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Sunday Long Read
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Sunday Long Read

Sunday Long Read: Hershey's a great hockey town

Sunday, 04.13.2014 / 3:00 AM / Sunday Long Read

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

HERSHEY, Pa. -- The best way to start a story about the best minor-league hockey town in America is to tell the one about how a modern dynasty began.

At first glance, the phrases "minor league" and "dynasty" aren't supposed to go together. The minor leagues in hockey and baseball are, by design, in a constant state of flux. Roster turnover is required as these teams provide parent organizations with future big leaguers.

Hershey, Pa., didn't become the best minor-league hockey town in America by being like the rest, though. The Hershey Bears win, and they win consistently.

As a result, the Bears, now aligned with the Washington Capitals, built a modern dynasty in the American Hockey League.

So, about the beginning of that ... it almost never happened.

In 2006, the Bears led the Portland Pirates three games to one in the Eastern Conference Final of the Calder Cup Playoffs, but Hershey lost two straight games.

If this was going to be remembered as one of the great playoff series in recent AHL history, it was going to need some quirks, and it had plenty. Because of scheduling conflicts, the best-of-7 did not follow a traditional format, and Hershey had Games 3, 4 and 7 at home, instead of a 2-3-2 or 2-2-1-1-1.

The Pirates won Games 5 and 6 in Portland, but then there was a six-day layoff before Game 7 at Giant Center in Hershey.

Even worse for the Bears, Portland's parent club, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, were eliminated from the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs between Games 6 and 7, and that's where the mythical part of the tale arrives.

This story works better if some of the principal characters tell it:

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Sunday Long Read: Trip by Canucks lifted Curtain

Sunday, 04.06.2014 / 2:00 AM / Sunday Long Read

Tal Pinchevsky - NHL.com Staff Writer

The Vancouver Canucks needed answers and weren't shy about looking for them in unusual places.

Not even a trip to the 1982 Stanley Cup Final, where they were swept by the New York Islanders, could put a brave front on what the organization felt was a lost decade.

The Canucks owner, Arthur Griffiths, believed the change would come from harnessing the talents of Eastern European players who, to that point, had been excluded from the NHL.

Throughout the 1980s, the Canucks had a losing record every season, finishing last in the Smythe Division three times in four seasons between 1984-85 and 1987-88.

In that atmosphere, no idea was off-limits. This allowed the organization to turn to a potentially unorthodox avenue for help: Looking into acquiring players from Eastern Europe, particularly those behind the Iron Curtain.

No Eastern Bloc players had made the jump to the NHL. Most were banned from doing so by the communist governments that ruled their countries.

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Snider Foundation grows game in Philadelphia

Sunday, 03.30.2014 / 2:00 AM / Sunday Long Read

Davis Harper - NHL.com Staff Writer

Virlen Reyes is sitting at a two-top at a Starbucks on the quad of West Chester University, where she is a senior. She is in the middle of telling her life story when she pauses.

Her narrative has unraveled during the course of nearly an hour when Reyes, in a quiet, confident voice, has held forth on the circumstances of her remarkable evolution. It's a gripping tale, and Reyes is a capable storyteller. Now, though, caught in the part between her graduation from high school and her college years, her train of thought stalls as a flash of realization crosses her face.

"I'm just … I'm just noticing now how much effort it took not to give up," she said.

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Sunday Long Read: Catch up with our stories here

Sunday, 03.16.2014 / 3:00 AM / Sunday Long Read

NHL.com

NHL.com has presented a weekly Sunday Long Read since the start of the season in October. If you have missed any of the in-depth stories, please take the time to catch up with them here.

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Sunday Long Read: Modano remains face of Stars

Sunday, 03.09.2014 / 3:00 AM / Sunday Long Read

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

Dallas Stars president Jim Lites tells the story as if it happened yesterday. That's how well he remembers it. That's how much the conversation Lites had with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones nearly 20 years ago resonates with him.

"I remember Jerry Jones saying to me about two years into our stay here, 'Jim, I can't believe how much success you guys have had, I never would have thought hockey would be successful in Dallas,'" Lites told NHL.com. "And then he said, 'That Mike Modano is as important to this community as Troy Aikman. I can't believe how dynamic he is.'

"I mean, the Cowboys are the Cowboys and Troy Aikman is Troy Aikman, but Mo was that good, that big," Lites continued. "He's the guy every man wants to be and every woman wants to be with."

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Sunday Long Read: '94 deadline completed Rangers

Sunday, 03.02.2014 / 3:00 AM / Sunday Long Read

John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

Neil Smith was sure of two things when he began his day on March 21, 1994: His New York Rangers were atop the NHL standings, and they weren't good enough to win the Stanley Cup.

There was a third thing: With the NHL Trade Deadline hours away, he had work to do.

The fifth-year general manager arrived in the summer of 1989, a couple of months after New York was swept out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins, extending the Rangers' drought to 49 years.

Smith cut his hockey teeth about 30 miles away from Madison Square Garden with the New York Islanders during their run of four consecutive Stanley Cup championships from 1980-83. The last three of those, as well as the trip to the 1984 Stanley Cup Final, included playoff victories against the Rangers, with the fans on Long Island chanting "19-40!," reminding their big-city rivals of the last time they had won the Cup.

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Sunday Long Read: Blackhawks now kings of Chicago

Sunday, 02.23.2014 / 3:00 AM / Sunday Long Read

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- It has been a long, bitter winter here.

The wind, for which this great city is forever associated, has howled off Lake Michigan and often made sub-zero temperatures feel positively arctic. The snow has piled up with unrelenting consistency. One more storm could push the total past 70 inches, making this winter one of the worst in the city's history.

It hasn't been easy on one of America's great sports towns, either.

Chicago's beloved Bears had their season ended by the hated Green Bay Packers in one of the worst ways imaginable when that Discount Double Check guy, Aaron Rodgers, returned from injury to secure a win-or-go-home victory at Soldier Field on a late-game heave.

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Sunday Long Read: Broten's legacy exceeds profile

Sunday, 02.16.2014 / 3:00 AM / Sunday Long Read

Tal Pinchevsky - NHL.com Staff Writer

For Neal Broten, mornings in River Falls, Wis., typically start around 7 a.m. Located about 40 miles from Minneapolis, Broten owns 75 acres in the small town where he and his wife, Sally, used to tend to the needs of 44 horses. The couple began selling those horses a decade ago, so Broten now spends much of his time removing snow during the winter and working the grounds during the summer.

Since ending his hockey career in 1997, Broten has had nearly no affiliation with the game that made him a household name throughout the hockey community in the United States.

He did skate last month with his brothers, fellow former NHL players Aaron Broten and Paul Broten, in an alumni game that was part of the 2014 Hockey City Classic, where the University of Minnesota hosted Ohio State University at TCF Bank Stadium. That was Neal's first time skating in two years.

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An oral history of the 2010 gold-medal game

Sunday, 02.09.2014 / 3:00 AM / Sunday Long Read

Dan Rosen and Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writers

The conversations across Canada, the NHL, even across the world, were focused on an 18-year-old phenom who already was a household name.

It was 2006, the Olympics in Turin, Italy, quickly were approaching and Sidney Crosby was an NHL rookie. A certainty to one day represent Canada in the Olympics, provided NHL players continued to participate, was he ready as a teenager to play for the defending gold medalists in the world's finest best-on-best tournament?

Not yet, Wayne Gretzky determined. Not now, decided The Great One, then the executive director for the Canadian men's Olympic hockey team.

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Sunday Long Read: Career never a job for Hitchcock

Sunday, 02.02.2014 / 3:00 AM / Sunday Long Read

Louie Korac - NHL.com Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- When it comes to hockey, Ken Hitchcock is a creature of habit.

During the season, the routine of the St. Louis Blues coach rarely changes, no matter the day's agenda.

First, Hitchcock heads to a nearby Starbucks, or any of his favorite coffee shops in the area. Then it's off to the rink, where he preps his players with video sessions while preparing for a practice or a morning skate with his assistant coaches. In the afternoon, he spends the majority of his time scouting an opponent. Then, as evening arrives, Hitchcock sends his players out on the ice or watches other NHL games.

The scenery has changed greatly since Hitchcock began the life of a full-time coach in the Western Hockey League in 1984, but the routine has rarely wavered. Why should it? Despite the fact he had no top-level experience as a player or coach, Hitchcock's routine has served him well in a long and winding career in the NHL.

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Quote of the Day

I'm just excited about the opportunity. I've been on the ice earlier than usual and in the weight room, pushing around a little more weights than usual. Every day I go into a workout with a smile on my face and ready to go. When you do have a little more responsibility, you want to take your lunch pail and get ready to work.

— Brian Elliott to Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch on being the Blues' No. 1 goalie