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BEARS FOIL PHANTOMS


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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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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