No Surprise: We Need Hedge Clippers for the Hair of Our Hockey Foes in Round 2

Cup'pa JoeIn a spring-summer of change in hockey Washington, it’s fitting that one thing remains the same: Caps vs. Pens in a postseason — taking the shape of a showdown affiliation style. The Hershey Bears and the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins met in the East Division finals last May, and beginning this Wednesday night at Giant Center, they’ll do so again. I hope they meet every postseason — and with Norfolk affiliating with Tampa beginning this summer, that appears likely — but I also hope that this is the last spring we’re devoting majority energies to covering the future combatants of this bitter rivalry, rather than the present ones.
Wilkes-Barre bested Norfolk in its opening round, winning the series four games to two, and while the Bears were assured of a 108-pt. foe in round 2, I think they’ve got next the team they’d have preferred. You have to be careful what you wish for, particularly in this rivalry, but the numbers make a compelling case that seeing the Admirals’ ship sail for golf vacations beginning this week was a good thing for the Bears.
In the regular season, Hershey won six of its ten meetings with the Mini Mullets, with one loss coming in a shootout, but the real story of those games was the Bears’ dominace the back half of them. Hershey won five of their final six games against Wilkes-Barre, in blazing fashion. Bears’ beat reporter Tim Leone of the Patriot News details the battering in his file this morning:

“Hershey outscored the Penguins a collective 21-8 in the last six meetings, holding them to one or fewer goals four times.”

Look at some of the scores down the stretch between the clubs: 3-0 Bears on March 30; 3-1 Bears on April 8; 6-1 Bears on April 14. Consider, too, that many of the players who will skate for Hershey this week — guys like Jeff Schultz, Mike Green, Dave Steckel, Tomas Fleischmann — were still with the Caps as Hershey wound down its regular season.
The Bears opened the 2006-07 season with a 7-4 thumping of Wilkes-Barre on the road back on October 7. It’s been pretty good karma against this club all year.
The numbers against Norfolk, however, were much different. The teams split the regular season series 5-5, but three of the Bears’ victories came very early in the season. In the season’s second half, the Admirals won most of the matchups, many of them one-goal affairs. And Norfolk spent a fair portion of the ’06-’07 season lodged in first place in the East, before Hershey’s torrid finish overtook the Admirals.
While Hershey will have a deeper, slightly different, and overall more pwerful look from the second-place club that swept the Mullets out of the postseason last May, Wilkes-Barre will be missing some key pieces from last year and boast some new, high-profile young talent this. The most conspicuous change will be the absence in net of Marc Andre Fleury. But the biggest change will be Ryan Whitney’s graduation. The young flightless fowl will also be missing Colby Armstrong and Maxime Talbot up front.
It’s terrific news for the Penguin organization that so many kids came through for the parent club this past season, but those graduations came at a cost this spring in matchups with Hershey. There are some new and notable names wearing the Wilkes-Barre sweater now: Robbie Schremp, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, and Robert Nilsson — all high-profile castoffs from other organizations. All could perhaps be said to be at development crossroads. Nolan Schaefer will man the Mullet pipes in place of Fleury. He played all six games in the first round.
Like last spring, and like so many instances between the clubs in games at Verizon Center over the years, there will be fantastic atmosphere in the stands for this series. And thousands of awful haircuts.

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4 Responses to No Surprise: We Need Hedge Clippers for the Hair of Our Hockey Foes in Round 2

  1. sk84fun says:

    Pucks – Let me state upfront that I like your work and the OFB crew coverage, in general.
    However, I disagree with a number of points in this piece.
    First, I disagree with this comment: “all high-profile castoffs from other organizations”
    Call this team the baby pens/baby oilers because the Oilers this season assigned their prospects to a number of organizations, but primarily to WBS. Sidenote, next season, the Oilers will have their own affiliate after a few seasons without one.
    Pouliot played more than half the season with Edmonton and he is not the only one that saw playing time with the parent team. FWIW, Schremp missed the first round, reportedly a knee injury.
    Along with the Pens prospects and some AHL contract players, there are a number of Edmonton prospects on the playoff roster and most were Edmonton draft picks: Schremp, Pouliot, Brodziak, Deslauriers, JF Jacques, Spurgeon and Young, IIRC. Nilsson (came to the Oilers as part of the Smyth deal) and Gilbert were acquired by Edmonton via trade.
    Also, I agree with your point about the graduations to the Pens (Whitney, Fleury, Talbot, Christensen), but Armstrong did not play for the Baby Pens last year in the playoffs. One other notable change (thankfully, IMO) from last season will be the absence of Carcillo, who was traded by the Pens, as was Noah Welch.
    And the line-ups were more complete for the last game, but the other games down the stretch, both teams had some players up with the NHL clubs. Some may recall that Edmonton had a number of injuries to finish the season, especially on D, and I believe Jacques, Gilbert, Young and Pouilot were with Edmonton.
    Back to the series, some interesting story lines with the Hershey WBS rivalry; Schaefer in net for WBS; the scoring from the D for WBS in the first round; the late season comeback win agianst the Bears in the final minutes of the 3rd by the Pens (led by James and Nilsson and Scheafer was not in goal) followed by 2 solid wins by the Bears; the return of players that were playing in the NHL; a number of players with history from juniors, etc.; and the Bears sweep of WBS last playoff season.
    Here’s hoping Arsene and Fehr are healthy enough to return for what should be a fun and competitive series!

  2. sk84fun says:

    Yikes, sorry about that, my comments were almost as long as your original post.
    and since I forgot,
    Let’s Go Bears Woooooo!

  3. Sk8, as you didn’t mention my judgement against Nilsson, I’ll elaborate: it’s Swedish for bust. Pouliot and Schremp: I just don’t see how Edmonton can be thrilled with those guys — Pouliot was Q Leaguer without a hockey frame, in a great draft, so sure, why not waste a top 15 pick on him. Schremp was at one time referred to as “the American Gretzky.” His greatest feat to date has been a snazzy shootout goal found on YouTube. Today he aspires to be as well regarded as classmate Chris Bourque, drafted after him. Whiffing on these guys as the Oil has is partly responsible for their present predicament, IMO.

  4. sk84fun says:

    Pucks – You are correct that is not how I read it, if the point of your orginial entry about those 3 prospects was to comment on the Oilers and their prospect pool and in some cases, drafting prowess. Perhaps because you use the term “castoff” and failed to mention the Oilers’ prospects assigned to WBS.
    Personally, I think the Oilers prospects on this team is a storyline when it comes to this series given their contributions at the AHL level and in the first round series. Also, with regard to the fact that the WBS team will be without these players next season.
    IMO, Nilsson is the only one of the 3 that could be considered a castoff, and yes, Nilsson wasn’t fitting in with the Isles.
    FWIW, I was never a big fan of Schremp and agree his claims to fame to date have not been anything Edmonton can be excited about; I was disappointed in some of his actions on the ice the last time I saw WBS play the Bears, as well. IIRC, I thought he dropped in the 04 draft with the questions about attitude, etc., but I was still surprised when I heard his name called at the time it was in the RBC.
    Edmonton has some hits and misses with its drafting (sounds familiar 🙂 )
    One can point to trading the pick to NJ (used to select Parise; Getzlaf was still available as well as a group of Caps fans like to remind everyone) and then picking Pouliot and Jacques with the 2 picks.

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