format to go to the top eight in the conference and we’re still going to play them; it’s amazing. As far as it being destiny, I think it would be if the Bears won,” he laughed, “because that would really make it a wonderful move for me. Not to say that it hasn’t been already, but that would be the icing on the cake and would mean we are that much closer to winning a championship.”

Looking ahead to next year, although there is still hopefully plenty more hockey for the Bears to play this season, Stuccio is very optimistic that his sophomore season will be bigger and better than his rookie one from a professional standpoint. Although he technically has not put his name on the dotted line to return, it’s a foregone conclusion that he will be back, considering his solid work this season filling some mighty big shoes.

“Things will get better. I had to get used to it (broadcasting) again. I had to learn the area, learn the fans, learn the Bears, and learn the history. I know some of the things that John did I wasn’t able to do--the post-game Saturday show, some of the visits I didn’t get to do, as well as the video interviews of the players because I didn’t get a chance to setup due to the fact that I didn’t have my own gear. I used this season to get reacquainted and now that I’ve gotten through this one and next year being our 75th, there will be some neat things to come.”

“I don’t have a contract, at least that I know of unless Doug (Yingst, the Bears’ President and GM) has a hidden one in his mind. I didn’t sign anything when I came here; it’s basically mine to run with and it’s mine to excel at and make people happy.”

I bet that hearing Stuccio belt out a call that “the Hershey Bears have won their 12th Calder Cup Championship” at the end of this year’s playoffs would make a lot of Central Pennsylvania residents happy, as well as a very excitable transplanted one.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Syracuse Slides by Bears in Shootout 4.7.12

The game of hockey can be a confusing one. You can think too much and get yourself into trouble, or you can not think and simply react where there’s a good possibility of the same fate occurring. Keeping it simple and doing a little of both, however, can sometimes help you come out of a situation relatively unscathed.

On Saturday night at Giant Center with Daren Machesney, a former Bear tending the twine for the Chocolate and White since April 12, 2009, the club simplified their game and gained a point in the standings by keeping the Syracuse Crunch’s shot total to a modest level, but ultimately fell in a shootout, 3-2.

“I was excited, not nervous,” said Machesney. “I’ve been through enough as a pro so that, I don’t want to say you get numb to it, but I enjoy these situations. As I get older, I appreciate everything that goes on now and just playing the game and getting a start. Obviously getting a chance to play in front of Hershey’s fans again was great. You just enjoy those types of things more when you get older. With the things that have gone on in my career, I didn’t know if I’d ever be back here. I would have really liked to get a win tonight, and it looks like I need to work on my shootouts, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Less than thirty seconds after the opening faceoff, Machesney faced a stern early test when Syracuse’s Mark Bell came in a alone on a breakaway, but fortunately for him, Bell misfired on his bid.

“'Stop it!’ I told myself,” said Machesney of his thoughts during that early attempt. “Don’t let him score because that’s not going to be a good start. If you think too much in this game you can get into trouble. I was just worried about making the save. I really didn’t have to make too many stops. They took care of the rest.”

Fortunately for Machesney, the Bears settled down a little after that early hiccup and got the game’s first goal when Chris Bourque, one of only two players in the Bears lineup who were in the lineup in his last start for the Bears, netted a goal at 5:12 by using a unique “slide and swing” maneuver to notch his 27th goal of the season. Bourque’s “banking of the biscuit” occurred exactly one minute after Kyle Greentree had his bid for the first goal of the game denied by Syracuse goaltender Igor Bobkov.

The Crunch tied the game up shortly after the Bourque when defenseman Kyle Cumiskey took advantage of a defensive zone turnover by Patrick Wellar and launched a shot in the direction of Machesney from his point position. Machesney appeared to have a clear line of sight on the attempt, but the puck appeared to carom off the stick of Mike Carman, with Cumiskey getting credit for an unassisted goal at 6:57.

Machesney made a quality save late in the period with the Crunch on a power play by short-circuiting Luca Caputi’s salvo from close range and kept the game deadlocked at one after twenty minutes.

Midway through the second period, the visitors took a 2-1 lead when Kyle Palmieri beat Machesney high to glove side at 9:09 on an odd-man rush. The sequence started with John Mitchell intercepting Cameron Schilling’s clearing attempt in the neutral zone and then proceeding into Bears’ territory on the rush with Palmieri, although it appeared that a Syracuse attacker who was already in the zone before the rush had cleared it, but the goal stood.

The Bears bounced back to tie the game before the end of the middle frame when Patrick McNeill roofed a shot behind a sprawling Bobkov at 17:07 with the Bears enjoying a power play created by a Syracuse bench penalty for having too many men on the ice.

“We were buzzing and moving around and creating a lot of seams,” said McNeill. “We had a couple chances to bury one earlier, but didn’t. I just snuck in back side, and I got a great pass from Greentree. I had a lot of net to work with, and I just had to fire it home.”

After a scoreless third period, the overtime session failed to settle the issue of which team was going to get the extra point, and the game went into the shootout. During the shootout festivities, Boyd Kane was the only Bear who solved Bobkov, but three of the four Crunch contestants beat Machesney which gave the visitors the win.

McNeill, who has played in front of Machesney wearing the Bears’ colors before tonight, said the Bears didn’t really adjust their defensive scheme to accommodate the veteran Machesney’s return to Giant Center.

“You come into every game pretty much the same,” said McNeill, who, along with his teammates, kept the Crunch to only 21 shots on goal in regulation. “We knew he’s got experience at this level and he’s done well at this level, so we knew we had a solid goaltender behind us. He played well, and we defended well and didn’t give up a ton of shots, but when we gave up the chances, he stuck in there and played well.”

Notes- The Bears signed goaltender Scott Greenham to a PTO before the game to backup Machesney. Greenham played his college hockey at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks where Kyle Greentree also played (2004-05-thru-2006-07)

Hershey scratched D.J. King, Jacob Micflikier, Christian Hanson, Graham Mink, Billy Ryan, Zach Miskovic, and Julien Brouillette. Brouillette was inactive for only the second time this season (game three of the season on October 14th at Norfolk).

Sean Collins was the only other player in the Bears’ lineup tonight who was in the lineup during Machesney’s last game with the club on April 12, 2009.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Pens Power by Bears 4.6.12

Going into Friday night’s matchup between the Hershey Bears and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, a lot of the talk about the game was that it was going to be a “statement game” for the clubs who are likely to meet in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

But due to the plethora of power plays doled out by the referees, it was hard to tell if a statement was made. However Hershey goaltender Dany Sabourin, who will likely be recalled to the Washington Capitals after the game, made a big statement for future NHL work with his performance in net, but he and his mates eventually fell to defeat despite his outstanding effort, 3-2.

Sabourin was spectacular in the first frame and foiled twelve of the thirteen shots he faced, including four quality stops with the Pens playing shorthanded, but a Geoff Walker backhanded power play deflection goal gave the home club a 1-0 lead at 19:08.

Early in the second period, after a shift that featured a series of turnovers in the Bears defensive zone, Bran DeFazio was allowed to walk out from the goal line and backhanded a shortside shot behind Sabourin at 7:42. DeFazio’s goal would be the only goal allowed in the contest on which you could remotely fault Sabourin.

Immediately after the DeFazio goal, Bears’ head coach Mark French elected to use his timeout in an effort to settle down his troops. After their impromptu meeting, the boys from Hershey promptly went into battle mode and responded with a goal by Kyle Greentree at 10:20.

In the seconds leading up to the marker, Greentree and his linemates, Boyd Kane and Mike Carman, had a strong shift, controlling and cycling the puck along the boards in the WBS zone with each member of the unit touching the puck. Eventually, the biscuit made its way to the point where defenseman Patrick McNeill launched a slapshot that Greentree redirected from high in the slot to get the Bears on the board at 10:20.

“We did a good job getting some chances (on that shift),” said Greentree. “Patty got a good shot off, and I got a stick on it.”

Forty-one seconds later, with the Bears on a power play, Greentree was goal-getting again when he took advantage of a turnover by Pens’ netminder Brad Thiessen to tie the game at two at 11:01. Early in the advantage, a Bears player lofted the puck high into air in the direction of the crease from along the boards where WBS goaltender Brad Thiessen tried to steer it out of harm’s way; unfortunately for Thiessen, he cleared it right onto the stick of Greentree who promptly deposited it into his net.

“It was just a dump-in that came off his right pad, and I was just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time,” said Greentree.

The Bears had a couple of short 5-on-3 manpower advantages late in the middle session, but the Pens held them at bay which resulted in a tied game entering the third period.

Midway through the third period, the Pens had a 5-on-3 of their own for 1:38 due to a Kevin Marshall cross-checking penalty, but thanks to some strong penalty killing, particularly from Andrew Carroll, the Bears weathered the storm and allowed only one shot on goal during the sequence.

Another undisciplined penalty by Marshall later in the third period gave the home club a conventional 5-on-4 power play. Just under a minute into Marhall’s sentence, Ben Street sliced in front of Sabourin and tickled the twine to give the Pens the eventual game-winning goal at 13:58.

Nick Petersen’s empty-net power-play goal at 19:44, with Sabourin on the bench for an extra attacker and Chris Bourque in the penalty box, finished out the game’s scoring.

In the end, the Bears proved that they could play toe-to-toe with the Pens in the Pens’ barn, but after the game, Greentree was unsure if that was a positive that could be taken from the loss.

"I guess if you look at it that way, we played some good hockey here and there tonight. It was 2-2 going into the third, and then something that we didn’t want happened. But this time of year, we want to make sure that regardless of who we have in the lineup we’re getting the job done. They’ve got injuries and we do too, so we can’t make excuses, and we’ve just got to worry about what’s going on in our own dressing room.”