Carey, Ness Re-Up – 6/24

The first big offseason news has come, and it involves the return of two true impact players to the organization.

The Capitals have re-signed defenseman Aaron Ness to a two-year, two-way contract and have also re-signed forward Paul Carey to a one-year, two-way contract – both starting with the 2016-17 season.

I could not contain my excitement when I first heard that these were potential signings that could have happened as early as this week.  Sure enough, it has come to fruition.

Let’s start with Carey – my top pick all the way back in pre-season to have a successful year in Hershey.  Had it not been for a shoulder injury that knocked him out of the lineup for good beginning in February, things sure as heck would have been much different – for the better.  The guy still managed to rack up 31 points (13-18-31), which included three game-winners – one in overtime against the Providence Bruins, a game which he practically won single-handedly on November 25 by scoring the regulation goal as well.

The guy has grit.  He has a heck of a shot.  And he has the skill to come out of a battle along the boards with the puck just about all the time.  He was having success on a power play that turned into a headache following his absence.

He was certainly missed.  He will be a veteran after this season – in fact he will be a vet exempt after opening night – so this signing was absolutely key.  I’m sure Carey could have shopped around.  A non-veteran winger with skill like his had to have been sought after.  But he did all of his rehabilitation here.  He got to know the doctors so well after his surgery.  I’m sure that had to be a key in his decision-making process.  We will catch up with Carey later in the summer to see how things are going for his return to the lineup.

Now, Ness.  If you haven’t had the chance to meet this guy in person, you’re missing out on one of the most outgoing personalities out there.  The first thing I think about when someone brings up his name?  He loves to win, but he HATES to lose.  Go back and look at the bench celebration following Travis Boyd’s overtime series-clincher against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on May 15.  You’ll see a jubilant Ness hugging rookie Tyler Lewington as if to say “This is what it’s all about!”.

Following the Connor Carrick trade, Ness’s power play role was changed around a bit.  I would love to see him take that point “quarterback” role next season, but that’s obviously why I’m on radio and not coaching.  Regardless of where he goes or with whom he plays on defense, he will be an asset.  He and Lewington emerged as the best defense pair in the Calder Cup Finals – with Christian Djoos and Erik Burgdoerfer, in my opinion, a close second.

I would also believe that he is a candidate to wear a letter on his jersey next season.  At times, he donned the “A”, but only when more than one of Mike Moore, Zach Sill or Chris Boruque weren’t in the lineup.

He is a leader on and off the ice, and probably will be the veteran leader on the Hershey blue line – and may not be alone.  RFA Ryan Stanton could still get a qualifying offer and return.  Time will tell.  UFA Mike Moore didn’t get much playing time down the stretch and I’m not sure of his status as of now.

Oh yes – Ness’s contract extends through 2017-18 as well.

YES for Ness.  Hurray for Carey.  I already can’t wait until October.




Thank You, Players and Fans – 6/13

Without a doubt, disappointment still fills my heart on this first day of the off-season here in the offices at the GC.

However, pride is slowly taking over.

The Lake Erie Monsters are the AHL champions of 2015-16.  Hats off to them and handshakes all around – they were a damn good hockey club.

But, you know what?  So is the team downstairs, filing in one by one to meet the coaches, prepare for individual meetings, gather one more time as a team, get their physicals, and head home for the summer.

They are the Eastern Conference champions, who battled past the Portland Pirates in five games; fought past and triumphed over their arch-rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in an epic seven games, making history in the process; and figured out the regular-season champion Toronto Marlies in five games.

The Hershey Bears deserved to be where they were for nearly the past two full months.  Troy Mann, Bryan Helmer, Ryan Murphy and Scott Murray made sure of that, completing one of the busiest seasons of their coaching lives.  If they didn’t, then Portland, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton or Toronto would have the Canning Trophy right now.

None of them do.

For the fifth time in the 11-year affiliation with the Washington Capitals, the Bears qualified for the finals.  That’s damn impressive.  But for the first time, this team won with the best possible “blend” there can be.  Rookie prospects (Jakub Vrana, Riley Barber, Travis Boyd, Tyler Lewington, Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos), growing players (Nathan Walker, Chandler Stephenson, Dustin Gazley, Liam O’Brien, Erik Burgdoerfer) and seasoned veterans (Chris Bourque, Ryan Stanton, Zach Sill, Carter Camper, Mike Moore) made up one of the tightest locker rooms ever in Chocolatetown.

And many on this list will be back in the fall – some undoubtedly even contending for a spot with the big club.

However, some won’t.

This time of year is a blast for many people.  But not for this guy.  Today marks the beginning of my ninth offseason, and every single year, the worst part of the day lies when I go downstairs to say so-long to our players, not knowing when or if I get to see them again.  Most become lifelong friends.  Some broadcasting colleagues of mine have made a comment such as “I’m not here to be friends with them, I’m here to call their play, good or bad.”

I’m here to do the same thing, but I have a heart.  You spend every single day from training camp to days like today with these guys.  Some of them may not believe that I considered them friends, and most won’t be reading this.  But I hope somehow they will.  You never know when you will see these guys again.  Calling plays like Riley Barber’s first (two) pro goal(s) on opening night to Vitek Vanecek’s first AHL win in his first AHL game in the regular-season finale,  it’s what we live for, and what makes us SO proud.

At least it makes ME proud.

Thanks for reading the blog this season, everyone.  It was upgraded and although had some hiccups along the way, I was proud of it.  Thanks to intern Matt Trust for his game-night contributions as well.

Have a great summer everyone – see (talk to) you in the fall!





FINAL: Monsters 5 at Bears 3 (LEM Leads Series 2-0)

The Hershey Bears hosted the Lake Erie Monsters in Game 2 of the Calder Cup Finals with hopes of tying the series at 1-1. The Monsters entered with the top offense in the AHL and second best power play unit.

In the opening frame, Lake Erie’s high voltage power play unit went to work and capitalized on their first chance. Only 3:05 in, Ryan Craig centered a pass across for Zach Werenski wide open. Werenski beat Justin Peters going from his left to right to make it 1-0.

Lake Erie would use their speed through the neutral zone to create a 2-on-1 rush, and they tallied on the grade “A” opportunity. At 4:29, Oliver Bjorkstrand snapped a shot low past Peters to make it 2-0 Monsters.

The Chocolate and White found themselves on an extended 5-on-3 chance after a boarding infraction followed by a delay of game minor. With 11:12 left, Zach Sill jammed home a rebound to cut Hershey’s deficit to one. As the tide began to turn in favor of the Bears, the quick-striking Monsters grabbed the momentum back.

At 13:51, Lukas Sedlak finished a point-blank chance from the slot to regain Lake Erie’s two goal advantage. The Monsters carry a 3-1 advantage into the third period.

The Chocolate and White would go to the penalty kill six seconds into the third period on a Ryan Stanton check to the head minor. Lake Erie’s success on special teams and lethal power play continued, and added a second power play goal. Bjorkstrand tallied his second of the game on a rebound to open the contest to 4-1 at 2:04.

Hershey’s late comeback surge began with 10:03 left courtesy of Tyler Lewington. Only 1:54 later, Liam O’Brien tallied off a turnover to suddenly pull the Bears within one. Daniel Zaar added the empty net goal with 1:01 left to round out a 5-3 final.

The Lake Erie Monsters will take a 2-0 series lead home to Cleveland for Games 3, 4 and 5 if necessary.

Submitted by Matt Trust

Wake Up Call… 6/3

Losing Game 1 can be a blessing in disguise. This was proven true in each of the first two rounds after Game 1 defeats to the Portland Pirates and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Tonight, the Chocolate and White look to respond in Game 2 of the Calder Cup Finals against the Lake Erie Monsters, in hopes of tying the series at 1-1.

Tonight, the Bears will put their perfect 6-0 record following a postseason loss on the line. Rebounding back has been Hershey’s forte all season and playoffs long, and we hope for the trend to continue.

Success in postseason series when losing Game 1 date back well before 2016. In 2006, the Bears dropped both Games 1 and 3 to the Milwaukee Admirals before winning three straight games (Games 4-6) to clinch the Calder Cup.

In 2010, the Hershey Bears became the first team in AHL history to lose the first two games of the Calder Cup Finals on home ice, and rally back to win the series. I don’t see any reason why history isn’t capable of repeating itself.

Air time is slated for 6:20 PM and puck drop for 7 PM.


Submitted by Matt Trust

FINAL: Monsters 4 at Bears 1 (LEM Leads Series 1-0)

The 2016 Calder Cup Finals kicked off at GIANT Center on Wednesday night against the Lake Erie Monsters. Lake Erie provided an early spark, but Justin Peters answered the bell with two, key breakaway shots.

With 4:18 left in the first frame, Christian Djoos and Chris Bourque entered the offensive zone on a give-and-go. Bourque fed Jakub Vrana a perfect pass, and Vrana sniped a chance past Anton Forsberg to make it 1-0 Hershey.

The Bears grabbed control of a momentum shift following the goal, and carried a 1-0 lead into the dressing room.

Into the second period, the Monsters received yet another breakaway chance, and the third time was the charm. After an offensive zone turnover, Daniel Zaar received a stretch pass and sneaked behind the defense. Zaar beat Peters low to the ice to tie the game at 7:48.

It was the first of four unanswered goals, as the Monsters posted a field goal in the third period to run away with a 4-1 decision. At 5:39, Trent Vogelhuber received credit for the game-winning goal after the puck banked off Aaron Ness’ stick and into the net.

With 6:27 left, Lake Erie grabbed a two goal advantage following a turnover and backhand strike by Zaar for his second. The final tally came only 1:24 later with a Markus Hannikainen deflection past Peters to round out the scoring.

Submitted by Matt Trust