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Bears Win Game 1, 4-2 (Updated with Quotes)

Posted on 12 May 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Hershey Bears defeated the Manchester Monarchs, 4-2, in game 1 of the AHL Eastern Conference Finals at the Giant Center on Wednesday night. Bears goalie Michal Neuvirth stopped 24 shots, including three breakaways, en route to his seventh straight playoff victory this post season. #30 was the Calder Cup winning net minder last season for the Bears and looks capable of duplicating that feat again this spring. Here are the period by period highlights and analysis followed by some post game quotes and thoughts:

End of 1st Period: Bears 2, Monarchs 0

So much for the nearly two week layoff hurting Hershey! The Bears came out flying scoring just 16 seconds in on a Sean Collins point blast with assists from Chris Bourque and Mathieu Perreault. Then after a poor power play by Hershey, plagued by two Alexandre Giroux giveaways, the Monarchs received a man advantage but Neuvirth stood tall. The shots were 5-2 Manchester after the Bears penalty kill, but then Hershey turned it up. When the Bears received their second power play they made the Monarchs pay as Keith Aucoin sent a nice cross ice pass to Giroux, who one timed it on Jonathan Bernier. The Kings 2006 1st round pick (#11 overall) gave up a huge rebound into the slot and Andrew Gordon banged it home to make it 2-0. Hershey would dominate the rest of the stanza, outshooting the Monarchs 13-7. Bourque had a super period and was all over the ice. Steve Pinizzotto and Kyle Clifford had a spirited bout by the benches late in the period and both received five minutes for fighting.

End of 2nd Period: Bears 3, Monarchs 0

The Monarchs came out with much more energy and a solid forecheck to start period two but they could not solve the Bears defense. Both Karl Alzner and Patrick Wellar made separate solid defensive plays to break up any scoring chances and when Manchester did get shots through, Neuvirth (15 saves so far through two periods) was there for Hershey. With just under 14 minutes left in period two the Bears started taking over again and just past the game’s midway point Pinizzotto made a great play in the neutral zone to steal the puck, then went around the Monarchs defender and skated in two on one on Bernier. “Pinner” froze the Manchester goalie and beat him up high, short side to make it 3-0. The visitors then got a golden opportunity to get on the board as Hershey got caught in a bad change allowing Andrei Loktionov to get a clean breakaway on #30. Neuvy, however, stopped him with a super pad save. The Bears had a late 5 on 3 power play for 22 seconds but could not convert. Lots of guys are standing out for Hershey tonight including the Alzner-John Carlson pairing plus Bourque, Perreault, and the physical impact Pinizzotto is bringing to this tilt (not to mention his highlight reel tally). Shots are 22-15 Bears after two.

End of Period 3: Bears 4, Monarchs 2

Hershey played a sloppy 3rd period but managed to hold on for the victory. Neuvirth stopped Bud Holloway on a shorthanded breakaway to keep it 3-0 after Carlson was caught at the left point. #30 then gave up a softie to Loktionov from lower right circle to make it 3-1 with 7:28 remaining. Less than two minutes later Boyd Kane stole the puck in the neutral zone, waited patiently while Alzner jumped up into the play, fed King Karl with a nice pass when #7 opened up, and then Alzner beat Bernier blocker side to make it 4-1 with 5:42 remaining. The Monarchs would add a goal from Gabe Gauthier off a good Oscar Moller pass to make it 4-2 with 3:50 remaining. Gauthier was left all alone in front of Neuvrith for some reason. With 2:35 to go Collins was sent off for cross checking but the Monarchs surprisingly didn’t pull Bernier until the last minute allowing the Bears to close the deal.

All in all it was a good effort from Hershey in their first tilt in 13 days to get a big win to open this series. They were sloppy, at times in the third period, and the power play needs to take more advantage of its opportunities (1 for 5) but overall Hershey looks like the better club. Many of the players stated afterwards that they were excited to finally play again and that is why they had such a good start. However, they pointed out that in the third period they lost their legs and as a result the Monarchs outshot them 11-6. The final shots tally was 28-26 in favor of the Bears.

The official three stars for the contest were Pinizzotto, Neuvirth, and Bourque. It is hard to argue with those selections but Alzner also stood out along with Carlson. In addition, forward Andrew Joudrey played a very nice game going +2 and he was excellent killing penalties (Manchester went 0 for 3). Kane (1 assist, +2) performed well assisting on Alzner’s goal and he was also the other forward on Pinizzotto’s two on one break in which #13 shot the puck to notch the third Bears goal.

Here are some more thoughts and quotes on the Bears victory:

Neuvirth outdueled Bernier and #30 credited his success on the breakaways to some extra practice work.

“You know I took over 50 breakaways yesterday at our practice. Maybe I was right to get the extra work on the breakaways. I am glad I did it. I was perfect on the breakaways,” added the 22 year old Czech goalie.

Alzner was also very complimentary of his goaltender.

“We talked about [the three breakaways], he’s unbelievable. He’s good in practice when we go against him and you could tell he was on today. He was sliding over at the right time and he was staying square to the puck. It was exactly what we needed from him. We don’t want to do that anymore but it is nice when he comes up big,” said the captain of the 2008 Canadian World Junior Championship squad.

Neuvirth did a good job of not commiting first on the breakaways and he was solid all game. The first tally on him was from a bad angle and could be considered soft but he clearly did not see it.

“I don’t even know where it went through. Archie [goalie coach Arturs Irbe] told me it went short side under the glove but I got to get those and make sure I stop them on Saturday night,” added #30.

As I mentioned, Alzner and Carlson were so dominant and there were numerous shifts where they just appeared to be at another level than the others on the ice. Carlson, who was super down the stretch with the Caps, seems to be even more aggressive in the AHL when paired with King Karl and there were several instances where he was almost like a fourth forward on the ice as he helped create lots of offensive chances for Hershey. It is ironic though, that on one of the rare occassions when Alzner jumped up in the play, the Bears scored. 

“We don’t talk too much about jumping into the play or anything like that. If he has a chance, I know he is going to go. If I have a chance I’m going to go but I’m going to make sure I let him know to stay back because I’ve found that I’ve learned alot from him this year on just getting my timing better on jumping into the play. So when he was [in Washington] that is what I was doing a lot more. We just have to watch each other because [Manchester] has a great transition game,” said #7 on how he and Carlson handle adding offense from the blue line.

Manchester clearly appears to be the weaker team but Alzner was quick to point out that he thinks the Monarchs are dangerous and there are things Hershey will have to do to continue to be successful in this series.

“Once they get into the swing I’m sure they are going to be cycling real well. They got a lot of guys that can move and can play really well one on one. So we have to be careful that we are not over-commiting.  I know that there were a few times when I went in for a hit and they stepped around me, so we just have to be careful down low and keep the pucks on them,” finished #7 on what he sees are areas for improvement in game two on Saturday night at 7pm at the Giant Center.

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Hershey Wins 11th Straight to tie Club Record

Posted on 09 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Hershey Bears returned to Winnipeg Friday night for the first time since last June, when they knocked off the Manitoba Moose in game 6 to win the Calder Cup AHL Championship, with a 10 game winning streak on the line. Well, it took 7 rounds in the shootout but the Chocolate & White prevailed with a 2-1 exciting victory to make it 11 straight. Hershey goes for a club record 12 wins in a row on Saturday night against the same Moose team.

The first period started with both teams feeling each other out and it wasn’t until about 7 minutes into this one that the first shot on net occurred. For the next several minutes the Bears would dominate and Canucks hot goalie prospect, Cory Schneider, made some very good saves on Keith Aucoin and Chris Bourque. It wasn’t until the Moose received a late power play that they got something going. Braden Holtby made solid glove saves on Michael Grabner from the top of the left circle and then a deflected point blast by former Montreal d-man, Mathieu Schneider, to keep this one scoreless after the opening stanza. Shots were 8-6 in favor of Hershey after one period.

The second period started with a bang for the Bears as Keith Aucion did a super job of tipping the puck to Alexandre Giroux on the left wing at the offensive blue line and #12 then slid the puck directly across the slot to Andrew Gordon, who quickly buried it by Schneider top shelf just 13 seconds in. The teams would trade chances with both goalies making good saves but the Moose would finally get on the board when Bryan Helmer badly misplayed the puck and former Cap Matt Pettinger jumped on it in the neutral zone. Pettinger would go in alone on Holtby and beat him five hole to tie things up.  Shorlty thereafter defenseman Karl Alzner, who was just sent back to the Bears after 14 games with the Caps, sprung Mathieu Perreault in on a semi-breakaway but Schneider denied him. However, the zebras awarded Perreault with a penalty shot in what looked to me like a two minute minor. The 2006 6th round draft pick of the Capitals would make a nice move to the backhand but he didn’t get the puck up and Schneider flashed the left pad to stop him. After two periods the Bears had a slight 22-20 shots advantage.

Period three saw more back and forth action with the Moose getting the only power play of the final stanza when Holtby shot the puck over the glass. But the Bears penalty killing unit was solid and the game remained tied. In the final five minutes Hershey had some good chances but Schneider, who had a stint in the NHL in 2008-09 when Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo was injured, stopped Giroux in close and then defenseman Patrick McNeill from the point. At the game’s end, Gordon almost won it for Hershey but a Moose defenseman batted his shot, that appeared to be heading in, to the corner with his glove.

In overtime, the action went 4 on 4 and it was exciting end to end hockey. The best chance went to Greg Amadio who found himself all alone with Schneider but he could not beat him and off to the shootout this one went. Kyle Wilson, Giroux, and Francois Bouchard scored for the Bears on their first 5 attempts while the Moose answered with 3 of their own. Marty Murray of Manitoba actually had a chance to win it in the bottom of the 5th and he tried a backhand move that had beaten Holtby a couple of times before but #1 made a sparkling glove save. John “Game Over” Carlson then missed and Holtby got even with Pettinger stopping him to keep it going. Then Gordon, who had the only Bears goal in in regulation, went top shelf to put the pressure on Manitoba. When Matt Pope went in and was stopped by Holtby, Bears announcer John Walton let loose with his signature “Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening Manitoba!” and the winning streak is still alive.

Here are some thoughts and analysis on this one:

Holtby (30 saves) was the game’s #1 star and he played well against a veteran Moose team. The Caps 2008 4th round pick in the NHL draft was very positionally sound, controlled his rebounds, and was only beaten on breakaways. He gave up the regulation goal to Pettinger and then the first two shootout tallies via similar backhand moves but credit the younsgter for adjusting and stopping that move later in the shootout when the game was on the line. GM George McPhee has to be proud of the way this young goalie is developing.

The Alzner-Carlson defensive pair was simply dominant. When they were on the ice the Caps Bears seemed to control the puck the whole time much like the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings used to do. Manitoba has a veteran team with former NHLers in Pettinger, Mike Keane, and Marty Murray so it is not like they were facing a bunch of young guys they have already dominated in junior hockey. I have a hard time not seeing this pairing in the NHL next season for Washington.

Blue liner Schneider, who was waived by the Canucks on December 29th and will turn 40 this June, seemed like he was on the ice all night. They don’t keep ice times in the AHL but he had to play at least 30 minutes in regulation alone. I guess the Canucks don’t have much in the AHL they are trying to develop because the 1993 Stanley Cup winner with the Habs ate up a lot of playing time that could have gone to potential d-man prospects. Defenseman Evan Oberg is on recall to Vancouver with Kevin Bieska out three months due to severed ankle tendons.

Goalie Schneider (33 saves) was the game’s second star and he will turn 24 in March. He would likely be in the NHL if not for Luongo. I have seen him play Hershey three times now and he has been really good in every game. I can’t help but think some other NHL team would want him to be their starter because he looks better to me than some guys I’ve seen on other clubs.

Up front for Hershey, I saw what I expected, alot of jump from Chris Bourque, but he did make a bad giveaway in front of his own net, some good grinding by Steve Pinizzotto, energy and scoring chances from Aucion and Gordon, good hands and passing by the slower Giroux, and a nice skating game from Perreault, although Mathieu did not play as well as I had hoped he would. Noone stood out but when you score only one goal that is to be expected.

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Caps Assign Six Players to Hershey / Roster Analysis (Updated)

Posted on 22 September 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have assigned the following 6 players to the Hershey Bears this afternoon:

Goalie Jason Bacashihua

Defensemen Patrick McNeill and John Carlson

Forwards Andrew Joudrey, Francois Bouchard, and Steve Pinizzotto

That leaves the following players on the Washington Capitals main roster at this point in time:

Goalies (3): Jose Theodore, Michal Neuvirth, and Semyon Varlamov

Defensemen (10): Mike Green, Tom Poti, John Erskine, Karl Alzner, Shaone Morrisonn, Jeff Schultz, Sean Collins, Brian Pothier, Tyler Sloan, and Sean Collins

Forwards (23): Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble, Brendan Morrison, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann, Dave Steckel, Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, Eric Fehr, Chris Clark, Michael Nylander, Keith Aucoin, Jay Beagle, Chris Bourque, Alexandre Giroux, Andrew Gordon, Quintin Laing, Oskar Osala, Matthieu Perreault, Brandon Sugden, and Kyle Wilson

COMMENT: 2008 1st round pick John Carlson will be in the NHL, health permitting, some day but because of the log jam the Caps have on defense, Carlson’s age (only 19), and the ability for Washington to get him more seasoning at the AHL level without exposing him to waivers makes this the right move for a young man who has a very bright future.


Now that you’ve seen who is left on the roster with three pre-season games to go for the Caps, I thought I would take a stab at who I think will be on the final roster, something that only GM George McPhee and Coach Bruce Boudreau really know at this point (and that could change based on the play of some players in the next three games, injuries, trades, etc.)

First, let’s take a look at a very good high level synopsis of where this competition stands by reading JP’s post on Japers Rink today. I really like this summary and agree that these are the guys who are the favorites in the running for making the opening night Caps roster, especially with Fleischmann out due to a blood clot until at least mid-October and Fehr still not cleared to play.

Here are who I see as locks to make the team, barring an injury or a trade:

Goalie: Theodore

Defense: Green, Poti, Erskine, Pothier, S. Morrisonn

Forwards: Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Knuble, B. Morrison, Laich, Clark, Steckel, Bradley, B. Gordon

This leaves a goalie, two defensemen, and likely three forwards to fill out 22 spots (the team could chose to go to 23 players but I’m assuming they will just keep 1 extra d-man and forward until Fehr comes back).

In net, I would be shocked if Varlamov is not the other goalie with Neuvirth going to Hershey. So I see that one as an easy choice.

On defense, that leaves Jurcina, Schultz, Collins, Sloan, and Alzner vying for two spots. I can’t see it not being Jurcina and Schultz  and to me they are almost locks because neither one of them can be sent to Hershey without having to pass through waivers. Although, based on info from the Caps outstanding PR department, Collins and Sloan would have to pass through waivers as well before being able to play in Hershey so they carry some risk factor too. Alzner has a higher salary cap figure yet still can go to the Bears, so because he has not “wowed” the coaches to this point I see him starting in the AHL. Sloan seemed to be the call up of choice last season for two reasons – he is more physical than Alzner and more importantly, much cheaper in terms of salary cap dollars. But remember that McPhee told me on media day that Washington will have more flexibility with the salary cap this year compared to 2008-09. I don’t think the Caps want to lose any of these players because as we saw last year, injuries will happen and you need depth on defense. So I see GMGM trying to get Collins and Sloan through waivers and going to Hershey, sending Alzner down as well with no risk of losing him, and keeping #23 and #55. However, I am a bit worried that someone may try and claim Sloan, who showed he can play at the NHL level, when needed, last season.

Now it gets fun and very challenging when trying to be pick the remaining three forwards. For some reason I have a strong hunch that if he stays healthy Quintin Laing will make the team. This team is loaded with talent and skill so I see the remaining three spots going to guys who can play a role and Laing fits that mold with his great shot blocking ability and superb penalty killing skills. So I am penciling him in and that leaves two more spots until Fehr and Fleischmann come back. One of the biggest factors in this is what to do with Nylander, who has a no movement clause. #92 may just have to make the team unless McPhee can find him a trade (unlikely given his salary) or he signs in Europe (reports from some in the press box last night were that the Europe scenario might be dead because of the money Nylander wants – after all, he can sit in DC as a healthy scratch and collect $5.5M this season). If Nylander is on the roster, and I am having a hard time finding a scenario where he isn’t simply because of his contract, then that leaves one spot remaining. Bourque missed practice today after taking a hard hit in last night’s game so that may hurt his chances, although Boudreau seems to really like the scrappy forward. Aucion notched a goal and played well towards the end of last season with the Caps but I see him as more of a stop gap at center should Morrison get injured. Beagle is reportedly a Boudreau favorite and had he not been injured last season would have likely been in DC for more stints in 2008-09. Giroux, as I have written before, just doesn’t have the skating ability to play in the NHL so I see him Hershey bound, for sure. Again, I go back to the need to fit a role and that is where I think Beagle has the edge, the Caps don’t have an enforcer on the roster but they do have Bradley and Erskine and keeping Beagle gives them another guy with some size and toughness plus he is good on face-offs. So my guess, at this point, and barring no more injuries or trades is the Caps keep Laing, Beagle, and Nylander.

Feel free to add who you think McPhee and Boudreau will choose or any other thoughts in the comments section.

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Caps News: Veterans Skate and Day 1 of Rookie Camp

Posted on 07 September 2009 by Ed Frankovic

There was quite a bit of activity for the Washington Capitals on Labor Day, the first official day of the 2009-10 season, at Kettler IcePlex in Ballston, Virginia. After the rookies were on the ice in the morning, which we will get to in a couple of paragraphs, 13 veteran skaters, rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth, and the Caps website producer, goalie Brett “Stretch” Leonhardt, took the rink over for some action. The skaters participating were Mike Green, Mike Knuble, Chris Clark, Matt Bradley, Brendan Morrison, Brooks Laich, Boyd Gordon, John Erskine, Shaone Morrisonn, Jeff Schultz, Dave Steckel, Brian Pothier and Jay Beagle.

The players did a number of drills, conducted a half ice scrimmage, and then finished with some skating sprints. Of note was the condition of Green, who appears to be in phenomenal shape. Green struggled down the stretch and into the playoffs last season with an illness and a bum shoulder but he showed no effects of any of that on Monday. #52 participated recently in August in a try out for the Canadian Olympic team, and although he might not make a squad that is predicted to capture the gold medal in Vancouver in February (that is what my sources tell me unless there is an injury or two), the camp clearly helped Green get ready to build on his monster 31 goal, 73 point (in just 68 games) 2008-09 season.

Now to the rookies, who hit the ice today for their opening session of training camp. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was eager to get things going and afterwards quickly summed up his mood and the tone for this camp.

“This is exciting, it is day one, but it is what we do, vacation is over…let’s get back to work.”

And work the team he did, putting them through some very tough suicides at the end of practice that apparently had some rookies struggling to finish. Boudreau felt this end of practice session was an opportunity to see where the younger players were conditioning wise.

“I think [the skate today at the end] is a good test, a good barometer. Every coach has some sort of barometer to see who has worked hard this summer and who took it easier than they should have. Most of our guys were really good with it and a couple of the guys who were late additions probably hadn’t skated as much – you could tell those guys from the guys who knew that they were coming to this camp,” said Boudreau.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, this team has a lot of depth and Boudreau was anxious to talk about it and the impact he sees it having on training camp.

“We think we’ve got tremendous depth. We think the Hershey guys that won the [Calder] Cup last year are going to push these guys really hard. They’ve won the Cup and now they want to make the next step, the NHL. I’ve said this before if you look at the history of teams that won the Calder Cup they always have 4 or 5 guys playing in the NHL in the next year or year and a half, at least,” started the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner, “We’ve got 3 good goalies, 11 NHL caliber defensemen, a multitude of forwards who are ready to make the step and I think there are battles all over the ice, which will make for good stories everywhere.”

Boudreau was asked about goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who played very well last post season, and appears ready to challenge for the number one goalie job.

“I think he looked great. Neuvirth [who was out with the veterans in the afternoon] will be in tomorrow. We are just switching both goalies up each day to get them work since [rookie goalie Braden] Holtby is here as well,” said Boudreau on #40’s first day performance before the conversation turned a little bit light hearted, “you know, he speaks English now…I was really surprised, that is a testament to how bad he wants to be in North America to take the language and learn it as quick as he did. I know I couldn’t do it the other way around…when the goalies are smart it scares me,” finished a laughing Boudreau.

A big topic of conversation was Washington 2008 first round draft pick, John Carlson, who made the jump from the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League to being a significant contributor on the Hershey team that won the Calder Cup in June. Carlson continues to impress with his play and professionalism at the young age of 19.

“You know he’ s worked hard because that was a pretty tough skate at the end and he was easily the one that lasted the longest, all the time. He’s ready to put a push on to make this club,” said Boudreau on Carlson, who if he does not make the Caps can go down to the AHL in Hershey and play instead of London since he was a United States Hockey League (USHL) draftee.

Corey Masisak of the Washington Times and I caught up with Carlson after practice and here are some of the things we discussed with him and his answers:

On the USA World Juniors Camp he attended in Lake Placid back in August:

Carlson – “It was good. I saw alot of old buddies so that was fun and we stayed at the Olympic training facility, which is a first class place so it was a good way to jump start my training being on the ice once or twice a day for nine or ten days. When I got back I had that base and could really start to work more. ”

On if he is more ready for training camp this year than last year:

Carlson – “I didn’t know what to expect and I still really don’t know what to expect but the experience I had in Hershey is going to make me feel a lot more comfortable with learning the systems. Every day I am just going to come in and do my best and try and make an impression and wherever I end up that is the right place for me. ”

Is he focused on making the Caps?:

Carlson – “Obviously when you come into camp your goal is to make the team and it has been a dream of mine to play in the NHL ever since I was 3. It would be a dream come true but I try not to think about that too much. I’m just worried about making an impression day by day.”

Who did he work out with during the summer to prepare for the season?:

Carlson – “Off ice I trained with Rob Schremp (Oilers), Sam Gagner (Oilers), some of the older guys from the [London] Knights this year in Matt Clark and Phil McRae, and when we got on the ice Andy McDonald (Blues), Corey Perry (Ducks), Brian Campbell (BlackHawks), and Drew Doughty (Kings).”

How is the US world junior team going to do this winter?:

Carlson – “They’ve got a good team, it was a good camp, and it was competitive.”

How did you feel about not getting picked for the US World Junior team last season?:

Carlson – “I was disappointed but when you play hockey that kind of stuff happens so I tried not to think about it and just focus on my season and maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t go there. Who knows?”

I also had a chance to catch up with 21 year old Michael Dubuc, who had 35 goals in 49 regular season games for the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) Kelly Cup Champion South Carolina Stingrays. Dubuc impressed me at the July 2008 Caps Development Camp and performed well again in this year’s development camp scoring a lot of goals.

WNST: So is your goal to make the Hershey roster permanently this year?

Dubuc – “Of course, it has got to be, I got cut last year and I needed last year to learn a lot about my game to play at the next level and hopefully I learned a lot of stuff. I am still working on it and the coaches are here to help me work on those things. On my part I had to work hard in the summer to get stronger and faster on the ice. I am going to give it my all to make the Hershey roster this year.”

WNST: You missed some games last season, didn’t you?

“I got hurt twice last year, both times in practice, and it was really unlucky. I ran into a guy in practice and got a concussion one month before the playoffs so that is why I missed some games in the playoffs because I completely lost my game feeling. I played the last two games [of the ECHL finals] and to win a championship, to win the Kelly Cup, as a first year pro it was unbelievable and when we scored that empty net and you’ve been through the whole year with those guys and all of the hard practices you just feel the achievement and there is a smile on everyone’s faces and it is amazing.”

WNST: Is “natural goal scorer” an accurate description of you?

Dubuc – “It is, but everyone in Washington knows that so I have to work on other things. It is fun to score goals but if I work hard it will come. Like you said it is natural but I have to work hard on other things to make it as a hockey player at a higher level. I talked to Bruce [Boudreau] outside and he said ‘Just work hard, you know what you have to do. We know that you can score, keep doing that, but try to get better and keep working hard.’ That is what I am going to do this camp and then Hershey’s camp and hopefully I can get a spot in Hershey, that is what I worked hard for all summer.”

News and Notes: The Caps convention set for September 26th at National Harbor is completely sold out…2005 first round draft pick Joe Finley, who was recently switched from defense to forward, left practice early today. “He said something was going to be sore…which is too bad because he was looking really good. I’d rather have him healthy and ready to go for the rest of camp than ruin him by trying to show something on the first day and hurt a groin or hip flexor or something,” said Boudreau…The Coach has a new weekly blog at WashingtonCaps.com, titled Behind the Bench, “It is something I wanted to do. We did it in Manchester. Washington hockey is pretty hot right now so we want to keep it that way,” added Boudreau….For those of you who are concerned about Washington’s salary cap situation, the team does not have to be under the $56.8M figure until the first game of the season, which is Thursday, October 1st, in Boston. It is not clear where they stand right now but by my calculations they are slightly under, but the only guys who really know for sure are GM George McPhee and Assistant GM/team salary cap guru Don Fishman.

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CAPS and BEARS NEWS: Busy Day at Development Camp

Posted on 14 July 2009 by Ed Frankovic

It was a very busy day at Kettler Ice Plex today as the Washington Capitals opened up their 2009 summer development camp with two different groups of skaters hitting the ice in the morning and afternoon and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau running the players through several drills. But more on that in a moment as we have some house keeping to take care of first.

Mark French has been promoted from assistant coach of the Hershey Bears to head coach effective today. In addition, French will have a new assistant coach in Troy Mann. Basically the Capitals continued their trend of promoting from within, something that GM George McPhee says has been working well for the organization in recent years. We in the media had a chance to talk with McPhee, French, and Mann about the coaching changes and here are some of the highlights:

McPhee stated that they were leaning towards promoting French to head coach in Hershey but they wanted to wait to get through the draft and free agency before announcing the move.

– French was clearly ecstatic about coaching the Bears calling Hershey “an institution” and reiterating that the organization’s philosophy is “winning is a part of the development process.” French said the biggest change for him will be the media requirements that come with the job and that his ultimate goal is to coach in the NHL. The new Bears coach also said he will have a daily one on one dialogue with Boudreau, similar to what Woods and “Gabby” had done since the 2007-08 Jack Adams Trophy winner took over as Washington head coach.

– Mann apparently has relationships with Boudreau and assistant coach Bob Woods that go back to the 90’s and French said he was recommended by both of them. He hasn’t been an assistant coach since the 2005-06 season so this will be an adjustment for the man who has six years of coaching experience. He also noted that he coached against the Caps ECHL team, the South Carolina Stingrays, numerous times this past season and to win in those leagues you have to have “good contract players” meaning players signed and being developed by the parent club. Mann mentioned that it is clear to him that Washington is very focused on supplying the best players at all levels of their organization. He also said that he had an opportunity to join Woods in 2007, who was named  Hershey head coach when Boudreau was promoted to the Capitals, but that he couldn’t pull it off contractually or from a family stanpoint. Mann also had good things to say about forward Michael Dubuc and thinks he has a good chance to make the Bears this season. He also seemed encouraged by the Boyd Kane acquisition.

In addition to the coaching news, McPhee announced late in the day that forward Boyd Gordon, a grinder and penalty killing specialist who was drafted by the Caps in the first round of the 2002 NHL entry draft, has accepted his qualifying offer and will return to the team for the 2009-10 season. Also, according to Tarik, Shaone Morrisonn, Eric Fehr, and Jeff Schultz have until July 15th to sign their offers. Defenseman Milan Jurcina, a restricted free agent, has filed for arbitration.

Now back to day one of the development camp. There were a few guys who really stood out today, the first being Washington 2008 first round pick (27th overall), defenseman John Carlson. Carlson, who played in London of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) last season until they were eliminated in the playoffs by Windsor, played a prominent role in the Hershey Calder Cup run (he received top 4 d-level ice time). Clearly he was still in good shape today and Boudreau raved about him afterwards. When I asked the coach what he thought about Carlson being asked to come try out for the US Junior National Team this August in Lake Placid he responded with “He should have been on that team last year.” Carlson also seemed a bit perturbed that he wasn’t selected last December as well when we spoke with him after practice. The young man from New Jersey says his goal is to make the Caps in training camp. He sure seems to have a bright future.

Another player who caught my attention was forward Mathieu Perreault, who was taken in the 6th round of the 2006 NHL draft by the Caps. Perreault is very fast and unfortunately is still the same size as he was last summer but the young center, who played very well with Chris Bourque and Jay Beagle in the Calder Cup finals, continues to progress and impress. In fact, when I asked Boudreau about him today he said that he could easily see the 2007-08 leading scorer of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) playing some games in Washington this season.

2008 first round draft pick (21st overall), Anton Gustafsson, had a solid day showing off his immense talent and skill, and more importantly, he did not get hurt despite going hard into the goal at one point as a result of a collision with defenseman Dmitri Orlov (Caps 2009 2nd round pick). The young Swede said he had not been on the ice since April, because they “melt them” once the big teams finish up in his home country. I watched Gustafsson so effectively play keep away from defenseman Patrick Wey (Caps 2009 4th round pick) on several occasions in one of the opening drills of the afternoon session that Wey had to take what would definitely be called a penalty (trip or hook) to get the puck away from Anton. Boudreau was happy to see Gustafsson finish the “suicide” skating drills at the end of the afternoon session, something he was unable to do last summer. In other news, the young man who said he also played soccer and golf growing up, wants to play in North America this year and he said if he has to go to Hershey to do that he is totally fine with it.

Other Notes: Orlov, who apparently doesn’t speak any English at all, has a rocket of a shot. He clearly has offensive skills but initially it looks like he will really need to work on his own end abilities. We got a chance to chat with goalie Braden Holtby (2008 4th round draft pick), who had a great season in Saskatoon this year and was able to practice with Hershey during their Calder Cup run, and he said he considers himself a “hybrid” goalie in that he relies a lot on his athletic ability but that he can butterfly as well. Holtby seems very smart and level-headed and said one of his big strengths is his ability to handle the puck and he pointed out that “it can really help your team if done properly like a Marty Turco or Martin Brodeur.” He also said he was rusty today and expects Caps goalie coach Dave Prior to be on him good to pick it up on Tuesday. I can’t put my finger on it but I really liked what I saw from defenseman Eric Mestery (2008 2nd round pick) on Monday. He just seemed to be in the right position in many of the drills so he was noticeable, which was good because I wasn’t particularly planning on focusing on him and there were a lot of guys out on the ice overall today. Defenseman Josh Godfrey did not skate today due to an injury situation.

Final note: Unfortunately due to my day job and a family trip to OC later in the week I won’t be able to get back to Kettler for the rest of this development camp. However, you can attend for free and see these young players for yourself. If you can’t make it and want to get more info you can check out the blogs from Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post, Corey Masisak of the Washington Times, and also go to Japers Rink, your one stop shop for Capitals hockey for other blogs on development camp.

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Caps Name New Assistant Coach: Hershey’s Bob Woods / NHL News

Posted on 23 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Name Assistant Coach

Washington Capitals Head Coach Bruce Boudreau’s named his new assistant coach on Monday and he is a very familiar name to the media and fans: Bob Woods. Woods is fresh off directing the Caps farm team, the Hershey Bears, to the 2008-09 Calder Cup. According to Boudreau, one of the main criteria in the selection was a former defenseman and since Woods is one and is very familiar with the d-men in the organization, especially young players Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson, it helped him a great deal. Also, the fact that he has worked with Boudreau before easily made him the front runner. This is Boudreau’s first chance to put his stamp on a coaching hire since he took over in November 2007. A new head coach in Hershey has not been named yet. Here is the official press release from the Caps:

The Washington Capitals have hired Bob Woods from the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Hershey Bears as an assistant coach, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today.

Woods, 41, served as Hershey’s head coach last season and guided the Bears to a Calder Cup championship in six games against the Manitoba Moose. He was an assistant coach with the Bears and helped current Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau lead the Bears to a Calder Cup title in 2006. Woods was appointed head coach of the Bears when Boudreau was hired by the Capitals on Nov. 22, 2007.

The Leroy, Saskatchewan, native compiled an 83-47-15 (W-L-OT) record in 145 regular season games with Hershey and was 17-10 in 27 Calder Cup playoff games. Prior to joining Hershey as an assistant coach for the 2005-06 season, Woods was the head coach of the ECHL’s Mississippi Sea Wolves from 2001-05 and compiled a 169-94-25 (W-L-T) regular-season record.

Woods was selected in the 10th round, 201st overall in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft by the New Jersey Devils. He played 13 seasons of professional hockey, including 10 in the ECHL and was a player/assistant coach with Mississippi from 1998-2001. He was a member of the 1999 Kelly Cup championship team that was coached by Boudreau. The 1998-99 season was the only year that Woods and Boudreau spent together in Mississippi.

He retired from competitive play after the 2001 season and at that time was the ECHL’s all-time leader in games played with 559 (record has since been broken). He also set an ECHL record on March 14, 1998, as a member of the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks when he fired 17 shots on goal against the Louisiana IceGators. Woods was named second team defenseman on the ECHL’s 15th anniversary team in 2003 and was also named second team defenseman on the Hockey News’ 50th anniversary All-ECHL team in 1997. He scored 176 points in 209 games with Mississippi and the Sea Wolves retired his number in October 2002.

Woods also played for Hampton Roads, Johnstown and Mobile in the ECHL and for Hershey, Portland and Utica in the AHL. He won the 1997 Calder Cup with Hershey, making him involved in the organization’s last three Calder Cups. He is the only player in Hershey’s 71-year history to win a Calder Cup as a player, assistant coach and head coach.

COMMENT: Having interviewed Woods on several occasions since last summer I think this is a good move. Boudreau should be able to bring in someone he is very comfortable working with since he inherited current assistant Dean Evason and former assistant coach Jay Leach. Woods is a very personable and sharp guy and the Caps need someone to help them with their defense, especially the young players. The fact that Woods won the Calder Cup this spring made it easier for him to leave and his goal was to get to the NHL and someday he hopes to be a head coach in the league.

Other Caps Tidbits

The NHL draft is this weekend in Montreal. Round 1 is on Friday night and will be shown on Versus starting at 7pm. Rounds 2-7 are on Saturday starting at 10am on the NHL Network. The Caps currently having the 24th pick in the first round. By the way, for a nice preview of the draft the Caps Media Relations website, Welcome to the Show, has a ton of information. So thanks to Nate Ewell, Paul Rovnak, and their staff for making it accessible to the media and fans.

Also, McPhee said today that he does not think the Caps will be participating in the Winter Classic on January 1, 2010 in Boston. Word has it that the Philadelphia Flyers will be chosen because NBC pushed for them instead of the Caps. The NHL apparently wanted Washington in the game because of the Alex Ovechkin factor – he draws lots of fan interest. Personally I think NBC is making a huge mistake choosing the Flyers over the Caps but the NHL has made a deal with the devil in NBC and are stuck with them.

NHL News

The Calgary Flames still have not named a head coach yet but all signs point to GM Darryl Sutter hiring his brother, Brent (coached the Devils the last two years), to take over for the fired Mike Keenan. I first brought you this scenario in this blog. While I think Sutter will do a good job, I believe the better hire for Calgary would be to go with Dave Tippett, the former Capitals player who was recently fired in Dallas by new GM Joe Nieuwendyk. I spoke with an NHL scout this week who is very familiar with Tippett and he says he is a good man and a good coach. If Calgary doesn’t hire the former Cap, and it looks like Brent Sutter is their man, some NHL team would be wise to snag him up. As much as I wouldn’t like to see this because he would contend with the Caps, Tippett would be a GREAT fit in New Jersey. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello is still without a head coach since Sutter resigned after New Jersey lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round. Former Devil player and current assistant coach John Maclean has been linked to the job by some media outlets.

Tippett made the playoffs in each of his first five seasons before missing this past year. He led the Stars to two division titles and took Dallas to the Western Conference Finals in 2007-08 before losing to Detroit. However, Tippett was stuck with having to deal with Sean Avery after co-GM’s Brett Hull and Les Jackson signed the whacky forward despite protests from Tippett and several top players including Mike Modano, Brendan Morrow, and Marty Turco. Avery, as everyone now knows and I warned about in this blog last summer, wrecked the Dallas locker room. Tippett not only had to deal with the Avery situation but also a season ending ACL injury to Morrow in November after the team captain only played 18 games plus the Brad Richards wrist injury in February. The Stars turned things around for awhile despite the distractions and injuries but ended up finishing in 12th place, eight points out of the playoffs. I think Nieuwendyk made a huge mistake by letting Tippett go. There will be a GM who will get smart and hire Tippett, at some point, and end up looking like a genius.

Back to the NHL draft, I still think the New York Islanders should take London Knights forward John Tavares with the first overall pick in the 2009 Entry draft on Friday night. The next two projected best players are defensemanVictor Hedman of Sweden and forward Matt Duchene of the Brampton Battalion. However, former Flames GM Craig Button (now with the NHL Network) believes the Isles should pick Hedman because New York needs a top defenseman to go up against guys like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Ovechkin on a regular basis. Another draft eligible defenseman that I really like is Spokane’s Jared Cowan, who won the Memorial Cup in 2008 and looked like a sure top five pick until he injured his knee last winter. Cowan is big (6′ 5″ and 220 lbs.) and could really skate before his knee injury so it will be interesting to see if he remains a high pick despite possible questions on his health.

This will be an interesting draft weekend as it seems to be one of the few times during the year that trades actually occur. I would not be surprised if McPhee makes a deal to get the Caps either a second line center or a physical defensemen. To me the bigger need right now is a second line center since Michael Nylander appears done and Sergei Fedorov is an unrestricted free agent. The Pittsburgh Penguins are loaded at center with Crosby, Malkin, and Jordan Staal so to compete with them next season Washington needs to get better up the middle of the ice.

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Caps Analysis: A Look Back at My Thoughts from Last Year’s Development Camp

Posted on 14 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

With the hockey season now over and the off-season now officially in swing, I thought I’d go back and take a look at my blogs from last year’s Capitals Development Camp to see how some of the topics and players I blogged about ended up turning out as the past season unfolded.

Here are links to those blogs from last July 8th and 10th.



Let’s start with my best prediction of all, from the July 8th blog:

I will go on record as saying that sometime in the near future a Caps ticket could be a very difficult one to obtain (i.e, I could see them start to sell out the Verizon Center on a regular basis).

Analysis: Spot on as the Caps are sold out next year and believe it or not, there is now a waiting list for season tickets!!

Another good prediction from the July 10th blog:

For those who live in the MD/Baltimore area it will be well worth your while to drive up to Hershey and see these young players next season.

Analysis: Hershey led the AHL Eastern Conference in the regular season and won the Calder Cup!

Now on to the players, let’s start with Karl Alzner

From July 10th blog:

Very smooth overall and he looks like he has a really good chance of making the Caps out of camp this year if he stays healthy. The thing I really liked about him was his ability to receive and then make a solid pass even when he was given the puck with one or two defenders on or very close to him (defensive partner Josh Godfrey did this to him a few times). Like many of the other players fatigue seemed to set in during the third period so he made some mistakes but overall his positioning was outstanding and I didn’t see anyone get around or behind him. I did notice that one time in the third period he had the opportunity to lay a shoulder into an opposing forward and separate him from the puck but Karl chose not to when that appeared to be the correct play.

Analysis: While Karl didn’t make the team out of training camp last year (and a big reason for that was due to the salary cap) he did play 30 games with the Caps when the injury bug hit and #27 should make the team this September. Alzner is not a big hitter and will not lead the rush like a Mike Green BUT he is as advertised above: very good with the puck and sound positionally. I talked to Karl after Game 5 of the Calder Cup Finals in Hershey and he is hoping he does not have to attend this summer’s development camp. Alzner said he is very tired after a long season and needs to rest his body. Karl will turn 21 in September and the biggest thing I think he needs to do is get stronger physically. Some of that will happen naturally as he gets older and some of that will have to come from proper training in the weight room.

Player #2, John Carlson. Here is an excerpt from the July 10th blog:

Still learning positioning in the defensive zone but was okay for the most part in his own end, although his defensive partner and forwards left him to fend off several odd man rushes. Very good moving the puck up the ice and had a nice assist late in the third period on one of his point shots. I talked with John after the scrimmage and he is pretty much pleased with where he is at and what he is learning but wants to improve his conditioning since he was clearly winded. When discussing his point shot and power play abilities he said, “I have pride in my shot.” Carlson will play for the London Knights next year along with Justin Taylor (6th round of 2007 draft) and he is excited about the upcoming season and believes they will have a good team. London traded with the Kitchener Rangers (2008 Memorial Cup runners-up) to obtain forward Nazem Kadri, who one NHL scout told me could be a first round pick at the 2009 NHL entry draft, so Carlson should get some great experience this season (playing for the Hunter brothers won’t hurt either).

Analysis: Carlson really benefitted from playing in London this past season under Dale Hunter and when the Knights were knocked out of the playoffs by the eventual OHL and Memorial Cup Champions, the Winsdor Spitfire, John joined the Hershey Bears and was a key player in helping the team win the Calder Cup. From what I saw in the Calder Cup Finals the ONLY thing holding Carlson back right now is his strength. John is only 19 so to expect him to come up to the NHL and play against bigger and stronger players and be able to take the body might be a stretch. Like Alzner, John just needs to mature physically and continue to hit the weight room. I see Carlson playing primarily in Hershey next season with some short stints with the Caps if injuries happen. In two years we could see Carlson with the Caps on the opposite point with Green on the power play with Alex Ovechkin moved down low. That would be two right handed shots up top but it is working fairly well now with Green and the Great #8. The one thing holding back the Caps power play from being #1 is down low presence (players to get in front of the net and create and finish rebounds). Btw, it looks like Kadri will be a top 10 draft pick at next week’s 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

On to the young goalies from the July 10th blog.

Simeon Varlamov: looked fairly solid although he struggled a couple of times with rebounds on routine shots. Seems destined to be in Hershey next season and I will be surprised if he doesn’t start.

Analysis: Won the starting job in Hershey but when Brent Johnson was injured he was called up to the big club and he took over the #1 job with the Caps in the playoffs and nearly carried them past the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Penguins. He is acrobatic and very athletic. He continues to improve his rebound control. He is getting better positionally too and will likely be the #1 goalie next season for Washington.

Michal Neuvirth: Only gave up two goals in 30 minutes but faced lots of shots and scoring chances. Had the highlight save of the day robbing an opposing forward with his glove on a shot destined for the upper corner of the top shelf. Still seems to be recovering from his knee injury but looked much better than on Monday.

Analysis: Neuvirth played in 5 games for the Caps and was 2-1 this season. He just led the Hershey Bears to the Calder Cup title and was named the AHL playoff MVP. In a perfect world (and that means unloading Jose Theodore and his $4.5M contract next season) he and Varlamov split the goaltending duties for the Caps next season.

Braden Holtby: He was left out to dry during most of his 30 minutes in net but he did make some good saves. Major project but you never know with goalies.

Analysis: Holtby, who was taken in the 4th round of last season’s NHL Entry Draft, had a great year in the Western Hockey League for Saskatoon (40-16-4). He was on Hershey’s playoff roster but did not play once added. Perhaps he is in Hershey or South Carolina next year honing his skills some more?

Here are some others I appeared to be right on:

Jake Hauswirth: I wrote that he was the surprise of the day on July 10th. At that time he was unsigned but just recently GM George McPhee signed the 21 year old 6’5”, 210-pound native of Merrill, Wisconsin to a three year contract. I imagine Hauswirth will be at this year’s development camp (tentatively scheduled for July 12-18) and it will be interesting to see if he goes to Hershey or South Carolina for next season.

Michael Dubuc: Blogged that he was very noticeable and that he had very good offensive skills. Dubuc had 35 goals in 49 games for the South Carolina Stingrays this season and 4 goals in 12 playoff games to help them win the ECHL Championship. Seems like a ticket to Hershey could be in his future for next season.

I also did pretty well on my thoughts on Oskar Osala (good prospect needs to improve skating), Steve Pinnizzotto, Matthieu Perreault (nice offensive skills), and Francois Bouchard, although it should be noted that I was not high on Bouchard and he only played in 11 of the 22 games the Bears played in the Calder Cup Playoffs, a sign that he might not make in “The Show.”

As for defensemen Josh Godfrey and Sasha Pokulok, I thought both would see more time in Hershey this year and that was not the case. Forward Maxime Lacroix had a great season in South Carolina scoring 33 goals in 63 games but he only had 6 games in Hershey so I may have had him progressing too quickly.

As for Justin Taylor, it looks like I missed the boat on him as he is not under contract with the Caps anymore and his web page on the team site is gone. So much for that potential 3rd line NHLer monicker I put on him!

Clearly the Caps have a ton of young talent in their organization so you can bet that I’ll be back out at development camp again next month as my time spent there last summer was well worth it!

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Bird watching & no hoisting of goblet in Pittsburgh

Posted on 09 June 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

10:42 p.m. — Bring on Game 7! The Pittsburgh Penguins have been plenty feisty daing back to Game 7 in Washington, D.C. in what feels like a lifetime ago. It wasn’t the most exciting first period in Stanley Cup history, but the third period tonight at The Igloo was spectacular. Action, back and forth and up and down the ice. The game almost was tied with just 13 seconds remaining on a close one.

It was Stanley Cup magic. The Penguins and the city of Pittsburgh are 60 minutes away from a second civic championship in five months. Disgusting!

Meanwhile, Brad Bergesen did a nice job tonight against Seattle. The Birds won 3-1. Nolan Reimold hit a big fly. Melvin Mora had one interfered with in the first inning. It was a good, necessary win for the Birds.

8:40 p.m. — I’m in the midst of a typical spring night of wearing out the “previous” on my Comcast remote as I go back and forth between the Orioles-Mariners and Red Wings-Penguins.

The sky is a beautiful blood orange over downtown tonight and the Orioles game has been strange and the Red Wings look poised to hoist Lord Stanley’s chalice on enemy ice once again. Imagine these cockroaches from Pittsburgh having to watch the Red Wings raise The Cup at the Igloo for the second year in a row in front of the Steel City faithful.

Imagine the indignity! (But, it couldn’t happen to nicer folks that our neighbors in Pittsburgh!)

As for the Orioles, if you didn’t see the fan interference in the first inning on a near-home run for Melvin Mora (coincidentally, the kid was wearing an orange Mora No. 6 freebie giveaway that apparently no one knew about) you need to check it out. It was a Jeffrey Maier special, but when the umpires reconvened they rescinded a two-run homer call and the Orioles were suddenly only up 1-0 instead of 3-nil.

It looks like there’s less than 10,000 in the park tonight and the storm that rolled through town at dinner was biblical. Just horrendous where I was in Towson and White Marsh.

I don’t know if I’ll blog all night but I’ve been watching and I just felt like writing. It’s been a long week already and we’re making a lot of changes at WNST and you’ll see this site really come to life over the next few weeks.

Lots of work behind the scenes lately.

But tonight — for a beautiful Tuesday night — I’m watching hockey and baseball and enjoying it immensely!

Nolan Reimold just turned on one and the Birds are up 2-0. Also, my buddy Ed Frankovic keeps texting me from Hershey with Bears-Manitoba updates. Apparently, the Bears are losing.

Red Wings and Penguins are nil. Been a sleepy first period by Stanley Cup Finals standards.

A big night of fun sports…

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Hershey Goes for Cup; Interviews with John Carlson and Karl Alzner

Posted on 08 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

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.

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Hershey 1 Win Away from Calder Cup

Posted on 08 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Hershey Bears dominated the Manitoba Moose territorially for over 45 minutes but all they could  muster was a 1-1 tie with just over five minutes gone into the third period in game four of this Calder Cup final series. Then former Capital Nolan Baumgartner took a holding penalty to give the Bears a power play and 55 seconds later Manitoba made what may turn out to be the deciding mistake that costs them this Calder Cup final series – they committed a two many men on the ice penalty – giving the Bears a 1:05 two man advantage. 63 seconds after that mental miscue an Alexandre Giroux point blast went wide on the short side of the net but caromed out the far side where it was buried for the game winner by center Keith Aucoin. Hershey now leads this AHL final series three games to one and can take home the trophy with a win in game five on Tuesday night at the Giant Center. A loss on Tuesday would send this series back to Winnipeg for Friday’s game six and possibly Sunday’s game seven, something Hershey Coach Bob Woods and his team does not want to see happen

“We don’t want to have to go back to Manitoba so we need to take care of business right now. I told the guys in the locker room that it is probably going to be the toughest game of your career. Manitoba and the way they came at us tonight they’ve got a lot of jump. We had to battle to get that one tonight…Our guys don’t want to have to do that flight [to Winnipeg] and they want to [win] in front of their home crowd,” said Woods.

It was pointed out to Woods that Hershey has not won a Calder Cup on home ice in 29 years and the coach talked about that and the difficulty involved.

“For the fans that follow us it would be nice to win it at home. It will take every bit of ounce of energy we’ve got to get it done,” finished Woods.

Hershey really had to hang on for the victory over the last eight minutes while the Moose came at the Bears stronger than they had at any other time in the two games in Chocolate town this weekend. However, 21 year old goalie Michal Neuvirth was spectacular down the stretch and thwarted any chance Manitoba had of sending this game to overtime. The young net minder made at least three huge stops in the final 30 seconds of regulation when the Moose pulled their goalie (Cory Schneider) and had a 5 on 3 skater advantage (Giroux and Jason Jaffray of Manitoba were in the box for coincidental penalties while Chris Bourque sat for cross-checking). The Bears also killed off a 25 second two man Manitoba advantage in the second period. Neuvirth is very impressive because he is positionally sound and does not flop around on the ice. His rebound control was outstanding on Sunday. After the contest Neuvirth had the following to say on his play.

“I feel good and am just playing the best I can. My teammates played great tonight blocking shots and it was a huge win for us. I was just trying to stay positive and I got the feeling we were going to win the hockey game.”

I also asked him if he has a lot of communication with his defensemen and if he is hoping to improve his ability to play the puck with his stick. Below are his respective answers.

“Yes, we do, especially on our PK and it has been great so far. I believe in our guys on defense and they believe in me so it has been a team effort,” said the young Czech goalie on communicating with his defense.

“Yes, but my defense doesn’t want me to play the puck so I’m just trying to do what is best for the hockey team and my job is stop the puck and that is what I am doing right now,” added Neuvirth on improving his puck moving skills.

Here are some other thoughts on the Bears 2-1 victory on Sunday evening:

The Bears did a very good job of creating turnovers at the Moose blue line or in the neutral zone which led to numerous Hershey two on one breaks but they could not convert on those opportunities. Aucion and Giroux were involved in many of them. I thought the AHL MVP (Giroux), despite assisting on the game winner, did not play well on Sunday. He looked slow at times and struggled to finish chances. He passed up a great shooting situation from the slot in the second period and then another time on a two on one rush he hogged the puck and tried to beat the defender himself when the pass was the right play. He also took a costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with two minutes left for mouthing off at the referee (Francois St. Laurent).

Bourque was all over the ice using his speed to generate opportunities and he had 5 shots on goal in the contest. However, on two occasions when manning the point on the power play he was not patient and shot the puck when there wasn’t a good lane to the cage. His hall of fame father (Ray) was in attendance on Sunday.

Woods has a really solid group of defensemen to use in Hershey. Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Bryan Helmer, Tyler Sloan, Staffan Kronwall, and Dean Arsene can all move the puck. The Moose, on the other hand, “struggle on the backend” as one NHL scout described it to me on Sunday evening. I spoke with both Alzner and Carlson after the game and King Karl says he is not feeling any ill effects of his first concussion and that he came out okay after some physical play in game four. Carlson, who is only 19, continues to greatly exceed expectations. He is excellent at breaking the puck out of his own zone and has improved his positional play. However, a couple of times in the third period he had Manitoba forwards lined up in the corner but when he attempted to knock them off the puck with his body he failed. The good news is he will just get stronger as his body matures and be able to make those hits in due time. I’ll post the Alzner and Carlson interviews on Monday night.

There are no official tallys on face-offs in the AHL like there are in the NHL but it seemed that Manitoba dominated in that category, especially in the last few minutes when the Moose won 5 of 6 key draws in the Hershey end. Aucion and Andrew Joudrey are the best options for Coach Woods but both struggled from the dot when it really mattered late. Also, the only goal the Moose scored came as a result of a defensive zone face-off loss by the Bears.

Special teams were a difference maker for Hershey as they went 1 for 5 with the power play while holding the Moose scoreless in five attempts. “Again our penalty killing did the job, credit them and credit [Neuvirth] with making the big saves,” said Woods.

21 year old forward Oskar Osala had a good game using his body to dole out hits. He seems to have improved his skating over the course of his season and if he continues to do that he could be in the NHL in a couple of years. Also, 25 year old forward Steve Pinizzotto, who spent some time in the ECHL with the Kelly Cup Champion South Carolina Stingrays this season, was a real energy guy for the Bears throwing out hits and drawing penalties. I really liked “Pinner” last summer in development camp and then in the rookie game against the Flyers in September.

Game Four Press Box Attendees: Former Baltimore Skipjacks coach and Washington Capitals assistant coach Rob Laird, who now is a pro scout for the Los Angeles Kings, sat next to me and directly to his right was former Capitals right wing Steve Leach, who scouts for the Calgary Flames. Also present were Washington Times beat writer Corey Masisak, Comcast’s Smokin’ Al Koken, WashingtonCaps.com web producer and Caps pregame warmup goalie specialist, Brett “Stretch” Leonhardt, On Frozen Blog’s John Keeley, and from National Public Radio Independent co-producers Gemma Hooley and Chris Nelson (who have followed Alzner all season long).

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