Hershey on Brink of Calder Cup
On Tuesday night the Hershey Bears will attempt to do something that has not happened in Chocolate Town in 29 years – win a Calder Cup on their home ice. At 7pm at an already sold out Giant Center Coach Bob Woods’ team will have the opportunity to knock off the Manitoba Moose in 5 games and avoid a long trip back to Winnipeg for games 6 and 7. Based on what I saw on Sunday night, I would say the odds are good that the Bears will finish off the Moose on Tuesday.
Hershey has a better and more mobile defense and given the input I received from some NHL pro scouts, who mentioned that the Moose typically play to try to win the 2-1 type of game, if the Bears skate like they did the first 50 or so minutes of game four they will be victorious. It wasn’t until Hershey took the lead that Manitoba “got off their heels” as head coach Scott Arniel described it and started playing their game. The Moose furiously tried to tie up game four over the last 8 minutes and totally dominated the play in that stretch but I really doubt they can keep that type of intensity up for anywhere close to 60 minutes, yet alone a single period.
Manitoba relies heavily on goalie Cory Schneider, who was outstanding in game four, but he may have to blank the Bears to give his team a chance to win game five and extend the series.
Interviews with John Carlson and Karl Alzner
As promised last night, I had the chance to interview defenseman John Carlson (along with John Keeley of On Frozen Blog) and then I also spent about five minutes with Karl Alzner after Sunday night’s win. Below are the transcripts from those interviews.
Interview with Carlson (Caps 2008 1st round draft pick, 27th overall)
WNST: Tell me what it is like playing in the AHL and the Calder Cup Finals
Carlson: It’s a great opportunity and to be placed in a situation like this, it is unbelievable. Some guys play their whole careers and never get a chance like this. I’m 19 and I’m getting a chance to be thrown in with these guys. The organization, the players, and the coaches have all been great to me so you couldn’t ask for anything more.
WNST: Tell me a little bit about what you’ve learned since I saw you last September and how you’ve been able to take your game to the next level because this is a big jump going from a first round pick in last year’s draft to playing in the playoffs in the AHL.
Carlson: Definitely, after training camp in Washington I just tried to do my best and take everything in from the coaches and worked all year. Basically in London I was trying to win a championship there and I wasn’t lucky enough to get a few bounces there but then I came here and was placed in a situation like this. I just worked on all of the small things really and just try to fine tune everything.
WNST: When you and I talked last summer you said defense was the thing you needed to improve the most. You have definitely improved from what I’ve seen and heard. Who worked with you and how did you get so much better?
Carlson: I just think the coaching staff when I left Washington had a few words to say to me and obviously playing for Dale Hunter and Pat Curcio up in London they really helped me out. Basically practice makes perfect and I had a great team there so playing against those great players helped me all year and there is a lot of good competition up there so that would do it for me.
ON FROZEN BLOG: You are aware of who is here from Washington up in the box watching you – the head coach of the Capitals (Bruce Boudreau), the General Manager (George McPhee) -this weekend you’ve seemed to have made a statement to the whole organization about where you see yourself in September.
Carlson: Yeah, I mean I don’t know, I just try to tune that stuff out. It was nice playing this year without anyone really watching me and get kind of relaxed but I’ve just been trying to contribute here every game, every chance I get, and try not to think about it.
ON FROZEN BLOG: Have you had a chance to talk with Coach Hunter since you’ve arrived here? Has he been able to follow you?
Carlson: Yeah, a little bit, I don’t think the games are televised up there but I talked to him a bit before I left and keep up with him. He basically says the same thing every time – just keep working hard and doing the right things and things will go your way.
WNST: So you got to go up against really good players in practice in John Tavares (likely top pick in 2009 NHL Entry Draft) and Nazrem Kadri (likely top 10 in 2009 NHL Entry Draft) and then you had to go against Windsor who had guys like Greg Nemisz (Calgary’s 2008 1st round draft pick). How do you measure yourself up with those guys? Some of them are going to be high picks or were drafted in the first round.
Carlson: I like to think that I played my game with confidence and I think that is one of my biggest attributes so obviously I think I can play with those guys and I think that I can defend them and chip in and contribute on the offensive end too. So yeah, it was a great series with Windsor (won the OHL title and the Memorial Cup), you never know what could have happened if we got a few bounces with five games in OT. But you can’t really look at it now, I’m just happy to be here and be able to try and win a championship.
Interview with Alzner (Caps 2007 1st round draft pick, 5th overall)
WNST: Give me a synopsis of what has happened since you got sent down, the injury [a concussion], and what you’ve been working on.
Alzner: Well I had one pre-game skate and a game to work on not that much, didn’t really get to do anything that I needed to, that I wanted to and then the third period of the game [Game 4 of Wilkes-Barre Scranton series] I got hit funny and I’ve been out for just over 4 weeks and I was kind of up and down, feeling good, then got set back, feeling good, then got set back again. So it was a little bit longer than I would have hoped. But I got to play yesterday and it felt nice to be out on the ice and feel nice in between shifts, at the end of shifts and not be tired and all that. I’m a little bit nervous here and there when I’m going into the corners and stuff like that. I don’t want to test my head out too much but it feels good now and I got a lot of testing on it today.
WNST: Yes, I remember a sequence in the second period along the right wing boards where you took a good shot and went down.
Alzner: He kind of drove my back, head, and neck into the boards but it wasn’t that hard. I think he probably let up a little bit. It is sore in my neck but it will go away in a day or two, I hope.
WNST: Where are you improving and what are you working on in this playoff atmosphere?
Alzner: I’m just trying to stay calm under the pressure. Obviously I feel pressure to help out the team. I get put out in some key situations so I don’t ever want to mess up. I want to make sure that I am still relaxed with the puck and not just throwing it away. There are times when you have to throw it away but making some plays, I thought today I was pretty good at that. I was making some passes that I normally wouldn’t make like backhands through the middle but they are working out and that is all I work on in practices and making sure I can use all of the skills because if you only work on some things here and there it will make it tougher to be an impact player.
WNST: You have been on winning team’s before, you were captain of Canada’s gold medal winning world junior team, and now you are on the verge of winning something again. Do the guys come to you ask you anything or do you say anything to the guys about this is what you have to do to finish?
Alzner: No one has come to me and asked me because I am just a younger guy and this is different because the team we had there we only had to play 7 games and this is a little bit different. I’ve never had the opportunity to go this far so it is a new scenario for me. So I got to look to other guys that have won the Cup before and I talk to Bourqie (Chris Bourque) quite a bit about it. I just kind of see how everything was and how the crowd is and all of that stuff and it kind of lets me know how to handle it. So it is good to have a roommate like that.
WNST: You guys controlled the play for most of the game on Sunday outside of the last 8 minutes. You had a lot of chances, you got chance after chance for quite awhile without scoring. What was the mood like on the bench?
Alzner: You know what, that is the thing about the team right now is we are not getting down and that is a big thing. We would get down quite a bit during the season cause I think we started out so hot and we were used to scoring goals all of the time but when we wouldn’t score goals some guys would start to get distracted and their energy level just kind of went down the drain a little bit. But now it is a completely different team and everybody is up all game. It doesn’t matter if we are up or down so it is good and that is the way that we have to play the next game because that is the big one and I know what is like to be in that position (Manitoba’s), on the brink right there. You get a goal scored against you early and it is tough to keep your team up so I’m hoping we can do that to them.