All you needed to know about the state of things in game 3 of the Calder Cup finals during the first intermission last night was exhibited on the face Hershey Bears’ general manager Doug Yingst. Yingst was interviewed then by Harrisburg ABC TV affiliate’s Gregg Mace, and the GM had a colorless and pained complexion as he answered the sports anchor’s questions, looking as if he’d had to put down his dog earlier in the day. It was 3-1 Texas after one, and things looked grim. A loss by the Bears and it’d be 3-0 Stars in the series, a Hershey claim to an 11th Calder Cup title in a coma.
This wasn’t the script I’d hoped for with Comcast Sportsnet picking up the television broadcast of Calder games three through five from Texas this week. If the Bears could somehow get things turned around a bit down there more Washington hockey fans might get hooked on Hershey hockey as I have the past five years, I believed. John Walton was handling both the radio and TV callings for the games, and that’s always a strong bit of sales work for our game with new ears and eyes.
And in the first 10 minutes or so of the second period the sour script didn’t change: Texas still stifled the Bears attack, shots by the visitors still hard to come by. But a power play strike by Kyle Wilson seemed to turn the game’s momentum, the Bears would go on to score the game’s final five goals, and 30 playing minutes later this whole series had achieved a different aura. The Bears, led by two goals each from Wilson, Andrew Gordon, and Mathieu Perreault, blasted their hosts in Texas 6-3, establishing Wednesday night’s game 4 as a bit of a Lonestar State shootout at sundown.
The Washington Capitals deserve big props for helping bring these Calder finals broadcasts to our local sports television outlet, and if the Bears can secure another win in Texas this week odds are very good that the Caps will be helping with needed resources again to bring broadcasts of the series’ final games back at Giant Center into our hockey-loving homes. This is a special exhibition of the special partnership Washington and Hershey enjoy — the best affiliation in all of pro sports as far as I’m concerned.
If you watched last night’s telecast likely you were struck by the spirited-pitch passion of John Walton’s work. The Bears’ Greg Amadio took a couple of penalties and generally played his penchant-for-provocation game, and deep in the third period, with the Bears comfortably ahead, he landed a thunderous check on a Stars’ forward down low and followed it with some street thuggery as mustard on top. Walton is often able to articulate with succinctness and polished understatement the rampant mayhem unfolding below him, and in this instance he said of the Bears’ bully, “Amadio . . . arrived in the corner in ill humor.” I got a great chuckle out of that.
I hope Hershey is able to put forth another special effort on Wednesday night, and make our Friday night must-see puck TV, too. The Bears are merely trying to become the first team in American League history to win a Calder Cup after losing the finals’ opening two games at home. If they were to recast this series down in Texas this week — and we know what pitch of passion would arrive with it from JW — a unique bond between our respective hockey towns may form from it. And the timing couldn’t be better.
Some 21 years ago, on September 21, 1989, the Hershey Bears traveled down I-83 and stopped in Baltimore to take on the then Capitals affiliated Baltimore Skipjacks, as part of the AHL-NHL exhibition doubleheader. The Bears then were affiliated with the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Caps and Flyers met at 8:00 that night in old Baltimore Arena. Washington is oh so ready to host such a special twin-bill, but calling the Bears their own this time. And now of course Ted Leonsis owns the Verizon Center, making such a September event genuinely viable. Down the road a bit, perhaps the Bears contest an American League regular season game in Chinatown as part of a special double dip of puck in D.C. How about a Bears-Wilkes Barre-Scranton matchup leading into a Caps-Pens date on a winter (or late summer) Saturday night?