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Bears Aim to Reign Over Monarchs

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
Sixteen wins are needed to claim the AHL’s Calder Cup, and the Hershey Bears are halfway to reaching that figure. On Saturday night at Giant Center, the Bears will start to work on the back eight when they host the Manchester Monarchs in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. It’s only fitting that the Bears would meet the Monarchs in the conference finals; Hershey and Manchester had the top regular season marks in the conference in 2006-07.

During last year’s run to the Calder Cup championship, Hershey’s toughest series proved to be the conference finals. After running up a 2-0 lead over the Portland Pirates, the Bears needed a late regulation comeback and an Eric Fehr overtime tally in Game 7 to oust the Pirates. A similar scenario could play itself out this spring, as Manchester figures to be the most formidable foe the Bears have faced to date.

The Bears have enjoyed a one-week break since they ousted the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in five games in the East Division finals, and that respite may have given the banged up Bears a chance to salve some of their wounds.

Fehr (back) is still out indefinitely, and center Joey Tenute (broken ribs, punctured lung) will miss the remainder of the playoffs. Rookie forward Andrew Joudrey (concussion) is coming along and may be able to play at some point during the Manchester series. For the Bears, the best news is that cornerstone defenseman Dean Arsene may be able to return to action as soon as this weekend. Arsene has not played in Hershey’s first 10 playoff tilts this spring.

Ten different Bears have contributed multiple goals to the cause in the first two series. Former Monarch Scott Barney leads the way with six goals and he also leads Hershey in playoff scoring with a dozen points. The Bears will need that kind of balanced scoring going forward.

Clutch scoring is useful, too. After netting a team-leading 42 goals and 70 points in 67 regular season games, Hershey’s Alexandre Giroux has four goals and nine points in the team’s 10 playoff games. But two of Giroux’s goals were overtime game-winners, including the Game 5 difference-maker against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton that propelled the Bears into the conference finals.

With three goals and eight points, Mike Green leads the team’s defensemen in both categories. He is tied for sixth among AHL defensemen in playoff scoring. Dave Steckel, another former Monarch, has a team best plus-6 that is even more remarkable when you consider that he is deployed as the team’s shutdown center and is usually charged with the responsibility of keeping the opposition’s top line in check.

Veteran Hershey goaltender Frederic Cassivi was the playoff MVP last season, and he has been solid again in 2007. Cassivi is 8-2 with a 2.66 goals against average and a .907 save pct. Cassivi is seventh in playoff goals against average among netminders with five or more starts. His Manchester counterpart Jason Labarbera is sixth at 2.32. Labarbera’s .925 save pct. ranks fourth while Cassivi stands eighth in that category.

Manchester’s blueline is a bit on the small side, but the Monarchs’ defensemen are very skilled and they are a key part of the team’s attack. Three of Manchester’s top six playoff scorers are defensemen: Oleg Tverdovsky, Peter Harrold and T.J. Kemp.

Tverdovsky is a veteran of 713 NHL games with five teams. The second overall choice in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, Tverdovsky was paid $2.5 million for the 2006-07 season. The 31-year-old Ukrainian rearguard has had trouble in the NHL over the last two seasons, but he is a big difference maker at this level. Tverdovsky has two goals and 11 points in a dozen playoff games. He ranks second among all AHL defensemen in playoff scoring.

Boston College product Harrold has nine points (two goals, seven assists) to rank fifth among defensemen in playoff scoring.

The Monarchs also feature 10 different players with multiple playoff goals, but Manchester has played two more games than the Bears to date. The Monarchs are led by Patrick O’Sullivan, a former Minnesota Wild second-rounder (56th overall in 2003) who was the centerpiece (from the Kings’ standpoint) of the trade that sent center Pavol Demitra from Los Angeles to Minnesota last June. O’Sullivan was the AHL’s rookie of the year with Houston in 2005-06. He leads Manchester with seven playoff goals and is tied for the team lead with 13 points.

Brian Boyle was a Kings first-rounder in 2003 (26th overall). Drafted as a center, the giant (6-foot-7, 220 pounds) Boyle played college hockey at Boston College, where he was frequently used as a defenseman. Boyle turned pro last month, and he is third among Monarchs forwards in playoff scoring. It was Boyle’s goal in double-overtime of Game 6 of the Atlantic Division semifinal series that pushed Manchester past Worcester.

One item that should worry the Bears is the postseason struggles of Noah Clarke (one goal, four points) and Matt Moulson (one goal, three points). Clarke and Moulson were Manchester’s only 20-plus goal getters during the regular season, and they tied for the team scoring lead with 57 points. If they start finding the range in the Eastern Conference finals, Hershey will have its hands full.

By the Numbers: Hershey has outscored the opposition 37-28 in the postseason while Manchester has a 37-29 bulge over its opponents … The Bears’ power play ranks third with a 23% success rate while the Hershey penalty killing corps stands ninth in the playoffs with a kill rate of 83.3%. The Bears were ninth in the league in power play prowess and fifth in penalty killing during the season … Manchester’s postseason power play ranks 11th in the AHL at 14.1%. The Monarchs’ penalty killing outfit has a success rate of 81.3%, good for 12th among the AHL’s 16 postseason qualifiers. The Monarchs had the league’s fourth-best power play during the regular season and were eighth in the league in penalty killing.

Connections: Bears bench boss Bruce Boudreau coached the Monarchs for four seasons before the Bears hired him in 2005-06 … Three Hershey forwards –Steckel, Barney and Kip Brennan – are former Monarchs as is defenseman Troy Milam … Manchester’s Marty Murray was recently voted the sixth greatest Brandon Wheat King in that WHL franchise’s history. Murray is joined on that list by Hershey’s Fehr (fifth) and Washington coach Glen Hanlon (ninth) … One of Murray’s Wheat King teammates in the mid-1990s was Tverdovsky … Murray and Caps captain Chris Clark were teammates on the 2001 Calder Cup champion Saint John Flames … Manchester defenseman Kemp was a college teammate of Bears blueliner Jamie Hunt at Merceyhurst … Manchester’s Tim Jackman and Hershey’s Andy Hedlund were college teammates at Minnesota State-Mankato … Jackman and Hershey’s Tyler Sloan were teammates for three seasons with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch … Manchester’s Gabe Gauthier played his college hockey at the University of Denver where he counted Andrew Thomas among his teammates. Thomas, a New Hampshire native, was Washington’s fourth-round choice (109th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Thomas was recently named the Pioneers’ team captain for the 2007-08 campaign … Moulson was a college teammate of Washington prospect Sasha Pokulok at Cornell … Monarchs blueliner Jeff Likens signed a pro contract as soon as his collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin concluded in March. Hershey’s Joudrey and Likens were Badgers teammates for four seasons in Madison … Manchester goaltender Barry Brust and Hershey blueliner Jeff Schultz were junior teammates with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen … Labarbera spent several seasons stopping pucks in the Rangers’ system. During his years with Hartford, Labarbera counted a number of current and former Bears among his teammates including Arsene, Jeff State, Chad Wiseman, Giroux, Boyd Kane and Lawrence Nycholat.

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