By: John Sparenberg JSHEYNOW@comcast.net
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.