Thursday night marks the beginning of the second season for the Bears in Hershey, Pennsylvania. And while the logo and location of the team they’re facing in the first round this season are different from last, many of the players are not. The East Division’s 2nd place Bears’ are facing off against the 3rd place Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricane’s affiliate). Last year in Round 1, the Bears went head to head against the Albany River Rats – who at the time - were the affiliate of the Canes (and yes, this means facing former Caps’ prospect Oskar Osala in the first round again).
Sitting at second in the East Division means the Bears have home ice for the first round… kind of. AHL travel and cost stipulations require a 2-3-2 series. Meaning the first two games will be held at Giant Center, the next three at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, and the final two back at Giant Center. Here’s a look at the schedule for Round 1.
Thursday, April 14th – Checkers @ Bears – 7:00 pm – Giant Center
Sunday, April 17th – Checkers @ Bears – 5:00 pm – Giant Center
Tuesday, April 19th – Bears @ Checkers – 7:00 pm – Time Warner Cable Arena
Wednesday, April 20th – Bears @ Checkers – 7:00 pm – Time Warner Cable Arena
*Friday, April 22nd – Bears @ Checkers – 7:00 pm – Time Warner Cable Arena
*Sunday, April 24th – Checkers @ Bears – 5:00 pm – Giant Center
*Monday, April 25th – Checkers @ Bears – 7:00 pm – Giant Center
Depending on your school of thought – AHL Division match ups are tough to pick. With the AHL schedule – you play each team in your division eight times. It’s safe to say that when that first round of playoffs rolls around, it’s familiar territory. However, when a series is split the way the Bears and Checkers have done this season, it does become more difficult to predict. Here’s a look at the results of the regular season contests between the Bears and the Checkers for 2010-2011.
As you can see, the Bears and Checkers split the regular season series with 4 games a piece. From a points perspective, Charlotte gets the edge, earning 9 points in the series while the Bears earned 8. Braden Holtby and Dany Sabourin each picked up 2 wins, while Sabourin was only in net for 1 loss and Holtby’s record took the hit with the other 3. To look at the numbers of the two goalies more closely, Holtby allowed 16 goals on 142 shots with a .887 save percentage. Sabourin allowed 8 goals on 101 shots for a save percentage of .921. Since Sabs won’t be available for Round 1, and there’s a new goalie is in town, I’d be remiss if I didn’t compare Nolan Schaefer’s numbers. He was only in net for one game against Charlotte this season (as a member of the Providence Bruins), allowing 4 goals on 26 shots with a save percentage of .846.
On the scoring end, the Bears most proficient scorer against the Checkers this season has been Kyle Greentree with 5 goals and 1 assist for a total of 6 points. Brian Fahey also has 6 points against the Checkers – all of which are assists. The scoring for Hershey has been pretty balanced, with 12 different players accounting for the 20 goals the Bears have scored against the Checkers this season. For Charlotte, their Bear-Killer is set up man Zach Boychuck with 9 points, all assists. Chris Terry has 5 goals against the Bears this season to go along with his 2 assists for 7 points.
Keys to the Series:
Consistent Goaltending: The Bears need consistent efforts from Braden Holtby if they want to move on to the next round. The Caps see a bright future for him, and there’s no time like the present for him to showcase his ability to stay focused and play his game.
Strong Penalty Kill: Perhaps the most telling stat from the Bears and Checkers regular season match ups are those of the Penalty Kill. When the Penalty Kill was perfect against the Checkers, the Bears won. When the Penalty Kill allowed even one goal in a game against the Checkers, the Checkers won. In Hershey’s 4 wins over Charlotte the PK killed off all 22 of the Checkers’ power plays. In Hershey’s 4 losses to Charlotte they allowed 7 goals on 22 Checker power plays.
Keep Boychuk at Bay: If you’ve never seen Boychuck play, think of Aucoin, but 1 inch taller, 1 pound heavier, and 11 years younger. He’s still coming into his own, but he is a playmaking center with the ability to put crisp passes on the tape through traffic. If the Bears want to keep the Checkers from scoring a ton of goals, they’ll have to find a way to neutralize Zach Boychuck. In his 60 games played this season, he has 22 goals and 43 assists for a 1.08 points per game average. As mentioned above, he has 9 assists against the Bears through the 8 games of regular season play.
Bears in 6.