Former Caps defenseman John Erskine didn't get the best goodbye in team...
Sic Transit Ursi (Thus Pass the Bears) – 2013 Edition
Hershey and Providence went toe-to-toe in the playoffs this year (All Photos Credit: M. Richter)
It’s a heroic narrative – a team begins a best of five series down 2-0, rallies, and manages to win their way into the second round. Unfortunately, Hershey was on the wrong side of the story this year, falling in game five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals for the second time in as many years.
Last year, the Hershey Bears almost managed the glorious comeback against the baby Penguins, pushing the series to game five. This year, they allowed the Providence Bruins to return the favour, and were unable to hold the line when elimination was on the line.
For the Bears, as with all of the teams in the AHL, 2012-13 was an odd season. The NHL lockout meant that players like Braden Holtby, Dmitry Orlov, and Tomas Kundratek spent the first half of the year in Hershey, pushing guys like Philipp Grubauer back down to the ECHL and goaltender Sergey Kostenko into no man’s land as a signed-but-unassigned goalie. Capitals Head Coach Adam Oates logged a stint with the Bears as well, getting a feel for the players in his organization while the lockout stretched on and starting to put his own systems in place.
The dynamic did not suit the Bears particularly well – either the tag-team coaching or the ELC-heavy field of competition. Things stabilized for the team when the lockout ended, with Grubauer making the adjustment to the AHL with relative ease and a couple of trades smoothing out the lineup as the spring progressed.
Hershey’s biggest star this year was definitely Jeff Taffe, who led the AHL in assists with 53. When combined with his 18 goals, totaling 71 points in 73 games played, that also made him second in overall scoring for the league. He was the only member of the Hershey roster to break the league’s top twenty. In addition, Taffe was the only Hershey representative at this year’s All Star Game.
Bears Go Bigtime
The Bears tallied a first in AHL history this season, participating in their second Outdoor Classic in as many years. This time around, Hershey hosted the event, but the end outcome remained the same – an OT loss, 2-1 in this instance to the WBS Penguins. Dany Sabourin was in net for the Bears, as Holtby had been recalled to Washington with the end of the lockout.
The Outdoor Classic wasn’t the only big stage the Bears played this season – they played the first hockey game at Verizon Center on December 6 (beating Norfolk 2-1), and took the ice at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall against the Albany Devils on February 24, where they lost 6-4.
Trades & Transfers
During the regular season, seven Hershey Bears made the drive to Washington at some point – Holtby, Grubauer, Kundratek, Orlov, Casey Wellman, Cameron Schilling, and Steve Oleksy. Joey Crabb and Tom Poti both made reverse trip, though Crabb was the only one to finish out the season with Hershey.
Post-AHL Playoffs, the Caps called up Grubauer, Kundratek, Orlov, Schilling, Crabb, Tom Wilson, and Nate Schmidt to pad their roster.
Due to the new CBA, the Clear Day ceased to be a factor in AHL rosters. Thus, the Bears (and Caps) were wheeling and dealing into April, when forward Matt Clackson was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes for Hershey fan favourite Joel Rechlicz and defenseman Garrett Stafford was shipped out for Dane Byers.
Prior to the trade deadline, here’s the list of those who came and went during the 2012-13 season:
Traded Away: Kevin Marshall (D), Mathieu Beaudoin (RW), Zach Hamill (C)
Acquired: Nicholas Deschamps (D), Casey Wellman (C), Peter LeBlanc (C), Michael Latta (C), Chay Genoway (D)
The collection of players who bounced up and down to the Bears’ ECHL affiliate, the Reading Royals, will be honored when the Royals eulogy goes up. Given that they just defeated the Cincinnati Cyclones to advance to the ECHL’s Kelly Cup Championships, that will be at least another week and a half.
Going Forward: Contracts
The Patriot News published a full breakdown of Hershey’s contracts this summer, but here’s the condensed version.
14 players on Hershey’s roster this year will be under Capitals contracts next year (Steven Oleksy, Philipp Grubauer, Cameron Schilling, Nate Schmidt, Dmitry Orlov, Casey Wellman, Michael Latta, Ryan Stoa, Stan Galiev, Garrett Mitchell, Chay Genoway, Brett Flemming, Julien Brouillette, and Braden Holtby).
5 more will be Restricted-Free-Agents with the Caps this summer (Mattias Sjogren, Nicolas Deschamps, Tomas Kundratek, Danick Paquette, and Peter LeBlanc). The rest will be UFA, with contracts expiring with either the Capitals or Bears. Patrick Wellar (D) is the only strictly AHL player whose contract extends into 2014.
Going Forward: The Rest
2012-13 was an off-year for the Bears, who became accustomed to winning in 2009-10. They kept up the habit until last year, when a run of injuries and call-ups had the Bears icing temporarily signed college players for half of their lineup.
The Bears biggest struggle was arguably the adjustment caused by several of their key players (most notably Chris Bourque and Keith Aucoin) signed elsewhere during the summer. Their loss shook the Bears up, strategically, and the addition of new systems from the third Caps coach in 18 months didn’t help the adjustment period, either. While the Bears brought in other veterans to fill the gap, the team’s chemistry suffered visibly, and it took most of the season for the team to really become a coherent group again.
One positive for the Bears was the signing of the Reading Royals as the Caps ECHL affiliate, with the team being just an hour up the road from Hershey. It allowed the Bears to snag extra ice time for their still-developing players, and for call-ups to be summoned for much more precise windows of time. Thanks to renewals signed earlier this spring, the three-teams/less-than-three-hours-of-travel arrangement will be continuing into 2014. With any luck, the stability will help the Bears to shake off this spring’s defeat and come back strong next fall.