Caps, Bears, & Stingrays: All Up to the Post-Season Challenge

Posted April 20, 2012

It’s been just over two weeks since the South Carolina Stingrays(ECHL) entered the Kelly Cup Playoffs.  Eight days since the Capitals joined them in the post-season, and last night’s victory over the visiting Bruins assures that they’re sticking around through the end of the weekend.  Tonight, the Hershey Bears(AHL) complete the trifecta as they take on their division rivals – the Baby Penguins.  The lag between the leagues may be the best news that Hershey’s heard since Tomas Vokoun re-injured his groin on March 29th.

First Thing’s First

Take a moment to applaud the fact that all three members of the Capitals organization made the cut this year.  Savor the sense of possibility, because experience tells us that it won’t last.  Take a second moment to appreciate the strength of the Capitals farm system – this year, the Caps are one of five organizations to have a representative in the playoffs for all three affiliate levels.  The others are the Canucks, KingsPenguins, and Rangers.  The Caps & Canucks are the only two organizations not to have a team eliminated thusfar.

Cody Eakin, who returns to Hershey just in time for playoffs. (Photo Credit: M. Richter)

Hope in Hershey:  The Bears (and their fans) are entering the second season with every intent of putting the last month behind them.  They’ve got players on the mend – Graham Mink saw time on the roster last weekend for the first time in over a month, and Jacob Micflikier (knee) has been spotted taking full practice, as well.

Rookie of the Year Cody Eakin‘s return is another significant boon to the club, bringing reliable source of scoring and a center who’s comfortable on the top lines.   And not to jump the gun, because there’s no official news yet, but with goaltender Michal Neuvirth on the mend there’s a good chance that Dany Sabourin will be joining the Bears in the very near future.  As a refresher, Sabourin backstopped the Bears in eleven straight games during the months of March and April, and going 7-2-0-2 before his recall to the Caps.  It’s a level of consistency in net that the Bears badly need, though it’s unfair to put all the blame in recent losses at the feet of either Daren Machesney or Scott Greenham (Sabourin’s replacements during the month of April).

In expected news, the college signees (ATOs) are continuing to acclimate.  Barry Almeida is the most recent addition, starting off strong with a goal in his sole regular season game – he’s one of four ATOs to record points this spring (another, Francis Verrault-Paul, has since been released from his contract).  It also helps that the pressure on the newcomers is expected to ease as more experienced veterans continue to rejoin the lineup.  With the increase in numbers, the coaching staff is slowly gaining the flexibility to move the younger players into the category of Black Aces rather than roster regulars.

It’s not all sunshine and lollypops in chocolate town, however.  Joel Rechlicz earned a 6 game suspension for coming off the bench in an altercation during last Saturday’s game against the Sparkle Cats, which means that he’ll miss the entire first round of the playoffs – longer, should Hershey advance (or be removed) in less than the full five games of the quarterfinals.  While Recker is best known for his fists (and league-leading PIMs, though he was displaced from first-overall by on the last day of the season), he’s equally valuable when it comes to the morale of the team.  He never stops talking when he’s on the bench, a constant stream of chirping and encouragement, depending on the recipient of the moment. He’ll be missed.

As a general reminder, Hershey’s Clear Day Roster reflects a best-case scenario for the Bears’ lineup in these playoffs.  ATO’s and call-ups from the Stingrays may be added to the roster in the event that members of the list are unavailable due to injury or call-up to the Caps.  As of the publication of this article, 4 members of the list are called up, 1 is injured (Christian Hanson), and 1 is suspended.

While the last two weekends may not have seen a single win, loss and frustration can be powerful motivators when handled properly.  Hershey has three games over the course of the next week to prove that they can make the most of their awkward tumble into a playoff berth.  They’ve got plenty of experience against the Baby Pens (the two teams have exchanged pleasantries 12 times over the course of the regular season), and Pittsburgh’s 10-3 thrashing of the Flyers on Wednesday ensures that WBS won’t be getting any of their called-up players back before game 2 at the earliest.

The Bears first home game (and third overall in the series) will take place next Wednesday night at Giant Center.

South Carolina: A Study in Realism

The Stingrays are one loss from elimination in the ECHL Eastern Conference Semifinals, on the heels of a 3-1 series victory over the Gwinnett Gladiators.  Their current series against the Kalamazoo Wings has not been nearly as pleasant (they’re down 3-0 in a best of seven contest).

It started with two losses on the road, and the third came at home on Wednesday night.  Game Four takes place tonight in Charleston, where the ‘Rays and their fans will be making a bid for the start of a reverse sweep (4 straight victories to close out the series).  It’s doable, as the Halifax Mooseheads recently proved, but a tall order for any team.  If you’re interested in listening in, you can find the audio stream here.