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The Hershey Bears continued their record-setting ways on home ice on Friday night at Giant Center, racing by the Albany River Rats with six unanswered goals to cruise to their 24th consecutive home ice victory by a score of 8-2.

The Bears displayed their offensive balance with seven different players finding the back of the net, and by scoring eight goals in the game, which was the 9th time this season they have accomplished that feat.

The first 13 minutes of the game were relatively quiet because of neither team generating much offense, with only a subplot being newsworthy. The sideshow involved former Bear, Oskar Osala, taking a run at new Bears’ defenseman, Grant Lewis, and then being pursued and checked by Andrew Gordon.

“My first reaction was one of the guys on our team got hit, and it’s one of the new guys, so I wanted to let him know that we were going to back him up,” said Gordon. “I know he’s only been here a couple days, but at the same time, he’s on the team, and we’re going to stick up for him like anybody else. When I saw it was Oskar, I wasn’t going to do anything crazy. I know he’s not out there trying to hurt guys.”

The Bears lit the lamp for the first time of many when Chris Bourque buzzed a running wrist shot by the glove of Albany netminder, Mike Morrison, at 13:18.

Former Bears defenseman, Jonathan Paiement, authored Albany’s first goal of the game and tied the contest at one when he beat starting Bears netminder, Michal Neuvirth, with a blueline blast at 15:01.

Andrew Gordon, the Bears workaholic winger who is having a career year in the goal scoring department, added his 32nd goal of the season with only 42 seconds remaining in the first period.

“I was trying to slide it doing to Aucoin and do a little give and go, but I sort of fanned on it and the puck bobbled,” said Gordon, who has scored in five of the last six home outings. “Once I bobbled it, the D bit down towards Aucoin which opened me up. It was an accidental bobble that turned out in my favor. Hard work pays off, I guess.”

Neuvirth, the second year pro from the Czech Republic who was pulled in his last start in Worcester on Sunday after allowing five goals on twenty-one shots before being replaced, was replaced once again by Braden Holtby when the teams returned to the ice to start the second period, departing the contest with a lower body injury.

“I actually found out I was going in with about a minute left in the first,” Holtby said. “I had no idea what was going on. Alzner nudged me and told me that I was going in. I was wondering why because he had only given up one goal, but I think it was his knee again. It’s unfortunate for him, but as a backup, I had to be prepared for that. I was lucky the guys played an outstanding game after I came in.”

Paiement again dialed long distance and found another connection early in the second period at 4:42, beating Holtby for at 4:42 with Albany on the power play. With the two goals on the evening, Paiement now counts four goals to his credit this campaign, with three of those being struck at Giant Center against the Bears.

“It went through so many legs, and I have no idea how it got through. It’s just one of those seeing-eye shots you can’t do anything about,” said Holtby of the only goal he allowed on the evening.

Hershey regained the lead for good less than a minute after Paiement’s game-tying goal when Keith Aucoin batted an airborne Alexandre Giroux pass behind Morrison at 5:30.

“I knew Giroux was going to pass it to me, and it kind of rolled on him,” Aucoin said. “I got lucky because the puck was wobbling, and I was able to get my stick on it and it went in.”

Exactly one minute after Gordon’s goal that was disallowed because of the puck being kicked into the net, Michael Dubuc’s fifth goal of the season, and second in his last three games, finished off the scoring in the second period and gave the home team a 4-2 lead entering the third period.

Boyd Kane and Alexandre Giroux each added a goal to the Bears’ total in the third period before fisticuffs became the story and the focal point of the festivities. The first bout of the third period fight card began when Francois Bouchard and Drayson Bowman squared off in a middle-weight tilt.

“It goes back to the last game when we played them and he jabbed me, so I just wanted to go back and show him if he did that kind of stuff, we would have a good fight,” said Bouchard. “I won it clean with him and I was really pumped. It was the first fight in my career. I just got caught up in the moment at the end.”

Less than a minute later when Nicolas Blanchard hit Kyle Wilson from behind, chaos ensued when a pair of secondary fights broke out. When the dust has settled, both the Bears involved in those battles, Boyd Kane and Patrick Wellar, along with their River Rat counterparts, were issued game misconducts.

When play finally resumed, Keith Aucoin and newcomer, Ashton Rome, put the exclamation points on the Bears’ goal total.

“I got a few shots, some good shots, and I think I was just due,” said Rome who rang a shot off the post in the first period. “It felt pretty good. I kind of fanned on it, but I put it on the side I wanted to.”

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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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Trailing for the first time at home during their record-tying 22 home winning streak, it looked like the Hershey Bears might have to reset the clock and start another home run because of the relentless Adirondack Phantoms; however, buoyed by a pair of goals by former Phantom, Boyd Kane, the Bears extended their streak to a record-breaking 23 home wins.

“We really came out hard in the third. Going into the third, we weren’t happy because we hadn’t played a good game. We wanted to break the record, and we knew what was on the line,” said Bears’ center, Keith Aucoin.

Kane initiated the scoring at 16:10 of the first period denting the twine for the 20th time this season.

“I gave it to Bourque up high and he went down low and made a great pass to me,” said Kane, who has reached the 20-goal mark twice in his career, both times with the Bears. “I was all alone in the slot and I was able to put it far side.”

Adirondack’s Andreas Nodl knotted the score at one by fending off defenseman, Karl Alzner, and then beating Bears’ goaltender, Michal Neuvirth through the five-hole at 18:24.

Rob Bellamy gave the Phantoms a 2-1 lead 6:11 into the second period by taking advantage of Neuvirth turning the puck over in the trapezoid behind the net and banking the puck off the glove and body of the second year netminder.

The Bears opened the third period on a power play and seemingly tied the game when Chris Bourque’s bullet appeared to bounce quickly in and out of the net. Though the goal light went on, the goal was waived off and play continued. Shortly after the controversial shot, Zach Miskovic’s missile from the point eluded Phantoms’ netminder, Johan Backlund, and officially tied the game at two.

At 6:25 of the final frame, Aucoin, thanks to a solid screen provided by Kane, put the home team in front for the second time.

“My job on the power play is to go stand in front of the net and screen the goalie,” Kane said. “That’s what I was doing, and Aucoin was actually trying to pass it to me and it just went through me and Mormina and got through the goalie, too.”

Hershey head coach, Mark French, who was not with the organization when Kane captained the club to the Calder Cup in 2006, realizes what Kane’s presence means to the team.

“He’s every bit a professional,” said French. “He’s a great asset in our dressing room, and a workman’s type player. You appreciate his work ethic. He shows up every day with his lunch box and his work shoes and he goes to work. I think everybody can appreciate the type of player he is. He’s very versatile, as you mentioned. He can step up and play, as he did at times this year, on our top line, or he could play on your third-line checking line and do each equally as well.”

Kane capped off the scoring with an empty net goal at 19:40, establishing a new career-high goal total of 21.

“It’s nice. When you come so close and don’t get there, you want to get there,” said Kane of breaking the 20-goal barrier. “It’s a good feeling to get it out of the way, and now I’ll just keep going.”

While playing against players that one called teammates just last season may present problems for younger, less experienced players, for Kane, it’s all in a day’s work.

“It’s a lot of fun to go out there and play against your friends. I’ve been around a bit and done it a lot, so I think it brings the best out of me sometimes.”

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Bears Week in Review Nov. 8, 2009

The Hershey Bears ruled the road last week, picking up six out of a possible eight points during their trip through New England.

Wednesday evening in Lowell, current residence of former Bear Louis Robitaille, Keith Aucoin made an immediate impact on his return to the Bears’ lineup when he tallied his first hat trick as a Bear and propelling his team to a 5-2 victory. Read the rest of this entry »

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French Ready for Next Challenge

Mark French in 2002.
Mark French in 2002.

The German philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, famously said, “that which does not destroy us makes us stronger” and for new Hershey Bears head coach, Mark French, that statement could not ring any truer.

After being fired in his only previous professional head coaching job by the Wichita Thunder of the Central Hockey League in December of 2007, and then serving a short stint as a volunteer coach with the Reading Royals of the East Coast Hockey League, French arrived as in Hershey in January of 2008 to begin his job as Bob Woods’ assistant coach.

“You find out a lot about yourself in adverse situations. Everybody’s a good coach when things are going well and you have great players, but you truly find out a lot about your character and intestinal fortitude when things don’t go well,” said French.

“I know I’ve become stronger as a person, and I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve taken from that experience, no matter what the circumstances are, I’ve been able to overcome it and land on my feet.”

French, who played four years of college hockey and graduated with a Bachelor Degree in Psychology from Brock University in Canada, receiving the highly regarded “212 Degrees” award each year, presented to the athlete who demonstrates leadership, commitment and excellence on the ice, still benefits from the lessons learned at that institute.

“I think the one thing that going to university and getting a degree, the biggest thing it taught me was how to learn; and the thirst for knowledge, and that’s how I’ve always been as a coach,” he reflected. “So, I think that’s what it’s provided me, always striving to learn a little more.”

While it might seem that his degree would benefit him in his dealings with the multiple personalities that comprise a hockey club, French is not so sold on that line of thinking.

“I don’t know if there’s a direct correlation with the psychology, but I’ve got a hunger for knowledge and I love the game of hockey and all of the nuances of the game of hockey and I always want to be learning.”

After the recently concluded Washington Capitals prospect camp, French said the experience was like his previous ones, with one notable exception.

“I don’t think it was much different, but certainly when I got a chance to introduce myself, it’s nice to put the head coach title beside it,” French said. “That was the only thing that was different, it was just nice to be here for a second year and get comfortable with the players and staff.”

Unlike recent affiliations that Hershey has had, which saw them not always reading from the same book, their most recent union with the Capitals has saw the partners not only reading from the same book, but being on the same page. With that happy unison spurning two Calder Cups, French had a simple one word answer, “no”, when I asked him if fans should expect a discernable difference in the Bears’ style of play now that he has switched roles.

“I think the one nice thing that has been done with Washington and Hershey is that we basically play the same style, and that’s dictated by the Caps. So, if there was a change in their philosophy, that would be mirrored in Hershey. Bruce’s system has proven to be very successful; we employed it last year in Hershey and were also very successful, so, there’s certainly no need to change our style.”

French’s promotion opened up a spot for an assistant coach; and that position has been filled by Troy Mann, who previously turned down the position in the midst of the 2007-08 season, opening the door for French to join the organization.

“Even prior to me getting the head-coaching job, the whole organization talked about getting him,” said French. “Bruce (Boudreau) has a very good relationship with him, Bob (Woods) played with him and I’ve known him for many years, as has Doug (Yingst, Hershey’s General Manager). Bruce probably knows him best, but at the same time everybody knows what values and type of work ethic he brings to the table.”

Mark French and family, 2009.French and family in 2009.

When asked what was his most cherished memory of last year’s title run, French, who had answered all of my previous questions with certainty and swiftness, pondered the question for a few seconds before offering up his response.

“After Keith Aucoin scored that empty net goal late in game six. We had scored the three quick (first period) goals and then it was a long wait, where every second seemed like an eternity; and the game still seemed to be very much on the line up until that point, especially when Manitoba made it 3-1. When he scored that goal with just over a minute left, you could really start to bring yourself to enjoy it and reflect.”

In French’s upcoming first season leading the boys from Chololatetown, Bears fans are hoping that the results will be a mirror image of last year’s successful campaign.

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Ready to Lead the Rays

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

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

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

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

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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