Throughout the 2004 American Hockey League Calder Cup Playoffs, Hartford Wolf Pack Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations Bob Crawford will be checking in with his thoughts and analysis during the AHL's 'second season.'
It's amazing how many different challenges a playoff team faces, and one is the difficulty of staying sharp when a club has an extended layoff between series'.
That's the latest hurdle to face the Wolf Pack, as they wait for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton-Philadelphia East Division final series to conclude. The winner of that series will play the Pack in the Conference Finals, and the Wolf Pack will have been out of game action for at least a week by the time they get to play again.
It's actually kind of nice for people like myself to have some time between series'. At this point in the season it's no big deal to prepare for two different teams, even if they're two that you haven't seen much of during the regular year, especially if you have over a week to do it. The games come so fast and so close together during the balance of the season, especially the second half, it feels like a luxury to have some time to catch your breath and enjoy a little extra family time before you get back into it.
For the coaches and players though, it's a whole different matter. Not only do they have to worry about getting out of game shape, they also have to make sure they have a good handle on all of the different match-ups and tendencies that they might see from both of the two teams involved in the other series. I know Ryan McGill, Nick Fotiu and Jim Schoenfeld have been traveling to some of the games in the Penguins-Phantoms series (thankfully both series are within a relatively easy drive of Hartford), and after a couple of well-earned days off, the players are back to their normal practice routine.
Teams can get pretty creative this time of year about cooking things up to relieve the boredom of waiting through a long layoff. Whether it's team trips to ballgames, golf outings, contests in practice or what have you, they are careful to guard against slipping into a funk that might derail what's been a great postseason run so far.
What I find really comes into play in these situations too is how many guys a team has that can really keep the atmosphere light and fun in the locker room. So many times a club's success depends in large part on the particular personalities that you have and how they mesh together.
The Wolf Pack have a number of individuals this year who seem to have a great sense of when to put on the game face and when to start pulling the funny stuff. Ken Gernander is one of those guys who seems always to have just the right quip at just the right time, and some of the younger players on the team have impressed me in that way as well. Chad Wiseman and Layne Ulmer delight in cutting each other down to size, and Jed Ortmeyer strikes me as an underrated chop-buster. Jozef Balej is a guy too, with his blond hair out of a bottle, who gets a lot of wisecracks tossed at him and takes it in just the right way (important for someone who is relatively new, but so key to the team's fortunes). They seem all to enjoy being around one another, which is huge when you consider how long of a grind the post-season is and how much pressure is attached to the games themselves.
I'm not sure whether the Pack feel that Wilkes-Barre/Scranton or Philly is a better match-up for them, but I'm certain that whichever team they end up facing, they'll be chomping at the bit to get it going.
- Bob CrawfordRELATED LINKS:Crawford's Pack Report: Great Finish to a Hockey Marathon (5/6/04) >>Crawford's Pack Report: Looking to Close Out the Series (5/3/04) >>Crawford's Pack Report: A Big Win to Open Round Two (5/1/04) >>Crawford's Pack Report: On to the Second Round! (4/29/04) >>Crawford's Pack Report: 'Road Warriors' Return Home (4/26/04) >>Crawford's Pack Report: Nothing Like Playoff OT (4/24/04) >>Crawford's Pack Report: Home Split, Off to Portland (4/21/04) >>