Monday, May 07, 2007

The Peerless Goes a'Traveling

The Peerless had the opportunity to take in Game 3 of the East Division final of the Calder Cup playoff tournament Saturday night. The Hershey Bears visited the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins looking to take a “commanding” – as they say – three-games-to-none lead in the series. Having won the first two games by scores of 4-3 (the second in overtime after spotting the Penguins a 3-0 lead), the matter hardly seemed assured. So, The Peerless was anticipating a close, hard-fought (even with Dennis Bonvie not dressed for the Penguins) battle.

Giant Arena at Casey Plaza . . . oops, pardon me . . . Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza was resplendent in Hershey colors. Bear jerseys were as plentiful as Penguin jerseys or “White Out Warrior” T-shirts donned by Penguin fans for the occasion. Neither team had a great deal to root for in the first half of the first period. The teams exchanged two minor penalties in the first five minutes, and both failed to convert – a theme that would repeat itself often over the course of this game.

Shortly after the second Penguin power play was killed, the Penguins made a mistake. Defenseman Micki DuPont, instead of moving the puck to his partner, tried to escape the forecheck of Alexandre Giroux. DuPont turned the puck over, and Giroux fed Matt Hendricks for a one-timer past Penguin goalie Nolan Schaefer.

The Bears celebrated by taking four more minor penalties in the period, killing them all. The Penguins – despite the five power plays – finished the period with six shots on goal.

The second period was more of the same – Hershey penalties followed by missed opportunities (or more accurately, opportunities not taken) by the Penguins, and then an opportunistic goal by the Bears. Quintin Laing found Schaefer’s five-hole at 13:16 of the period, and after that the Bears relied on stifling defense and really bad ice to frustrate the Penguins.

The third period was played largely between the blue lines, although the Penguins managed to register a few inconsequential shots on goal late to finish with 19 in the 2-0 loss.

Neither team looked especially sharp, perhaps understandable after having logged a double-overtime game the night before. However, 19 shots for a club received ten power plays is nothing but hideous. Wilkes-Barre seemed almost obstinate in refusing to shoot the puck. While many drives were blocked or sent wide, the Penguins spent too much time moving the puck around the perimeter looking for the easy tap-in or trying to settle the puck to wind up and drive. At one point in the procedings the Penguins had only ten total shots on goal despite having had seven power plays.

For the Bears, Frederic Cassivi did what a goalie has to do – make all the saves he should make and a few he perhaps shouldn’t (there were few of the latter). Dave Steckel was a man among boys in the defensive end. Mike Green played a solid game. Chris Bourque was a bundle of energy all night, but often seemed unable to channel it into anything productive. He looked like a player who needs another year at this level, but one who also has a future in the NHL.

The Peerless really likes these occasional journeys to the land of the AHL. Wilkes-Barre is where The Peerless grew up, but Wachovia (and Giant Center) is one of those arenas where sound seems magnified and the crowd has a bond with their club. There are NHL cities like that, but none of them are (for the moment) spelled, “Washington.” There is something about watching a game at Wachovia or at Giant Center that one just can’t seem to replicate in the bigger arenas.

Whether that will hold true for the “Baby Penguins” next year is an open question. As the Oiler prospects that dot that club move on to Edmonton or to Springfield under the new affiliation agreement, the club left behind in Wilkes-Barre will be a very different one than that which those fans have grown used to. It is not likely to be as successful as this year’s version, the Penguin prospects of note having mostly reached the big club. The same might be said for Hershey. More to the point, the Bears had better have a very different look about them next year. If they do not, then it is indicative that there are troubles in the Caps end of the rebuild.

In the meantime, though, these are games to be enjoyed and the Bears a team to be followed closely. They have the look of a club that knows how to play and, more importantly at this time of year, how to play when the stakes are higher. If you have a chance to see them in person, by all means take advantage of that opportunity.