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BEARS WORK OVERTIME TO REACH MILESTONE


The Hershey Bears entered Friday night’s matchup against the Adirondack Phantoms seeking their 50th win of the season, and after a seesaw battle, the boys from Chocolatetown escaped from Glens Falls with a 5-4 overtime win.

The Phantoms, the only team in the AHL that can boast of placing three blemishes on the Bears’ record, gave the visitors all that they could handle in the oscillating affair, twice grabbing one-goal leads after falling behind early in the contest.

The Bears took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Jay Beagle at 4:34. Beagle pounced upon the rebound of a Mathieu Perreault point blank attempt, and poked the puck behind Phantoms’ netminder, Johan Backlund, to pot his 11th goal of the season.

Less than two minutes after Beagle’s goal, an outstanding individual effort by Alexandre Giroux led to his 34th marker of the campaign, an unassisted tally.

“I was coming from the bench and the guy bobbled,” Giroux said. “The guy in the zone was standing still, so I tried to make a move on him. Then, I didn’t have enough speed to go around the defenseman, so I stopped and took a shot between his legs. I don’t think the goalie saw it.”

Greg Amadio’s cross checking infraction at 9:50 put the Phantoms on their first power play, and ultimately put them on the board for the first time, with defenseman, Marc-Andre Bourdon, lighting the lamp at 11:32.

Steve Pinizzotto’s punishing hit on Bourdon behind the Phantoms’ net, which put Bourdon on his back, resulted in his defensive partner, Sean Curry, taking a double minor penalty on Pinizzotto at 16:02.

Curry’s aggressive actions gave the Bears a golden opportunity to finish out the period on a positive note by potting a power play goal, but Adirondack’s penalty killing unit thwarted those plans and the teams retreated to the locker room after twenty minutes with the Bears leading, 2-1.

The second period belonged solely to the Phantoms, who netted the only two goals of the frame, including a soft goal that went in off of the back of Bears’ netminder, Michal Neuvirth.

“I thought we played well in the first, and came into the locker room with the 2-1 lead,” said Bears’ head coach, Mark French. “I thought in the second, we were dominated physically, and lost a lot of battles and races to the puck.”

In the forgetful second period, the Bears did not officially test Backlund for the first time until 10:25 into the frame. In all, the high-powered Bears’ offense put just three shots on net in the period, with Andrew Gordon garnering the only shot on net by a forward.

Early in the third period, Hershey captain, Bryan Helmer, was whistled off by referee, Jamie Koharski, for a cross-checking penalty on Phantoms’ forward, Stefan Legein. After realizing that he was being penalized, Helmer blew a fuse and drew an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty as well as ten-minute misconduct.

“Sure, the guy embellished it,” said Helmer. “He got in my way when I had a chance to get the puck out of the zone, and then they got a great scoring chance because of that. I just lost my cool, and I shouldn’t have done that, but that’s the stuff you learn by.”

With Helmer in the penalty box, Steve Pinizzotto struck with in shorthanded mode, netting his 11th goal of the season, and fourth in short-handed style.

“They tried to dump it in, and they missed the puck,” Pinizzotto said. “Wellar made it a good play by throwing it up to Joudrey, who dove and sent me in on the breakaway, and I beat him low to the glove side.”

Pinizzotto, who of late seems to be able to draw the wrath of his opponents even quicker while sporting the protective cage apparatus that he wears after being injured in a scrap against Albany, wishes he could drop the mitts, but has found another way to contribute by putting up consistent offensive numbers.

“It sucks that I can’t fight, particularly against team like this who want to put on a show for their fans,” Pinizzotto admitted. “The points are starting to come now, which is good, and I feel that I can do a lot to help this team out.”

Ironically, just as Helmer’s first penalty was about to expire, Legein struck on the power to give the Phantoms another one-goal lead.

Amadio, making amends for his earlier actions, drew an interference penalty on Phantoms’ defenseman, Joey Mormina, at 10:37.

While Mormina waited out his sentence, Giroux struck again on the power play at 11:58 to tie up the affair. For Giroux, the multi-goal effort was his second in his last two games played in Glens Falls.

“We know what we have to do when we come here. It’s always a battle and these guys always play really, really hard, and they are particularly intense against our line,” said Giroux.

“I thought all night we moved the puck well, but didn’t shoot enough. Then we were shooting and they were blocking the shots and getting in the lanes; but, on my goal, Miskovic made a great play to Aucoin and he did what he always does, finds me in an open spot.”

Giroux’s goal would be the last of regulation and the teams needed extra time to settle the score in the topsy-turvy battle.

Justice was served for the visitors from the Keystone State when Helmer roofed a wrist shot over the fallen Backlund just 1:33 into the session, giving the Bears their 22nd road triumph of the season.

“I thought the guys played really well in the third period, responding from a bad second period,” said Helmer, who watched the majority of the third period from the penalty box.

“Bourque and Pinizzotto made the play on the overtime goal, and I actually had two chances. The first one I put right in his pads, but I got a second chance, and put it in the net. It’s nice when you can come back and chip in like that.”

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Oh Captain, My Captain


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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East Conference Finals vs. Providence Game 4


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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Eastern Conference Finals vs. Providence Game 2


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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Bears vs. WB/S Pens Eastern Finals 1


Balance was the buzz word at Giant Center following the Hershey Bears’ 5-3 victory over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the first game of the Eastern Division Finals on Saturday night.

While taking their 1-0 lead in the series, the Bears received goals from five different players. That, combined with the outstanding performances from special teams units, factored heavily into the triumph.

“I think that’s (balanced scoring) been one of our strengths all year long, and this time of year, usually that’s how it works,” said Bears’ head coach, Bob Woods. “You look at the NHL series, and it’s not always the big dogs scoring all the time. Our (big) guys scored a couple nice goals, but for the most part, you have to have chip ins from everybody. I think that’s what makes us dangerous.”

After Hershey’s penalty killing unit continued it’s perfect post-season pace, killing off an early Penguins’ power play, the Bears struck with a power play goal of their own, with defenseman, Staffan Kronwall, supplying the charge at 9:38 of the first period.

Kronwall, who sat out Hershey’s series clinching win over the Phantoms last Friday after suffering a scratched cornea in the previous game, fired a seeing-eye shot that deflected off Pens’ defenseman, Joey Mormina.

Chris Bourque, a former college teammate of Penguins’ net minder, John Curry, cued a shot off him at 11:13, giving the Bears a 2-0 advantage.

“I knew someone was going to shoot it, and I wasn’t even watching it,” Bourque said. “I just kind of put my stick out there, and it hit my stick and went to the backboards. I knew Curry wasn’t getting to the post as quick as he could have, and I banked it off his skate and barely made it over the line.”

Late in the first period, Hershey’s Oskar Osala, hooked down by Mormina after receiving a pass from Alzner, was awarded a penalty shot by referee, Ghislain Hebert. Osala’s awkward attempt beat Curry, but failed to find the back of the net, ricocheting harmlessly off the post.

The visitors tied the game in the latter stages of the second period when Jean-Michel Daoust and Nick Johnson scored less than three minutes apart.

At 19:43 of the stanza, Andrew Gordon’s power play goal gave the Bears a lead that they refused to surrender for the remainder of the evening.

“Helmer good at finding those lanes, so that’s my job on the power play, to get in front of the net and stir up some traffic and make it tough for the goalie to see,” said Gordon. “It was one of those plays where I swung my stick at it. I probably do that a hundred times a game and don’t connect on any of them, but I was fortunate to get my stick on that one.”

Gordon showed another side to his game, setting up Kyle Wilson for a slam dunk at 1:38 of the third period.

Baby Pen Johnson, who scored the game winner in the regular season finale between the two teams, added a second goal to his playoff resume, keeping the Bears on their toes.

Hershey’s big gun, Alexandre Gioux, put a halt to the Penguins’ comeback march, scoring his third goal of the playoffs to ice the game, 5-3.

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Calder Cup Semis vs. Philly Game 2


When the Philadelphia Phantoms’ parent team, the Philadelphia Flyers, were on the verge of winning their first Stanley Cup in 1974, when they called the Spectrum ‘home’, the streaking trend was running rampant. Tonight, however, in possibly the last game played at the same historic venue, it was the Hershey Bears doing the streaking, reeling off six consecutive goals on their way to a 6-2 win over the Phantoms. 

With their win, the Bears took a 2-0 lead in the Calder Cup Eastern Division Semifinals, with the series headed back to the Giant Center for games three and four.

The Phantoms struck first and fast, only 53 seconds after the opening faceoff, giving the Phantoms a 1-0 lead when former Bear, Boyd Kane, backhanded a shot behind Hershey netminder, Michal Neuvirth.

Patrick Maroon doubled Philly’s lead at 6:42, gathering in a rebound off the backboards and depositing the puck into Hershey’s cage.

Even though his team was down, Neuvirth didn’t become despondent in the trying situation and proved that he was back on track by making a slick sliding save on Laliberte at 17:10 to keep it a one-goal game entering the second period.

“I just told myself it was a couple bad bounces, and I was trying to stay focused the whole time,” said Neuvirth. “I know I can bounce back from that situation.”

Bears’ captain, Bryan Helmer, demonstrated his leadership by nudging his team back into the game with his first playoff goal since May 16, 2006 with Grand Rapids at the expense of former Bears netminder, Maxime Ouellet.

“When you look at our team, we’ve got a lot of good character guys and a lot of guys who can score goals, so we’re never out of the game,” said Helmer.

Staffan Kronwall’s power play blast at 14:58 of the second period, the only goal of the stanza, tied the score at 2-2.

Hershey penalty kill unit was up to the task early in the third period, preventing the Phantoms from regaining the lead, when Greg Amadio was serving a slashing penalty incurred at 20:00 of the second period.

On their first power play of the third period, Hershey’s Alexandre Giroux, after a couple misfires, eventually guided a missile of a shot by Phantoms’ keeper, Scott Munroe, at 2:27 to give the Bears a 3-2 lead.

“If I would have gotten all of the first one, I would have beaten him,” Giroux said. “On the second one, the guy lost his stick and I tried to walk in, and he stopped it. Aucoin and Mink made a great play down low to get me the puck and we finally got it in.”

Shortly after Giroux’s tally, James van Riemsdyk’s shot found it’s way behind Neuvirth, but the rookie goalie somehow swept the puck off the goal line and out of danger to preserve the precarious one-goal lead.

Matthieu Perreault put the game out of reach for the Phantoms with his unassisted strike at 13:52, after going end-to-end.

“I just got the puck behind my net and skated up the ice like I like to do,” Perreault said. “I saw the open space and in the playoffs, you try to shoot as much as you can, and I shot at the net and scored.”

Steve Pinizzotto’s empty net goal and Francois Bouchard’s power play goal provided the icing on the cake for the Bears, and ensured them a comfortable margin of victory.

Helmer, a veteran that has seen many playoff situations, while happy with the result of the game and his contribution to the triumph, kept his emotions in check.

“When I can chip in offensively, it’s a good night and it’s nice; but it’s a long way from being over.”

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Bears Trip Toronto 3.25.09


Following the same successful formula they utilized during the latter stages of their recent road trip, the Hershey Bears came from behind once again to defeat the Toronto Marlies on Wednesday night at Giant Center, 4-3.

Matthieu Perreault’s double minor penalty for high-sticking Toronto’s Alex Berry at 1:49 gave the Marlies the first crack of the night on the power play.

Hershey’s penalty killing unit, ranked last in the AHL entering the game, successfully killed off the first part of the Perreault sentence and more than half of the second before Toronto’s Andre Deveaux found daylight low to the stick side of Hershey goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, at 5:20, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead.

Early in the second period, Steve Pinizzotto’s thunderous check on Toronto’s Jiri Tlusty at 1:20 drew a pool of blood from the head area of Tlusty, and also drew the attention of the Marlie’s Bates Battaglia, a former Washington Capital, who immediately sought retribution on Pinizzotto.

Although Battaglia clearly initiated the battle, referee, Chris Cozzan, apparently saw otherwise, choosing to hand out matching fighting penalties to the combatants. Tlusty did not return to the game.

Ryan Hamilton’s holding penalty in the Hershey defensive zone on Hershey’s captain, Bryan Helmer, led to the Bears finally getting on the board at 3:32, when Alexandre Giroux struck for his 51st goal of the season, and 20th strike on the power play.

With Dean Arsene out of position while trying to exact revenge on Alex Foster, who had nailed Kyle Wilson with a stiff check seconds earlier, the Marlies quickly regained the lead at 4:41 when Todd Perry beat Neuvirth.

Keith Aucoin’s turnover in the Hershey defensive zone, led to Chris Bourque’s holding penalty, and ultimately to Deveaux’s second power play marker of the affair at 9:36, giving the Marlies a 3-1 lead.

Aucoin atoned for his defensive faux pas, beating Marlies’ netminder, Justin Pogge, with a wrist shot from the top of the right circle at 13:22, to cut his team’s deficit to a single goal.

“I tried to get off as quick as I could.  I don’t think he (Pogge) saw it right away.  I think his defenseman screened him and he saw it at the last second, but it was too late,” said Aucoin.

Immediately after Aucoin’s goal, Kip Brennan, appearing in his first game at Giant Center since February 7th, shook things up a bit when he and former Norfolk Admiral, Jay Rosehill squared off.  Brennan’s narrow victory in the tussle seemed to inspire his teammates to score 46 seconds later, tying the game at three.

Pogge contributed to his own demise by turning the puck over to the Bears’ Jay Beagle deep in Toronto’s zone.  Beagle backhanded a no-look pass to Andrew Joudrey, who quickly shoveled the puck into the vacated cage at 14:11.

“Actually, I just saw the puck go by me, and I saw the goalie was still kind of in the corner,” said Beagle.  “I was going to shoot it and at the last minute, I heard Joudrey yell my name and I dished it to him and he put it home.”

The teams went into the second intermission deadlocked at three, thanks largely to quality saves late in the period by Pogge (on Giroux), and Neuvirth (on Deveaux).

In the third period, there were not a lot of quality scoring chances for either side, and in fact, it was a low probability shot by Oskar Osala that sealed the deal for Hershey.  Osala, after gaining the Toronto zone, unleashed a wicked wrister that sailed by the glove hand of Pogge at 8:15.

Osala, when asked if he was surprised that puck found its target, joked that this goal was not unlike many of his previous 22 tallies.

 “You always ask me that after I score,” Osala laughed. “I was surprised this time because I was thinking about it, and I kind of knew I was going to shoot back to the far side. Usually, when you have time to think, it doesn’t work, but I think my wrist shot is harder than my slapshot.  Coach always bugs me about that; he always tells me not to take slapshots, but to take wrist shots.”

The Bears, steeped in talent this season, proved that they don’t have to always play a full 60 minutes to come out on top as long as they rev it up when their backs are against the wall.

“We didn’t play that good the first period, and Neuvirth made some good saves for us.  We came out the second period and played a good 40 minutes to end the game, and that penalty kill at the end was huge.” 

 

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