Greetings from beautiful downtown Portland, Maine!
It took 10 1/2 hours to get here on Wednesday; another day of practice, walking around town taking in the gorgeous weather and stuffing ourselves with lobster; and another morning skate to get to this point.
But we are finally here!
(Did I mention that this broadcast will be fueled by lobster?)
The Hershey Bears open the 2016 Calder Cup playoffs tonight at the Cross Insurance Arena. Standing in the way of the Chocolate and White are the fourth-seeded Portland Pirates, who got hot at the right time to get where they are today. The top developmental affiliate of the Florida Panthers had a fairly good start to the season, hit a rut mid-way through, and then claimed points in 14 of their final 18 to lock up their spot. It took until the very last day of the regular season to see if the Pirates would actually meet the Bears, or if the Bridgeport Sound Tigers would overtake them. But Bridgeport faltered, earning them the unenviable task of taking on the league-leading Toronto Marlies.
This is going to be anybody’s series, if you were to ask me on the spot. The home team won every game in the regular season, first off. Portland outscored Hershey 8-4 in two games in this building back in October. One month later, in a two-game set at GIANT Center, the Bears claimed wins of 4-2 and 3-2.
Troy Mann said it best yesterday, however, during the team’s evening meeting: all stats get thrown out the window today. “Nobody has a goal, assist, point, win or loss,” he said. “You have to be ready from the drop of the puck tomorrow and that’s that.”
Pretty well – and briefly – said.
I can almost guarantee that it won’t come close to what happened a month shy of 10 years ago, when the clubs last met in the postseason. Remember this?
Dan Ellis gets the start in net for the Bears in tonight’s opening game, and I can’t see any other reason to NOT expect Pirates franchise backstop Mike McKenna in net for the hosts.
Check out the game notes by clicking here, to get more of an inside look at the matchup from the regular season.
Aside from when the first layer of water is sprayed in the late summer; aside from when the first player takes a lap during opening-night warmups; and aside from clinching that playoff berth after a rigorous 76-game battle, THIS is the most exciting time to play hockey.
Let’s see if the boys can grab at least one W out of here this weekend.
Pre-game hits the air at 6:20. Be sure to tune in on WQIC-FM 100.1; WKBO-AM 1230; via the iHeartRadio App (search WHP 580 Harrisburg); or check it out on AHLLive.com. Doug Yingst, Troy Mann and Pirates radio voice Jeff Mannix are my pre-game guests, and we will also have some audio from captain Garrett Mitchell, alternate captain Mike Moore and rookie Riley Barber.
Lastly: a very happy birthday to Madison Bowey and Chandler Stephenson today. I received a really nice email from Stephenson’s mom back in Saskatoon, and to the Stephenson family – and ALL of our players’ families from all over this and other continents – THANK YOU for the kind words. You make this job what it is – an absolute blast. We are rooting for your prides and joys!