After another stellar weekend in Hershey, it’s time to start gearing up for playoffs after 3 wins in 3 nights (Friday 7-2 over Worcester, Saturday 4-2 over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and Sunday 3-2 over Binghamton). Since only 7 regular season games remain for the Bears and the season has begun to wind down up here, let’s look ahead to how the Playoffs in the AHL vary from the ones the Washington Capitals and their foes will be experiencing in the NHL.
On March 10th, each AHL team had to submit a 22-man “clear-day roster.” The AHL explains a Clear Day Roster as This:
The Bears Clear Day Roster follows:
Braden Holtby (G), Michal Neuvirth (G), Karl Alzner, Greg Amadio, Keith Aucoin, Jay Beagle, Francois Bouchard, Chris Bourque, John Carlson, Sean Collins, Alexandre Grioux, Andrew Gordon, Bryan Helmer, Andrew Joudrey, Boyd Kane, Grant Lewis, Patrick McNeill, Zach Miskovic, Mathieu Perreault, Steve Pinizzotto, Patrick Wellar, & Kyle Wilson.
The players that didn’t make the Clear Day roster are listed “In Residence.” These guys can play when one or more of the “Clear Day” roster players can not. For example – Neuvi is out with a lower body injury, so Jason Bacashihua is helping Holtby with the work-load in net.
Much like the NHL, the AHL has two conferences – the East and the West. When it comes to playoffs, that’s where the similarities seem to end. Each Conference in the AHL has 2 divisions (as opposed to the NHL’s 3 division in each conference). The top four teams from each division make the playoffs. In each division the first place team opens against the fourth place team and the second place team opens against the third place team. Simple enough… right? Not necessarily. There are 29 teams in the AHL, with each division having 7 teams. The exception is the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference. They have 8 teams. Because of this, the Eastern conference is slightly jumbled. Because of the uneven number – if the 5th place team from the Atlantic Division has more points than the 4th place team in the East Division (the Division the Bears’ are in), that 5th place team from the Atlantic bumps out the 4th place team in the East and plays as the 4th place team in the East Division. If the regular season ended today, this scenario would indeed happen, and Bridgeport (the Islanders’ AHL affiliate) with 82 points in 5th place of the Atlantic Division would bump out Binghamton (the Senators’ AHL affiliate) because they only have 72 points. That means the Bears would play the Baby-Isles for round 1.
The winners of the first rounds in each division then play each other for the division Championship. So the winner of the 1st and 4th place series and the winners of the 2nd and 3rd place series would face off. When that series is over, the division champions then go head to head for the Conference Title. After the conference series the best in the east faces the best in the west for the Calder Cup Finals.
Playoff series are a strange thing in the AHL. As you may already be aware, the travel of an AHL team is anything but glamorous. These boys go by bus. Because of the transportation and the cost, each playoff series is scattered to optimize the travel/cost of each AHL team. If the Bears go up against Wilkes Barre-Scranton (who are only about 2 hours away), then the Series is a 2-2-1-1-1 (meaning 2 games in Hershey, 2 games in Wilkes Barre, 1 game in Hershey, 1 in Wilkes-Barre, 1 game in Hershey). If they’re playing a team farther away, like Norfolk (6 hour drive from Hershey), the series will go 2-3-2. I’d like to try to explain who gets home ice in this situation, but I can’t. By this point in the season, everyone is cramming playoff games in between other events that their arenas had booked. Example: Each May the Bears have to work around the Circus at the Giant Center. This year, the Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey will be in town from May 26th to May 31st.
Want the playoff atmosphere without playing the playoff price? Come to Hershey. Tickets are incredibly affordable – lower level seats for $22.00 and upper level seats for $16.00. Playoff games go on sale as it becomes determined that they’re needed. For round 1 they’ll sell the first two games immediately. After the first two games, if the Bears lose 1 or the opposing team loses 1 game, the next game will go on sale. Tickets are not sold for games that have zero chance of happening. If a game is played at Giant Center, and that game determines the need for another game (whether it be the Bears winning or losing to add another game to the series, or the Bears clinching the series to move on to the next series), tickets will go on sale for the next game at the box office immediately after the game currently being played. However, tickets will not be available by phone (717-508-BEAR) until the following morning (ticketmaster.com may have tickets that night; it depends on how the Bears’ decide to release them. Either way, they will be available the next day.
This is when it’s good to have friends “down on the farm.” If you want to make a trip up for a playoff game in the Conference Finals or Calder Cup Finals, and you hear another game is possible – the best bet to guarantee the seats you want are to beg and plead for a friend in Hershey to stand in line after the game and get your seats for you. Those lines can stretch up and down, and if you want to sit somewhere specific, there’s a better chance of them getting them for you than you getting them the next day (plus it will save you the Ticketmaster or phone convenience charges).
*Bonus* - Hersheypark usually runs a special for people attending Bears’ games. On days that the Bears have a playoff game and the Park is open – they’ll usually offer something along the lines of “$25 park admission if you show your ticket stub to tonight’s game.” There’s been no formal announcement yet, but we’ll post an update when the information becomes available.
If you’re looking to make the trip up, but want to do more than just see a Bears’ game (or if you just don’t feel like making that seemingly endless drive down 15 South or 83 South late at night), there are plenty of options as far as hotels go. If you want to stay close, and you’re not opposed to shelling out Big Bucks – the Hotel Hershey is an experience in itself. The Hershey Lodge is a less-expensive option, but still has the Hershey experience. There are a few other chains located in Hershey, but they do fill up fast as summer approaches.
Just outside of Hershey, and into the Harrisburg area is the “Eisenhower Interchange” section. The Eisenhower Boulevard area has many hotels in many price ranges including a Sheraton, Courtyard, Wyndham Garden, Holiday Inn, Best Western, LaQuinta, & Wingate to name a few. This area is only 8 miles from Hershey – and it’s an easy drive for even the most directionally challenged.
*Bonus* - The Sheraton Harrisburg Hershey Hotel on Lindle Road in Harrisburg (near the Eisenhower area) is offering a special rate for those coming to see the Bears in the playoffs. Rates start at $89 and are based upon availability. Call 717-564-5511 and ask for in-house reservations, then for the Hershey Bears Fan rate. Tell 'em RockTheRed.net sent you.