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  • Ready to Lead the Rays

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    As a player, Cail MacLean made Hershey Bears’ history by scoring the first goal ever at Giant Center, and if one judges by the Washington Capitals’ organization’s recent history of hiring coaches from within, the rookie head coach of the South Carolina Stingrays could stand next in line to make history behind the bench in Chocolatetown.

    Going undrafted, despite a 34-goal total in his final year of junior hockey, MacLean’s ties to the Capitals organization started immediately in rookie season of 1997-98, where he skated for former Washington head coach, Bruce “Butch” Cassidy, with the Jacksonville Lizard Kings of the East Coast Hockey League.

    In addition to his stay in Jacksonville that season, MacLean also had brief auditions with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks of the American Hockey League and Cleveland Lumberjacks of the International Hockey League, setting an early tone for what became a trend throughout his playing days.

    “I like to think that I understand a lot of different situations because I had been in so many different ones over the course of my playing career,” said MacLean, who skated for 15 different teams over the course of 11 seasons in the pro ranks. “I know what these guys are trying to do and the pressure that they put on themselves.”

    After the conclusion of the 2004-05 season, which he split between the Bears and Reading Royals of the ECHL while on a Hershey contract, MacLean realized that he had been bitten by the coaching bug for the first time.

    “I had played most of the previous year in Reading, being under contract with Hershey and Reading. I had always had a prominent leadership role in my playing career, from junior on,” said MacLean, who captained three different ECHL clubs.

    “I thought that I was getting older and my sights were no longer set on the NHL, and I really appreciated the leadership aspect. So, I went down there and tried to take note on the coaching aspect and see if I could convert my love of leadership to coaching.”

    While beginning a head-coaching career in South Carolina on the heels of the perennial ECHL powerhouse’s third Kelly Cup title might seem like a tall challenge, one shouldn’t shortchange MacLean’s chances of overcoming obstacles, like he did so many times in his days of donning a hockey sweater.

    “My job is to win hockey games, but I think it is equally important to develop good young hockey players and good young people. I want to come in and do the best job I can in South Carolina. I was fortunate to work under Jared Bednar last year (as an assistant coach); he was an exceptional coach at our level. I’m looking forward to carrying on that winning tradition.”

    MacLean, quiet, yet insightful, often used the term “tradition” during our conversation, but I got the feeling that he has a deeper sense of the true meaning of that term than the average player. So, it’s not surprising that his “heightened sense of history” factored heavily into the Middleton, Nova Scotia native triggering the red light on his historic goal.

    “To score the first goal in the history of that building was a real honor,” said MacLean who scored an AHL high 16 goals that season with the Bears. “It’s one of those moments that I knew that being in Giant Center that night, I understood how much tradition had come before us and we were about to embark on another era of that.”

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    Woods Takes Winning Act to Washington

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    As far as the long history of the Hershey Bears goes, Bob Woods will always be a “special” guy. After capturing his first Calder Cup with the Bears as a player in 1997, he proceeded to pounce upon his second as an assistant under Bruce Boudreau in 2006, where his duties included running the special teams, and finished off the “triple treat” by notching his third this season as the head coach, putting him in special company.

    “They’re all good and nice in their own way. I think the differences are, as a player it’s nice because you’re one of the guys, and as a coach, you’re kind of the leader of the guys.”

    Woods, who replaced Boudreau last season after Boudreau received the call to run the Washington Capitals’ bench, was well aware of the scrutiny he would be facing following up Boudreau’s highly successful run at the Hershey helm.

    “Those are big shoes to fill, and to be able to show that I could do it on my own, I was pretty proud of that; but I couldn’t have done it without the guidance from Bruce.”

    Despite the fact that he was leading a talented club with a heavy veteran presence in his first full season in Chocolatetown, Woods, a native of LeRoy, Saskatchewan, was confident that he could handle the challenge that awaited him.

    “This is my fourth championship now, so I think I’ve got a pretty good handle of what it takes to be a champion. I think I’m fair with the guys. As long as you’re talking to them and are fair with them, they’re going to play hard for you.”

    Lauded by Boudreau as a big reason why the 2006 Bears ascended to the top, Woods feted his assistant coach, Mark French as a huge factor in the 2009 triumph.

    “I’ve got a great assistant in Mark, he was a big bonus for me, and I don’t know what I’d do without him.”

    Peering through his crystal ball as he eyed up the 2009 campaign, Woods, who definitely knows a winning squad when he sees it, liked what he saw from the start.

    “Before anyone even got here, we saw the potential and knew that we had a team, if all would keep healthy, if we could keep them all together, we knew we had all the makings of a championship team.”

    Although the Bears struggled slightly, but eventually mowed down the Manitoba Moose in the finals, Woods said his charges’ chances took a pivotal turn much earlier in their playoff journey.

    “I think the turning point was when we beat Wilkes-Barre in game seven. We knew that was good, and that was what we were battling for, as much for the division championship because we knew home ice would be huge. Once we got through that and won that series, even though we knew Providence was going to be tough, we knew we had that chance.”

    Heading into the playoffs, with Daren Machesney faltering a bit down the stretch, and Simeon Varlamov securing a spot between the pipes for the Capitals in the NHL playoffs, many thought that Hershey’s goaltending looked to be its most problematic position. However, Woods knew that rookie, Michal Neuvirth, was capable of steadying the ship.

    “Once we really got to know Neuvy, I didn’t have any doubt because I just saw he was the type of kid that he is, and nothing really bothers him.

    “You think about a kid 20 years old being in an environment like Hershey, where there’s a lot of pressure, and he handled it well, under the circumstances. He showed emotion and the guys were fired up that he was doing what he was doing, and they battled hard for him.”

    Now that the 41-year-old Woods has accomplished everything one can accomplish in the AHL, the powers that be in Washington have decided to give him a chance to earn “one for the thumb” as Boudreau’s assistant coach after being named to that position yesterday.

    With the Capitals, he will have the opportunity to coach the defenseman, many of whom he helped develop in Hershey.

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    Oh Captain, My Captain

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    Bryan Helmer in action in Calder Cup Finals.
    Bryan Helmer in action in Calder Cup Finals.
    Photo: Chris Gluth

    When Bryan Helmer signed an AHL contract with the Hershey Bears last summer, the general consensus was that it was a “depth signing”, and that Helmer, a 15-year veteran and four years removed from his last NHL stint, would spend the whole season in Chocolatetown, mentoring Hershey’s younger players before riding off into the setting sun.

    However, the wily 36-year old Helmer, who last wore an NHL uniform for the “Desert Dogs”, the Phoenix Coyotes, in the 2003-2004 season, proved to be a valuable commodity in the 2008-09 season, not only for the Bears, who he captained to the Calder Cup, but also for the Washington Capitals, who utilized Helmer’s services for 12 games after a rash of injuries decimated their defensive corps.

    For Helmer, who had called 11 different cities his hockey home before coming to Hershey, the 12th stop has been the most rewarding to date, both professionally and personally.

    “This is by far the best hockey season I’ve ever had: to get back to the NHL, and have my son realize I was in the NHL, to be the captain of the Canadian All-Star team, and then to win the Calder Cup.”

    “It’s the best feeling in the world to have my family see me play. My eight-year-old son really realizes what’s going on; not so much my four-year-old daughter, but we took a lot of video, so when she gets older, we can throw that in.”

    The well-conditioned Helmer, a native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, who has already watched his hockey odometer roll over once when he eclipsed the 1,000 games played mark last season, remarkably appeared in all 22 of Hershey’s post-season contests, bringing his career total to 117, good for third place in league history, only six games behind Ken Gernander.

    During the course of the recently concluded playoff season, Helmer moved up from 13th place in the rankings, surpassing former Bears Les Duff, Bob Solinger, Willie Marshall, John Stevens, Dennis Bonvie, and Mike Nykoluk.

    “The body held up pretty good, actually. I have to give credit to Beaker (Bears trainer, Dan Stuck) and his staff. They did a good job on me, and I feel great. It’s incredible when you play for a franchise like this that expects you to win and puts that extra pressure on you. It’s a good feeling, and it’s even a better feeling when you win the Calder Cup.”

    Known more for his dependable work in the defensive zone, Helmer pitched in with three timely goals in the Bears’ march to the cup; scoring a pair of goals when his team was down by a pair of goals (both games that Hershey eventually went on to win), and adding a last minute insurance goal in game three of the Providence series.

    Bryan Helmer at Hershey Bears night at Harrisburg Senators game at Metro Bank Park on June 16.
    Bryan Helmer at Hershey Bears night at Harrisburg Senators game at Metro Bank Park on June 16.
    Photo: Kim Wolgemuth

    At Hershey’s victory celebration on Saturday night at Giant Center, the Bears’ captain revealed to the fans that the club had a rallying cry amongst themselves all season long: E-L-E, for “Everybody Loves Everybody”, that contributed to their recipe for success.

    “The guys in this dressing room, and the bond that we had between each guy, is amazing. It’s like one big family. That’s what you have to have when you win a championship. I’ve only had it twice, and I’ve won two Calder Cups with that.”

    In a perfect example of what makes him such a wonderful leader, Helmer handed off a lot of the credit for the Calder Cup winning season, to his alternate captains who had previous Calder cup experience with the Chocolate and White: Graham Mink, Dean Arsene and Quintin Laing.

    “Everyone kept asking me all year how I handled this team as the captain, but it was easy because I think there were probably five guys in that dressing room that could be the captain. I think they gave it to me because I was the oldest guy on the team,” joked Helmer.

    “But seriously, those three guys were huge as far as helping me out; they are all winners. They made my job a lot easier because they’ve been through stuff like this before.”

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    The Mayor Wins the Popular Vote Once Again

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    Dean Arsene defends against the Manitoba Moose in the Calder Cup Finals.

    Dean Arsene defends against the Manitoba Moose in the Calder Cup Finals. Photo by Chris Gluth.

    By virtue of his six seasons of patrolling the Hershey Bears’ blueline, defenseman, Dean Arsene, has the distinction of being the Chocolate and White’s longest-tenured player. One of the benefits that Arsene enjoys by holding that title is that he is in charge of the music played during warm-ups at Giant Center.

    For a good portion of this past season, one of the songs selected by “DJ Deano” was AC/DC’s, “It’s a Long Way to the Top”, and if Arsene were to release his own disc to commemorate the Bears’ championship season, it would probably be titled “It’s a Long Way Back to the Top”.

    The tough-as-nails 28 year-old rearguard, who appeared in only 14 games in 2007-08 while still trying to shake off the lingering effects of the sports-hernia surgery he underwent after the completion of the Bears’ loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs in the 2007 Calder Cup Finals, gutted out 46 regular season tilts as well as all 22 post-season contests to earn his second sip of champagne from the Calder Cup.

    “After the disappointment of losing the second year, and for me personally to come back from my injuries that I’ve had to deal with, it’s very sweet, very special,” said Arsene, in comparing the two title-winning experiences.

    “I don’t know if you can compare one to the other. They’re both special. The first year, we weren’t expected to win; we were kind of the Cinderella story. That was pretty incredible, especially since it was my first cup.”

    Recognized for the fourth consecutive season in 2008-09 as Hershey’s nominee for the AHL’s Yanick Dupre Memorial Award, given to the AHL player who best honors the spirit of the former Bears’ off-ice charity work, Arsene was anything but charitable to the opposition in the recently concluded playoffs, finishing the post-season with a plus-10 rating, including an impressive plus-3 performance in the title clinching game.

    While proving to be more than capable of keeping the Bears’ opponents at bay with his stellar work in his own zone, Arsene chipped in with a key assist on Alexandre Giroux’s game-tying third period goal in game three of the series with the Providence Bruins.

    Even though Arsene had already enjoyed the thrill of being able to claim a Calder Cup on another team’s home ice when the Bears captured the Calder Cup in Milwaukee in 2006, he was perhaps even more jovial while watching the scoreboard clock click down in Manitoba.

    “It was 3-1 with about a minute-and-a-half left, and Frenchie (Bears assistant coach, Mark French) threw me and Kronwall on the ice to try to weather the storm,” said Arsene. “When Aucoin scored the empty-netter, it was just jubilation. After he scored, I came on the bench and threw my helmet, threw my gloves in the stick rack, and I was just ready to jump on the ice. I was pretty pumped, and I think I jumped on with about five seconds left. I was just ecstatic.”

    The man nicknamed “Mayor” for his enormous popularity with the Hershey fans and the surrounding community said the realization that he had another Calder Cup to add to his resume was still an on-going process.

    “I think I’ll have to take time to digest this one,” said Arsene. “I didn’t really realize the first one until about mid-August, how incredible it was, and I think it will probably be the same this time.”

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    Celebrating the Champs

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    Fans flocked to Giant Center Saturday night, not to see the 2008-09 Hershey Bears team take the ice, but to celebrate the club’s AHL record 10th Calder Cup victory over the Manitoba Moose on Friday night.

    After each player was introduced individually by emcee, John Walton, the voice of the Bears, it was President/GM, Doug Yingst’s turn to take the podium. That evening, after he had introduced Pat Mathers, the wife of his mentor, the late Frank Mathers, and mentioning that the victory coincided with Frank and Pat’s 61st wedding anniversary, Yingst reflected on the bond between the Bears and their parent team and the relationship that has spawned three appearances in the Calder Cup finals in the past four seasons.

    “It’s a marriage, a relationship between the organizations, between George McPhee and myself, that’s second to none. I can go back in the 80’s when we won 40 or more games four consecutive years with the Flyers, and the relationship with Bobby Clark was outstanding,” said Yingst.

    The (Capitals’) philosophy is winning and developing; it’s not developing and winning. There is an instrumental difference in that. They believe that, and I’m a strong believer, ‘I’m in Hershey, I want to win’, so I think you can’t develop without winning. They agree with that, and we start tomorrow looking for next year.”

    Though the celebration was for the fans to honor the hometown heroes, Yingst, in the latter part of his speech, let the fans know just how important a role they played in the team’s success.

    “This fabled franchise, and I really mean this, is the envy of the other 28 teams of the American Hockey League. The envy is just not because we have great players, you’ve seen that we do, we have great coaches, great building, great trainers, good front office staff. The reason we’re the envy of the American Hockey League is because of you (the fans). You are the most passionate fans anywhere, in any sport.”

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    2009 Calder Cup Champions

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    Even a hungry bear sometimes gets tired of the home cooking, and embarks on a road trip for a meal. On Friday night, the Hershey Bears, who failed to capture the Calder Cup on Tuesday night in their own den, the Giant Center, captured their league record 10th championship, feasting on the Manitoba Moose at MTS Centre, 4-1.

    Hershey wasted little time taking the sellout crowd out of the game, getting an early goal from Andrew Gordon at 3:56 to take a 1-0 lead. Kyle Wilson and Chris Bourque provided the helper on the Gordon goal, his 6th of the playoffs.

    Less than three minutes after the Gordon goal, Wilson also played playmaker on a goal by Bourque at 6:10, forcing a turnover that Bourque converted into his 5th goal of the post-season to give Hershey a 2-0 lead.

    Alexandre Giroux, the AHL’s leading goal scorer and point producer in both the regular season and post-season, made it 3-0 at 11:16 of the 1st period, banking a shot off of the skate of Manitoba netminder, Cory Schneider, after a nifty deke.

    Manitoba meandered back into the game midway through the 2nd period when Mario Bliznak beat Michal Neuvirth with a wrist shot from between the faceoff circles during a delayed penalty to Hershey captain, Bryan Helmer, to make it 3-1, Hershey.

    Keith Aucoin, the league leader in assists during the playoffs, sealed the deal for the Chocolate and White, netting an empty net goal with only 21 seconds left in the game.

    Neuvirth, who finished with 24 saves on the night to secure his 16th triumph of the playoffs, was awarded the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs after the game.

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    A Tale of Two Goalies

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    The Calder Cup Finals match up between the Hershey Bears and Manitoba Moose, which figured to be a dandy of series, considering the fact that the two clubs finished within a point of each other in the regular season, has not disappointed through the first five games.

    Arguably, the biggest reason that the series has lived up to expectations is the glittering goaltending exhibition that has been on display, featuring Moose netminder, Cory Schneider, and Hershey backstopper, Michal Neuvirth.

    Entering this series, the duo who were not born in the same year but only days apart, possessed identical playoff numbers in games played (16), wins and losses (12-4) and goals against (33), with Schneider showing a slightly lower goals against average (2.00 to 2.03), and Neuvirth nosing out his counterpart in the save percentage category (.929 to .925).

    Despite the statistical similarities between Schneider and Neuvirth, the routes that the sure-fire future NHL goaltenders traveled to get this spot on the map have been anything but identical, with Schneider cruising along at a steady speed, but Neuvirth taking the circuitous route.

    Schneider, the 23 year-old native of Marblehead, Massachusetts, was drafted in the first round by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2004 NHL Entry draft after he led Team USA Under 18 Selects to the gold medal in the Under 18 World Junior Cup, but before he had played his first game at Boston College.

    Obviously, the Vancouver scouts who were instrumental in selecting Schneider had a keen eye in noticing his star potential, as he put up stellar numbers in all three of his seasons guarding the “Eagles’ Nest”.

    During his three seasons at B.C., he registered 65 wins and 15 shutouts, including a school record 8 whitewashes in the 05-06 season, when he led the Eagles to the finals of the NCAA tournament, where they ultimately fell in the championship game to the University of Wisconsin Badgers, who featured Hershey forward, Andrew Joudrey, in their lineup.

    Turning pro in the 2007-08 season, Schneider’s transition to the pro game went very smoothly, as he eclipsed the 20-win plateau and led the Moose to the Calder Cup playoffs, where he suffered four heartbreaking overtime losses to the Syracuse Crunch in the Moose’s first round ouster.

    Refusing to succumb to the sophomore jinx, Schneider was named the recipient of the Aldege “Buzz’ Bastein award this season, and also earned eight games in the NHL with Canucks, thanks to his noble numbers in the AHL.

    Neuvirth’s roller coaster ride began when he was selected by the Washington Capitals in the second round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, 11 selections after the Caps chose Simeon Varlamov, who is seemingly the 21 year-old native of the Czech Republic’s biggest obstacle to overcome for a position with Washington in next years’ training camp.

    Neuvirth’s travels to the shores of North American started innocently enough in the 2006-07 season when he tallied 26 wins in 41 appearances with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League, leading the Whalers to the OHL championship and earning the F.W. “Dinty” Moore Trophy as the first-year goaltender with the lowest goals against average in the process.

    Neuvirth’s second season in the OHL proved to be rather trying, as the young Czech netminder was twice traded and “tended the twine” for three different clubs before a season-ending knee injury in the playoffs ended his season.

    In hindsight, it was probably a blessing that Neuvirth endured such an arduous adventure in his sophomore season, as that experience no doubt helped prepare him to ride out the twister of the 2008-09 season.

    After failing to make the Capitals out of training camp, Neuvirth plied his trade for one game with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL before being dispatched to Hershey, while the Capitals’ goaltending glut sorted itself out.

    With Varlamov already in Hershey and incumbent, Daren Machesney, also returning to Chocolatetown, Neuvirth was relegated to being a practice goalie while the organization searched for a locale in the AHL in which he would be afforded some much needed playing time.

    With no suitable facilitator for Neuvirth’s services, the rookie pro was sent back to his native Czech Republic, while his situation was settled. When Neuvirth returned to the United States, he was once again sent to South Carolina of the ECHL where he posted sparkling numbers, despite an unimpressive win-loss record.

    Finally, on December 27th Neuvirth earned a belated Christmas present, his 1st AHL start, a 4-1 loss to the Binghamton Senators at Giant Center. After making his AHL debut, Neuvirth went on to make 16 additional starts for the Bears, winning five out of his last six after being handed the ball down the stretch.

    Despite the current battle between his team and the Hershey Bears, and more specifically the natural rivalry between netminders, Schneider sees and appreciates the talent at the other end of the ice.

    “Some nights, one guy is better than the other, but he (Neuvirth) has been fantastic,” said Schneider, after Game 5 of the Calder Cup finals at Giant Center. “He looks great for a young guy and he shows a lot of poise, and doesn’t seem to get rattled too easily.”

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    Calder Cup Finals vs. Manitoba Game 5

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    Over 10,000 fans filled the Giant Center Tuesday night with the intent of cheering the Hershey Bears to their 10th Calder Cup title, which would have been the first on home ice since 1980. However, the Manitoba Moose put a kink in those plans when they bested the Bears, 3-2 in Game 5 of the series, sending the series back to Manitoba.

    Manitoba Moose goaltender, Corey Schneider, with his team registering only four shots in the period, the first not coming until twelve minutes into the stanza, showed why he was the recipient of this year’s Baz Bastein Award, which is symbolic of the best goaltender in the AHL during the regular season by stopping all 12 shots he faced.

    While his team seemingly had to be frustrated with the mystery of Schneider, Bears’ forward, Graham Mink, said that was not the case when the question was posed to him.

    “No, not at all. We’ve had better periods than that and not scored,” said Mink. “We certainly had a lot of pressure, and you have to take your hat off to Schneider. He played an unbelievable game tonight and kept them in the game until they got their two goals there real quick in the second.”

    Schneider, who finished the game with 31 saves, was named the star of the game for keeping his team in the game, especially during the early stages, said that surviving the first 20 minutes unscathed was a vital component to his team’s success.

    “I think that was the key to the game. We knew they were going to come out real hard and try to bury us in the first period,” Schneider said. “For me, I knew I had to be sharp in the first period and give my team a chance to get our legs under us and get over the crowd and their energy.”

    After the Moose weathered the first period storm, the second period was all theirs, at least in the goal scoring department, as they netted the only goals of period, markers 1:07 apart, off the blades of Michael Grabner and Cody Hodgson, to take a 2-0 lead into the second intermission.

    Mink was a man on a mission in the third period, depositing Alexandre Bolduc into the Hershey bench with a thunderous check, and then depositing the puck behind Schneider to cut Manitoba’s lead in half.

    “Our team has been a pretty good third period team, and we wanted to come out hard and stay physical,” said Mink. “Aucoin made a great play to get me the puck there and I had the empty net when Schneider went down.”

    Mink’s goal stood as the only one of the period until Jason Krog’s empty netter at 18:39, which proved to be the game-winning goal after John Carlson scored with just 31 seconds left in regulation.

    After the game, Mink, while disappointed that the Bears were not able to claim the Cup on home ice, chose not to dwell on the negative aspects of the setback.

    “I just wanted to win so bad, and I want to win so bad every night. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen tonight. We’re just going to have to use that in a positive way on Friday.”

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    Calder Cup Finals vs. Manitoba Game 4

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    The Hershey Bears, facing an unfamiliar situation in the playoffs at Giant Center, trailing after one period of play, responded in familiar fashion, scoring the last two goals of the game and emerging with a 2-1 win over the Manitoba Moose on Sunday evening to take a 3-1 series lead in the best of seven Calder Cup Finals.

    Raymond Sawada gave the Moose a 1-0 lead 11:37 into the first period, rifling a wrist shot past Hershey goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, from between the face-off circles.

    Neuvirth’s counterpart, Cory Schneider, who has been outstanding between the pipes for the Moose against the high octane Hershey attack, kept the Bears off the board late in the period, repelling Mathieu Perreault’s backhand attempt from close range to keep it a 1-0 game after twenty minutes of play.

    Just as Schneider did late in the first period, Neuvirth nullified high-scoring Moose forward, Michael Grabner’s, backhand attempt in the opening minute of the second period with the visitors in the midst of a power play.

    Kyle Wilson willed home the equalizer for the Bears 5:11 into the second period, wristing a shot by the glove hand of Schneider, after the Moose netminder lost his angle and gave Wilson a huge target at which to shoot. Wilson’s goal was his third of the playoffs and his first since the opening game of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton series.

    “Gordon made a great play with a little saucer pass to me,” said Wilson, who has never missed a playoff game in his three-year Hershey career. “I had to fight off a couple guys and get myself free to make a good shot. By the time I did that, the goalie had committed down pretty low, so I had to get up and over him.”

    Bear’s defenseman John Carlson, who made his debut in Hershey during game one against the Baby Pens and picked up the secondary assist on Wilson’s goal, is enjoying the rollercoaster ride in his rookie season.

    “It’s an unbelievable experience and opportunity to be placed in a situation like this. Some guys never get it, and here I am, 19 years old, and having a shot to do it. I couldn’t ask for anything more,” said Carlson, the Washington Capitals’ 1st round selection in the 2008 draft.

    Schneider regained his sharpness after the Wilson goal, denying a pair of quality chances by Hershey’s leading point scorer, Keith Aucoin to send the game into the third period, knotted at 1-1.

    Early in the third period, Quintin Laing, Hershey’s inspirational leader, delivered a crunching hit on Manitoba’s Dusty Collins, giving his team an emotional lift and seemed to provide a spark in the step of the home team.

    “I was a little cautious about throwing my body around in my first game back, but after I took a couple of good hits and handled those and nothing happened to me, I figured if I could take them, I could give them,” said Laing, who will celebrate his 30th birthday on Monday.

    With former Capital, Nolan Baumgartner, already in the box serving a penalty for hooking, a sloppy line change cost the Moose another skater, and gave the Bears a 5-on-3 opportunity for 65 seconds.

    Thanks to some early communication problems between Keith Aucoin and Staffan Kronwall, Hershey used 63 of those precious seconds before Aucoin atoned for his error in judgment by depositing an errant shot by Alexandre Giroux into the cage.

    “I screwed up at the beginning, throwing it down the other end,” said Aucoin. “I got a lucky bounce off the wall there and was able to capitalize. I had a lot of shots high, and I was due for one.”

    Despite a Moose power play chance at the end of the game, the Bears held on for the win, with Neuvirth preserving his win by kicking aside Jason Krog’s bid in the closing seconds.

    Hershey’s victory moved them within just one win of capturing their 10th Calder Cup Championship, which would be their first on home ice since 1980 when the Bears defeated the New Brunswick Hawks, a team which featured former Bears’ coach, Bruce Boudreau as its leading scorer.

    Laing, a nine year veteran in search of his first professional championship, favors Hershey’s position, but views Tuesday’s game with caution.

    “It’s a good feeling to be this close, but we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. The clinching game has always been the toughest the last three rounds. We’re expecting a good, hard fight, and the crowd is going to be behind us; hopefully we can feed off of them.”

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    Calder Cup Finals vs. Manitoba Game 3

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    Although Hershey goaltender, Michal Neuvirth’s, stellar performance with 28 saves that earned him a shutout and bragging rights as the number one star of the game, the gritty stylings of Steve Pinizzotto figured just as prominently in the Bears’ 3-0 win over the Manitoba Moose on Saturday at Giant Center.

    Pinizzotto, Hershey’s fourth line punisher who has befuddled each of the Bears’ opponents in the playoffs with his bone bruising style, was on top of his game early in the first period, with his workmanlike methods proving instrumental in drawing the first penalty of the game, a slashing infraction on Manitoba’s Shaun Heshka at 6:14.

    “For him to be effective, he’s got to be that type of player,” said the Bears’ head coach, Bob Woods, of Pinizzotto, who has answered the challenge since their mid-March conference. “We don’t need him yapping and stuff like that. We need him out there being physical, and when you play that way, you get a lot off people’s attention. You get guys a little bit concerned every time you touch the puck, and when he’s on the ice, you’ve got to keep your head up.”

    Hershey wasted little time on the power play that resulted from Pinizzotto’s labor, when Graham Mink struck 8 seconds into the advantage. Mink’s goal was his 6th of the playoffs, and 4th game-winner.

    “I just wanted to get to the front of the net, and Kronwall made a great play coming down the wall and throwing it up front,” said Mink. “I got my stick on it, and it bounced in over the goalie’s leg pad. We wanted to get the first goal, and I was fortunate enough to be there.”

    Staffan Kronwall and Chris Bourque picked up the helpers on the Mink marker. Bourque’s assist, his 15th of the post-season, temporarily put him in a first place tie for the league lead in that category with his teammate, Keith Aucoin.

    Hershey’s power play perfection continued, and Aucoin regained his assist lead midway through the second period when he assisted on Alexandre Giroux’s league-leading 14th goal of the playoffs at 9:38, giving the Bears a 2-0 lead. Giroux’s goal was also his 9th power play goal of the postseason.

    “It was a kind of a 3-on-1 and I doubted whether to take the shot. I was thinking of passing back to Mink, but while I was in my motion, I just decided to let it go,” said Giroux, explaining his change-of-pace shot. “It was not my hardest shot, but sometimes you just have to place it and it goes in.”

    Neuvirth, who did not see his first shot of the game until more than six minutes had elapsed, displayed some of his best handiwork when he made a pair of glittering glove saves later in the game on Jason Jaffray, who scored a hat trick at the rookie’s expense in game two in Manitoba.

    “The first saves are always huge, and I want to make the saves as early as I can,” said Neuvirth. “It’s always tough for a goalie to have to stand there for like six minutes.”

    An empty net goal by the recently returning Quintin Laing sealed the Moose’s fate for the evening, giving the Bears the 2-1 lead in the Calder Cup Finals.

    Neuvirth, who earned his sixth number one star of the game, and fourth shutout victory, drew high praise from veteran forward Mink, who also had a firsthand look when Frederic Cassivi backstopped the Bears to the 2006 Calder Cup Championship.

    “Nothing rattles him, nothing phases him. He’s given us a chance to win every game. That’s all you can ask out of a goalie, especially one as young as he is. He’s got a promising future.”

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