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!