Hockey’s Best-Kept Secret Behind the Bench

Hershey Bears LogoConsider that this Hershey Bears’ postseason machine is missing some notable parts from its Calder Cup run of last spring: no Boyd Gordon, no captain Graham Mink, no power play QB Lawrence Nycholat, no Kris Beech, no Brooks Laich, no minutes-eating Jake Cutta. Among others. But the symphony song of victory remains the same under maestro Boudreau. A formidable Manchester Monarchs’ club was run out of the Giant Center Saturday night, 7-2. The first post-game beer among the press pack hadn’t been killed before one scribe openly wondered, “Did you guys see anything that suggests this won’t be a sweep?”
A series-opening thrashing doesn’t always foretell a team’s demise, but in this instance, Manchester has to have grave concern about the mindset of its most important player, netminder Jason LaBarbera. LaBarbera won the league’s best goaltender award this season for the second time in his AHL career, but his worst performances of the season have occurred against Hershey. He added to them Saturday night, with Head Coach Mark Morris yanking him after he surrendered his sixth goal of the contest with more than eight minutes remaining in the game. LaBarbera has faced the Bears three times this season and been yanked in two of them.
The Hershey power play Saturday night, afforded six opportunities, converted on 50 percent of them. The Bears’ penalty killers snuffed out all six Manchester man-up opportunities, and added a shortie for good measure.
Yet again Tomas Fleischmann looked sublime and spectacular, distributing savvy setups for his teammates time after time. His three helpers Saturday night gave him eight points in his last two games, both of them big games for his hockey club. Officially, the game’s three stars were awarded to Dave Steckel, Mike Green, and Frederic Cassivi, but Mike Vogel and I had identical standout designee lists of Steckel, Flash, and Chris Bourque. Bourque had been named the no. 1 star in each of the regular season meetings with Manchester, and he added another strong performance (two assists) Saturday.
The point is that Boudreau this postseason is getting quality and production from all four of his forward lines, and efficient puck movement from all three of his defensive pairs.
Early in the third period Saturday night Comcast’s Joe Reekie leaned over to me and said, “Do you realize how far Chris Bourque has progressed in one year?” I do. And I should have told Joe that Dave Steckel’s progression the last two seasons under Boudreau has been even more impressive. And the list of the well developed under Boudreau hardly ends there.
Vogel and I were left slack-jawed a half dozen times Saturday night by the stick wizardry of Fleischmann. He’s going to play in the NHL, somewhere, we agreed. “He’s got the stuff you can’t teach,” Vogel told me. But I worry about Flash getting lost in the grand numbers game in D.C., particularly as we approach the high stakes ’07-08 season and there’s seemingly less room for young guy minutes during the drive for spot no. 8 in the East. “I worry about us giving up on Flash and seeing another [Andrew] Brunnette slip out of our hands,” I told Vogel.
Many of the names on the back of the Bears’ sweaters change, but the postseason results remain the same. Should the Bears go on to oust Manchester, they will tie an AHL record in winning seven consecutive postseason series. Since Boudreau stepped behind the Bears’ bench they’ve lost just one series-opening game, to Milwaukee in last season’s Calder finals. They’ve played 32 postseason games overall under his direction, and they’ve won an astounding 25 of them. More amazingly, only four of the team’s seven postseason losses have come in regulation. I need to type that again for myself to believe it: four regulation losses in 32 playoff games over two seasons.
And many of those games have been contested against 100-pt. AHL foes.
Seemingly sixty guys have worn Bears’ sweaters this season as a regular rotation of callups and significant injuries ravaged the Hershey roster. No matter. Wins and line cohesion remained.
Boudreau has been named Coach of the Year in the IHL, he’s won the ECHL’s Kelly Cup, and he’s won a Calder Cup and may be on the verge of adding another. You have to wonder how much longer his extraordinary winning ways will last unnoticed by the NHL.
The East finals are being contested in a 2-3-2 slate, making Sunday’s quick turnaround rematch a must-win affair for the visitors. Mark Morris needs a Jason LaBarbera we haven’t seen against Hershey yet this season. And meaning no disrespect to the coach, but a lot of folks up in New Hampshire who witnessed first-hand Bruce Boudreau’s work there over four seasons would this morning probably tell you that having him back would help too.

This entry was posted in American Hockey League, Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich, Chris Bourque, Hershey Bears, Joe Reekie. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Hockey’s Best-Kept Secret Behind the Bench

  1. Scai says:

    You’re right on the money about Fleischmann. He is gonna play in the NHL, it’s just a matter of where. The Caps need to show confidence in him and give hinm ice-time amd they won’t be disappointed.

  2. katie says:

    I agree I LOVE Fleishmann! He is awesome and I really, really hope that we get to see him play for the Caps b/c I think he would be a great addition!!!

  3. pepper says:

    I take it that you’re comparing Brunette to Flash in anticipation of a solid player being released as he is finally asserting himself as an NHL difference maker. Otherwise I see Brunette’s and Flash’s games as very different.
    Principally, Brunette had a bang-the junk-rebound-home kind of crease presence, and in-tight wrister precision(in short, a finisher), and Flash hasn’t shown me that strength and poise down low, in front of the net, consistently.

  4. Caps Nut says:

    Easy on the Bruno comparisons there. He’s a guy who was taken in two expansion drafts so it isn’t as if we’re the only ones not to recognize his “value.”
    While the guy had great hands, his skating still leaves a lot to be desired and skating is a very important part of hockey.

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