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  • Calder Cup Finals vs. Manitoba Game 1

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    Though the Hershey Bears trailed the Manitoba Moose after 40 minutes of play, they had to be thinking, “We’ve got them right where we want them”. The Bears, as they did three times in the Providence series, fought back from third period deficits to take a 1-0 lead in the Calder Cup finals with an overtime goal by Alexandre Giroux.

    Giroux, the reigning AHL MVP, had three goals in the game, to give him 12 goals in the playoffs. Rookie Oskar Osala scored a pair of goals for the Chocolate and White.

    Bears’ goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, made 26 saves, including a second period penalty shot from Matt Pope, to register his 13th win of the playoffs. Game 2 is scheduled for Tuesday night in Manitoba.

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    Kyle Wilson: Consistency Is His Game

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    If one were searching for one word to describe Hershey Bears forward Kyle Wilson on the ice, flashy would not be that word; however, one word that definitely fits Wilson to a tee is ‘consistent’, something he has been since his impressive debut as a Bear against the Manitoba Moose at Giant Center, when he scored a pair of goals, including the game-winning goal.

    Not unexpectedly, the steady Wilson, now standing 6’0” and weighing in at 200 lbs., not huge by current NHL standards, patterned his game during his youth hockey days after a player with similar physical characteristics.

    “Growing up, I was surprisingly a pretty small guy and I really didn’t grow until high school,” said Wilson by phone on Thursday. “I always loved watching Joe Sakic play; he was always so creative with the puck. Every time he would score a great goal, I would go and try to do it in practice the next day.”

    Wilson was drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the 2004 NHL draft, one slot ahead of the Buffalo Sabres’ 273rd pick, Dylan Hunter, son of Washington Capitals’ legend, Dale Hunter. As with any decision Wilson makes on the ice, a lot of thought was put into his decision to choose college over the Canadian junior ranks.

    “Playing through juniors and whatnot, you always see the coaches and guys who were
    great players, but they had their injuries and couldn’t make it and had nothing to fall back on,” said Wilson, a native of Oakville, Ontario. “I had really good grades in high school and my parents were obviously pushing me to get an education. I was given a great opportunity to go to Colgate and it was hard to pass up.”

    Not only did Wilson earn his degree in Physics at Colgate University, but he also put up impressive numbers on the ice during his senior year, leading the team in scoring with 41 points, and earning second team ECACHL All-Conference honors.

    After failing to stick with the San Antonio Rampage at the beginning of his rookie season, Wilson was dispatched to the South Carolina Stingrays for a brief stint before being called up to Hershey in December 2006.

    “San Antonio gave me an opportunity but they really didn’t have room for me and they put me on the wing. Any player getting called up for the first time to a new team, you just have to try and keep it simple and work as hard as you can and hopefully, your instincts take over,” said Wilson.

    He continued, “When Hershey called me up, they put me at center and they gave me a couple of good wingers right off the bat and basically said, here is your shot, show what you can do, and it’s worked out for me. I ran into a great situation here in Hershey and they really helped me and taught me a lot, and that really benefited me and made me the player that I am.”
    Wilson, who scored nearly a point per game in Hershey’s 2006-07 Calder Cup Finals, has seen his numbers drop significantly in this year’s playoffs, primarily due to his increased responsibilities in his own zone.

    “I’m definitely a lot better defensive player now. Woody has shown confidence in me by putting me in a lot more defensive situations than before. Whatever it takes to win, that’s what you have to do and hopefully I can contribute more in this series.”

    The location of Wilson’s future contributions is unknown, as he heads into Restricted Free Agency this summer. For now, though, Wilson, like his teammates, is focused on attaining the four more wins needed for a Calder Cup Championship.

    “I’ll figure all that out at the end of the year after the season is over. The ball is in their (Washington’s) court. I’d love to get an opportunity to get some NHL time, but I love it here in Hershey, and it’s obviously a great place to play. It’s gotten me to the Calder Cup Finals twice.”

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    East Conference Finals vs. Providence Game 5

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    When Chris Bourque’s father, the legendary Ray Bourque finally got his name of the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in his 21st professional season, the rallying call was “Mission 16W”. Their battle cry signified the exit on the New Jersey Turnpike where the Avs played three of the seven games against the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup.

    On Monday evening in Providence, it was Chris Bourque’s shorthanded goal that propelled the Hershey Bears to their own “Mission 16”, as in 16 wins to claim their 10th Calder Cup Championship, in their 21st appearance in the Calder Cup Finals.

    The Bears came out of the gates in the contest determined to get an early lead and not fall behind in the contest; however, despite two power play advantages and a huge shot advantage of 13-3, the Chocolate and White failed to register a first period goal for the fifth straight time on the road, and entered the first intermission in a scoreless deadlock.

    Early in the second period, Andrew Gordon’s power play goal, his 5th strike of the post-season at 2:17, gave the Bears their first 1st or 2nd period lead on the road since their first road outing in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin series. The point that Bourque picked up for assisting on the goal made him the league leader in the assist category.

    Brad Marchand’s power play goal, his 7th goal of the playoffs and 5th on the power play at 4:45, tied the game at a goal apiece. With the goal, Marchand also tied Hershey’s Alexandre Giroux for the league lead in power play goals.

    Giroux, not wanting to share the stage with Marchand, picked up his 9th goal, his 6th with the man advantage, taking back sole ownership of the spotlight later in the period, giving the Bears a 2-1 lead to take to the 3rd period.

    Mikko Lehtonen tied the game less than two minutes into the third period.

    Providence, who had already struck on eight power plays throughout the series, looked poised to take a lead and extend the series when Dean Arsene was whistled off for two minutes at 5:30.

    However, Bourque pounced upon the opportunity, and scored the Bears’ first short-handed goal of the season, giving the Bears a lead they would never relinquish.

    Darren Reid and Quintin Laing (empty net) both tacked on goals to account for the final score of 5-2.

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    East Conference Finals vs. Providence Game 4

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    The Hershey Bears moved one step closer to their third appearance in the Calder Cup finals in the last four years, when they dug themselves out of a two-goal hole at Dunkin Donuts Center, and glazed the Providence Bruins in overtime, 3-2.

    The Bruins jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, with goals from Peter Schaefer and Jeff Penner.

    Hershey’s captain, Bryan Helmer, who started his team’s comeback from a 2-0 deficit on the road in game two of the Philadelphia series, once again duplicated that feat by scoring his 3rd goal of the playoffs at 7:31 of the second period.

    Keith Aucoin, the former Bruin, tied the game at two at 13:12 with his 3rd goal of the postseason.

    Aucoin’s goal was the last one of regulation, and the game continued into an overtime period, Hershey’s second of the playoffs.

    The hero of the day turned out to be Graham Mink, who tallied at 15:10 of overtime, his 5th marker in 15 playoff contests, and his 3rd game-winner.

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    A Candid Conversation with Graham Mink

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    When Graham Mink left Hershey in 2007 after contributing mightily to the Hershey Bears success in attaining the Calder Cup, he most likely did not think he would be in Hershey racing for the Cup again just three seasons later. However, as fate would have it, Worcester’s playoff woes–failing to qualify last season, and being ousted in the first round the year before–turned out to be Hershey’s gain, and was a major element in Mink’s decision to return to the Washington Capitals organization.

    “I wanted to have a chance to win in the playoffs, so that was a major factor in my decision and we’ve made a pretty good run here so far,” said Mink, by phone from Providence on Saturday. “I have a lot of friends in Hershey and Washington, so coming back was pretty much a no-brainer. After speaking with them, and them being interested, I didn’t really care to look anywhere else.”

    Returning himself to the familiar surroundings under the Capitals’ radar proved beneficial to Mink, allowing him to see some NHL action, after two years of no call-ups to the San Jose Sharks. The call from our nation’s capital from Mink’s former coach in Hershey, Bruce Boudreau, caught the eight year pro mildly off guard.

    “I was a little surprised, I was playing pretty well at the time and I had played for Bruce when I was here three years ago. Getting an opportunity to play in the NHL is a function of luck as much as it is of playing well and deserving to be there,“ said Mink, who was never drafted following the culmination of his three- year college career at the University of Vermont. “You need to have that opportunity, whether it be through injuries or suspensions or what have you. When things like that happen it gives somebody in the AHL an opportunity, and unfortunately for me, nothing like that happened when I was in Worcester for two years. I had a couple good years in Worcester. The Sharks are a first-class organization.”

    Mink, one of Hershey’s current alternate captains, and a leader on the 2006 Calder Cup team, while admitting that every team is different, surprisingly thinks that this year’s contenders may have a slight edge over the ‘06 squad.

    “I notice similarities in the character level of the guys. I think we’re a lot different team than we were three years ago,” said Mink, who had previously served as captain for both the Portland Pirates and the Worcester Sharks. “I think the team this year is a lot deeper. We’ve got four plus lines of forwards, and three plus lines of D that are capable of doing the job. I think three years ago, we had some players step up and play very well in the playoffs. The character level between the two teams is similar; the never give up, never-say-die attitude is there.”

    An unrestricted free agent after the termination of this season, Mink, while admitting he has put a little thought into his future beyond this season, says he totally focused on the task at hand.

    “Certainly once the playoffs are over here, I’m going to talk with Washington and Hershey and see what their thoughts are,” said Mink, who turned 30 on May 21st. “I’d love to come back, but that’s the stuff you have an agent for and you worry about right now. The major goal is to win the championship, and that makes everybody’s life a lot easier in the summertime.”

    Hopefully, life will be easy and the champagne will be flowing all summer long in Chocolatetown.

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    East Conference Finals vs. Providence Game 3

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    Providence Bruins’ head coach, Rob Murray, was a member of the Springfield Falcons when the Hershey Bears began their comeback from their 2-0 series deficit on their way to the Calder Cup with a win on May 21, 1997.

    Twelve years and a day later, Murray witnessed another Hershey revival, when the Bears bounced back in game three of the East Conference Finals from a 3-0 deficit to eventually win the game, 6-4, and take a 2-1 lead in the series against his team.

    Bears’ net minder, Michal Neuvirth, picked up his 9th playoff win, despite a shaky beginning of the outing, giving up a soft goal on the first shot he faced, when he fumbled an innocent looking wrist shot from Zach Hamill at just 1:56.

    The next goal was a power play goal from Bruins’ Jeff Penner, his second of the series at 15:32 of the 1st period, which finished out the scoring for the stanza.

    Providence took a 3-0 lead when Peter Schaefer, assisted by Penner, penetrated Hershey’s penalty killing armor for the second time of the evening.

    Just 25 seconds later, Bears’ forward, Alexandre Giroux, started his team’s climb back from the brink with his 7th goal of the playoffs.

    Chris Bourque closed out the scoring in the second period, notching his 3rd goal of the playoffs at 9:05, making it a one-goal game.

    Penner’s 4-on-3 power play goal 38 seconds into the 3rd period restored the Bruins’ two-goal lead.

    Andrew Gordon and Giroux scored goals only 1:20 apart, to tie the game at four with just over 13 minutes to play.

    Graham Mink, who had not scored in the previous six games, scored what would be the game-winner at 13:58. Mink’s goal was his second game winning goal of the playoffs.

    Bryan Helmer tacked on a power play goal at 19:25 to seal the deal for the Chocolate and White.

    The series continues on Sunday in Providence.

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    Eastern Conference Finals vs. Providence Game 2

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    On November 5, 1938, in the Hersheypark Arena, the Hershey Bears recorded their first franchise win, defeating the Providence Reds. On Sunday night at Giant Center, the Bears registered their first playoff victory over the Providence Bruins by the same score, 2-1, tying the series at one.

    In the first period, the teams combined for only 11 shots on goal, which was one less than Providence’s first period total from game one, with Hershey’s first shot coming from Keith Aucoin on the power play at 16:08.

    The stanza also featured one significant shot of a different nature: Graham Mink’s body shot, which was originally intended to level Providence’s Zach Hamill, instead felled Hershey captain, Bryan Helmer, who absorbed the brunt of the blow. The grizzled Helmer, a veteran of 10 AHL playoff seasons, although momentarily downed by the hit, did not miss his next shift.

    “We were fighting along the boards, and I really don’t know what happened. I had my head down. I thought he (Hamill) hit me. That’s just the way Graham is; he plays hard, and stuff like that happens,” chuckled Helmer, with Mink chiming in a joking apology in the background.

    Unlike game one, game two’s first period played out more like a typical opening period of a playoff series.

    “Nobody was tearing it up in the first period there. Everybody was kind of sitting back and not a lot of energy out of either team, and just kind of playing it safe,” said Bears’ head coach, Bob Woods. “I think everybody’s scared to make a make a mistake because we knew that first goal was going to be big, especially with the way both goaltenders were playing.”

    Hershey turned up the heat in the second period, firing 21 shots at Bruins’ goaltender, Tuukka Rask, but failed to rattle Rask’s cage.

    Michal Neuvirth, Hershey’s number one netminder, as not to be outdone by his counterpart, made late saves in each of the first two periods to keep Providence off the scoreboard, denying Brad Marchand on a 2-on-1 in the first period and putting the brakes on Jeff Penner’s shorthanded bid in the second period.

    An unlikely candidate finally broke the deadlock at 3:21 of the third period. Bears’ forward Andrew Joudrey skillfully redirected Tyler Sloan’s point blast behind Rask to give him team a 1-0 lead.

    “It was Oskar getting down on the forecheck quick, and getting the puck through their defenseman,” said Joudrey, of his first career playoff goal. “I saw that and kind of backed off and became the high slot guy. They collapsed and Oskar found Sloan and it worked out.”
    Just 2:40 seconds after Joudrey’s goal, Alexandre Giroux banked a power play shot off of former Bear, defenseman, Johnny Boychuk, to give the Bears a 2-0 lead.

    “It was definitely a pass and not a shot. I think it hit his (Boychuk’s) skates, or the goalie’s pads, and it went five-hole,” said Giroux, who is now tied for the league lead in playoff power play goals with five.

    Brad Marchand’s power play goal, with Rask on the bench for an extra attacker with just over 30 seconds left to play, broke Neuvirth’s bid for his 4th playoff shutout.

    Neuvirth, who has played every minute of Hershey’s 13 playoff games, said he’s still raring to go, despite his heavy workload.

    “Everybody’s tired. It’s a long season, but I’m feeling good, and we’re going to get a day off tomorrow,” said Neuvirth.

    After evening the series with Sunday’s victory, things are looking up for the Bears as they take to the road for the next three games.

    “If you go down 2-0 and go back to their barn for three, it would be really tough,” said Helmer. “We got the win tonight, and we’re looking forward to going there.”

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    Eastern Conference Finals vs. Providence Game 1

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    The Providence Bruins and Hershey Bears met at Giant Center for Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night. After feasting on the Penguins in the last round, the Bears found the task of moving up the food chain a bit more challenging, falling 3-2.

    Providence drew first blood in the encounter, with both of their special teams units playing a role in the early going.

    The Bruins’ penalty killing unit, which entered the game with a perfect record of 15 consecutive successful ventures on foreign ice in the playoffs, was featured first after Kirk MacDonald was whistled off for slashing at 2:19. That group performed flawlessly, making it 16 in a row in the early going, killing off the advantage without allowing a shot on goal.

    Up next for the P-Bruins was their power play unit, which had struck for a pair of extra man markers in both of the regular season meetings between the clubs. Just over a minute into the advantage, Jeff Penner tallied at 8:03 to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.

    Later in the period, while on their second power play venture, the P-Bruins increased their lead to 2-0, when Jordan Knackstedt slid a backhander by sprawling Bears’ goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, at 16:19.

    Former Bruin, Keith Aucoin, said that stumbling out of the starting block factored heavily into the Bears suffering the setback.

    “We knew they were going to come hard, and we weren’t ready,” said Aucoin. “That’s why we lost the game.”

    The Bears, after repelling an early attack in the second period, finally found a way to beat Bruins’ goaltender, Tuukka Rask, when Oskar Osala converted a beautiful cross-ice pass from Aucoin, and cut the Hershey deficit to a single goal.

    Matt Marquardt restored the visitors’ two-goal cushion at 8:28, cashing on a rebound of a Zach Hamill shot that Neuvirth stopped, but could not control.

    Moments after the line of Chris Bourque, Kyle Wilson, and Andrew Gordon put in an impressive shift, maintaining persistent offensive pressure in the Providence zone, but unable to find the back of net, Osala found the promised land, wristing a shot behind Rask at 14:41 to slice the Bruins’ bulge to a single goal for the second time in the game.

    The Bears had several chances later in the game, particularly in the last minute of play; however, Rask was equal to the task, denying linemates Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux with quality saves, to preserve the Providence lead and assure his team the win.
    “I think we came out a little flat, and they came out stronger than us, and the 2-0 lead was hard to come back from,” said Giroux.

    If Hershey hopes to even the series tomorrow night, they will need to find a way to focus for a full 60 minutes.

    “I could find any excuses, but it’s not going to find any solutions,” Giroux said. “It’s behind us now, and we’ve got to focus on tomorrow night.”

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    Hershey’s Playoffs by the Numbers

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    (33) Percentage of Hershey’s shots that the trio of Graham Mink, Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux propelled at the Penguins’ goaltenders in the WBS series.

    (23) Number of Hershey players who have registered at least one point in the playoffs.

    (17) Number of periods that the Bears have not allowed a goal by their opponents.

    (16) Number of Bears that have registered at least one goal in this post-season.

    (13) Number of Bears who have donned the sweater of the Chocolate and White for all 11 playoff contests.

    (9) Number of Hershey multi-point games by everyone who has appeared in the playoffs, excluding Giroux and Aucoin.

    (8) Combined number of multi-point games registered by Aucoin and Giroux (4 each)…Games that the Bears have scored the first goal of the game… Number of different players who have scored Hershey’s last eight goals at Giant Center.

    (7) Number of different Bears who have tallied the eight game winning goals…Number of times that Michal Neuvirth has been named a star of the game….Number of Bears who have scored their 1st AHL playoff goals.

    (6) Number of different Bears who have tallied the six game winning goals at Giant Center.

    (+6) Andrew Joudrey’s team leading +/- number. Tyler Sloan and Steve Pinizzotto are each +5.

    (3) Number of Hershey game-winning goals that have been struck in the 1st period in their last three triumphs.

    (2) Number of Hershey fights in the post-season (Greg Amadio-Paul Bissonnette and Oskar Osala-Patrick Maroon).

    (0) Number of first period goals that the Bears have allowed at Giant Center.

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    East Division Finals vs. Pens Game 7

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    On the 21st anniversary of the day the 1987-88 Hershey Bears captured their 12th straight playoff victory, earning the franchise’s 7th Calder Cup, the 2008-09 version of the club took a big step towards earning Calder Cup number ten, defeating the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 3-0 in game 7 of their East Division Final series at Giant Center, and advancing to the East Conference Finals.

    Goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, who yielded 12 goals to the Penguins during the Bears’ three losses at the Wachovia Arena, said his confidence never wavered during his three tough outings.

    “I knew I could play better,” said Neuvirth. “I was missing bad bounces for us, and I just hoped I could get back to lucky bounces, and things worked out for us.”

    Neuvurth, who gave a lot of credit to his defense, was perfect for the second consecutive game, stopping all 24 shots he faced, including quality chances by Dustin Jeffrey and Chris Minard, midway through the second period.

    Only 50 seconds after the opening faceoff, Hershey’s Alexandre Giroux, who often found himself the recipient of a Keith Aucoin pass on his way to a 60-goal regular season, played the playmaker role to perfection, putting a picture perfect pass on the tape of his linemate to give the Bears an early 1-0 lead.

    “I think I gave him a lot of empty nets this year, so he owed me at least one,” joked Aucoin. “He made a great pass. He could have shot it, but he made a great pass and I had an easy job to just put it on the net.”

    The Penguins enjoyed their only two power plays, 39 seconds of which was a 5-on-3 advantage, late in the second period, and carrying over into the early moments of the third. However, Hershey’s penalty killing unit, led by Andrew Joudrey, helped to extinguish the threat of the baby Pens’ firepower.

    Joudrey, who also won a NCAA championship at the University of Wisconsin, compared the experience to his first Game 7 playoff action.

    “There are a lot of similarities there,” said Joudrey, Hershey’s plus/minus leader in the playoffs. “It’s one of those things where you, in both instances, you throw away anything that has happened in other parts of the series, and it’s one game, winner take all. There are definitely a lot of parallels.”

    The Bears power play, which had failed on three previous occasions in the game, was given a fourth opportunity when Reid Cashman was whistled off for hooking at 4:35 of the second period.

    Just 19 seconds into the ensuing power play, Chris Bourque struck for his 2nd goal of the playoffs, giving Hershey a 2-0 lead.

    Cashman also figured into Hershey’s 3rd goal when he shattered his stick while attempting a slapshot, leading to an odd-man rush. Steve Pinizzotto, a pest in the Penguins’ side throughout this series, used linemate, Darren Reid as a decoy, and bounced a shot of Jon D’Aversa and between the pads of netminder, Adam Berkhoel at 10:49.

    “It bounced on something, and it was just good luck, and it came at the right time,” said Pinizzotto. “That was a nail in their coffin.”

    In defeat, Penguins’ head coach, Todd Reirden, admitted there were several factors that contributed to his team’s demise.

    “Their goalie played outstanding. I thought he was much better here than he was on the road,” said Reirden. “We had to win our three home games, and we invested a lot of energy in terms of our effort level and stuff like that. Playing 3-in-3 with that type of urgency is tough, so we were still fighting back from that.”

    He continued, “It’s a tough opponent over there, and I feel these are the two best teams in the league, and it’s unfortunate we have to knock each other off. Credit to the way they go about their business; a great job by their coaching staff, and their players.”

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