Chocolate Hockey Thu, 25 May 2017 02:45:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Chocolate Hockey 32 32 South Carolina Stingrays Win Game 7, Advance to Kelly Cup Finals Thu, 25 May 2017 02:45:25 +0000

The South Carolina Stingrays, ECHL affiliate of the Hershey Bears and Washington Capitals, are moving on to the Kelly Cup Finals after eliminating the Manchester Monarchs in a decisive Game 7 Wednesday night. The Stingrays will play the Colorado Eagles for the ECHL championship.

The game was a back and forth contest, which saw the Stingrays respond to an early 1-0 Manchester lead in the first period with a goal from Rob Flick to tie it at 1-1. The Stingrays would have to do it again after former Bear Colton Saucerman put the Monarchs up 2-1 after the first period, when Domenic Monardo scored for South Carolina off a fantastic shot from the top of the slot to tie it up at two.

The Stingrays would get their first lead of the game when Oliver Archambault scored on a brilliant forehand-backhand move in the slot to make it 3-2 South Carolina. That score would hold into the second intermission.

Manchester wouldn’t go down without a fight. Former Bear Ashton Rome tied the game at three each just over three minutes into the third period, and set up a dramatic finish.

That’s when Archambault would take the game into his hands, firing a point shot through a maze of players and through Manchester goaltender Sam Brittain to give the Stingrays the lead, 4-3.

South Carolina made the score stay that way thanks to one-time Bear this season. Parker Milner, who made 24 saves on 27 shots, including one with only several seconds on the clock to make the lead stand up for the Stingrays.

The Stingrays celebrated by accepting the E.A. ‘Bud’ Gingher Memorial Trophy as Eastern Conference Champions and will open the Kelly Cup Finals on the road on Friday at the home of the Colorado Eagles. The Stingrays play the first two games on the road before coming home for games three, four, and possibly five, and then games six and seven, if necessary, would be on the road.

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Five Bears set for restricted free agency after career years Mon, 22 May 2017 02:29:03 +0000

As members of the Hershey Bears packed their equipment before heading home for the summer, five players prepared for free agency for the first time in their careers.

Travis Boyd, Nathan Walker, Liam O’Brien, Chandler Stephenson, and Christian Djoos are all set to become restricted free agents this summer. While typically restricted free agents are locks to be re-signed, due to the current standing of the Washington Capitals organization, no qualifying offer is promised this offseason.

Boyd, who could request arbitration, has played in every game over the last two seasons and is coming off of a career year where he scored 63 points for Hershey. “First time going through it so I don’t know,” said Boyd. “I guess just play it by ear. Now that the season is over start looking into it more and see if I can get a read on what’s going to happen or not. I’m restricted, so it’s not like I get to go around and talk to all of the teams.”

The 23-year-old center did earn one recall to Washington this season but was scratched for the only game he was up there. “I was only up there for two days, and I’ve been around those guys before in training camps, but just seeing how big and strong everyone up there is – not that they’re not down here – but we still got some kids, to say that least, who are still maturing. Everyone’s fully grown up there. For me, I need to put on some more weight; I think I need to add 10-15 pounds and continue to get faster and stronger, and hopefully I get a chance and hopefully I can take advantage of a chance.”

Walker was close to getting a chance, but an injury at the end of January had him miss out on a recall. But that didn’t stop the forward from coming back strong, scoring a goal and an assist in his first weekend back. But he struggled to find the scoresheet after that, scoring the same amount in the final 12 games of the season.

Now, he looks towards free agency at a make or break time in his career. “It’s kind of scary not having a job for next year,” said Walker. “I mean we’ll see how we go, I’ll talk to my agent in the next two or three weeks or so and try and go from there.”

The Sydney, Australia native will head home for the summer before returning to the states as he hopes to make an NHL roster right out of training camp. “We didn’t have much of a summer last season, so spend some time with the family, a little holiday, get away from everything, then right back to work. Right back to getting ready for the season and just go home and relax for the first month or so.”

One of Walker’s consistent linemates, Chander Stephenson, also finds himself in this group of restricted free agents. The center from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan had career highs in every statistic but had a stretch at the end of the season where he went goalless in 25 games. “That’s kind of every player ever season,” he said about the scoring drought. “They’ll hit a little bump, but you just gotta stay with it, as cliche as it sounds. You gotta grind through it as much as you can. One’s going to eventually go in whether it’s a shot off your head, off your butt, anything like that, you just gotta stay with it.”

Another player who had to stay with it was Liam O’Brien, who had a career year of his own. Before this season, O’Brien never finished a year with more than 16 points in one year. O’Brien almost doubled that with 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists). The 22-year-old was held scoreless in his first nine games of the season but found a groove midway through November. During an 18-game stretch, O’Brien scored five goals and 13 assists for 18 points.

“It was nice to have a good year,” said O’Brien. “I felt like I developed a lot this year. I’ve gotten a lot of help from my teammates and the coaching staff. But at the same time, it’s not about points or anything like that; it’s about winning.”

That stretch earned him a recall to Washington at the start of January, playing one game for the Caps. But almost immediately after his re-assignment, the scoring dried up. Following two games with an assist in each, the forward went scoreless in six and only had five goals and five assists in his final 34 games, including going scoreless in six playoff games. Those struggles found him sitting with the scratches to end the year. “That was frustrating, but at the same time, it’s a team. You gotta leave your ego at the door.”

As for free agency, that’s not a focus of O’Brien’s at this time. “People have been asking me ‘how do you feel, how do you feel?’ And I feel just like last year; I’m disappointed right now. At the same time, I’m going to go home, relax, be with my family.”

Another player with highs in goals, assists, and points was Christian Djoos, who had a breakout year for the Bears. The Swedish defenseman had 58 points and 13 goals for the Chocolate and White, good for third best in the league amongst defensemen. “I had a good year, a little bit better than I expected when I came here at the start of the season,” said Djoos. “I’m happy now, but it’s too bad we didn’t make it long into the playoffs.”

His only recall to Washington came to practice with the team over the all-star break, but the 22-year-old would like to stay in Capitals’ system. “I would like to stay in the organization. It’s a great organization for a young guy. We’ll see what happens, it’s a big summer coming up, and hopefully I can come back.”

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Despite injury, Pheonix Copley remains positive for future Sun, 21 May 2017 19:38:53 +0000

It was evident Pheonix Copley was in a world of pain when he went down in game four of the Atlantic Division finals. What was not known at the time of the injury was how painful it was for him.

During exit interview day on Friday, it was revealed that Copley pulled his groin pretty badly. The groin muscle runs parallel with the leg, attached to the bone in the pelvis. Copley pulled the muscle from the bone stretching for puck late in the second period of game four that Providence ended up scoring.

“It’s frustrating,” said Copley. “In the middle of the playoffs, you’re on a run there, to go down with an injury. There’s nothing you can do about it, just moving on and getting ready for next year.”

The severity of the injury was not known as of Friday, but Copley said it was a toss up if he would have been able to return. “We’re still waiting to hear exactly what the next step is here. I felt better and better every day. It would have probably been up in the air.” However, head coach Troy Mann would say Copley would have been out for the rest of the playoffs.

As frustrating as the injury was for the North Pole, Alaska native, the injury will not hold him back from being ready to go next season. “There will be some rehab for sure, but other than that no permanent damage.”

That’s a good sign for the 25-year-old netminder, as he becomes an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. “We’ll see how it goes. I gotta start thinking about that now that the season is over. I’ll just take it a day at a time now for my first time going through it all.

“It’s exciting to see what’s out there.”

If Copley re-signs with Washington, he could find himself as the team’s NHL back-up if former Bear Philipp Grubauer is picked by the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. If not, the demand from other teams for him will be high.

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Paul Carey hopes build off of career year as free agency looms Sun, 21 May 2017 18:10:04 +0000

You would never be able to guess Paul Carey has only played twelve playoff games in his professional career. The 28-year-old has had a successful career in both the AHL and NHL, including a career season with Hershey this year, but a recall to Washington as an extra body late in the year found him sitting a lot to finish off the year.

“Wasn’t ideal the way it finished up,” said Carey Friday. “Losing twice isn’t fun. That wasn’t what I envisioned coming into the year for playoffs. I was hoping to get a lot more experience, go on a longer run. Only playing six games in the last couple months after having a season like that wasn’t ideal. Still a lot of good things I can take a year and build on and move onto next year.”

After missing Hershey’s Calder Cup run last season due to a shoulder injury, Carey posted a stat line of 24 goals, 31 assists for 55 points with Hershey in 55 games for the Bears. He also had a 19-game point streak lasting two months where he scored eight goals and 22 points for the Bears.

Those accomplishments earned him multiple recalls to Washington, which Carey viewed as an excellent opportunity. “It was a great learning experience for me being up there on that club with those guys. A lot of good players. You can really learn a lot from those guys and how they go about their job and take care of business. They were disappointed with the way their season ended as well. They’re total pros. I learned a lot from them. I was hoping to carry that down here and help out these guys as much as I could. We just didn’t have what it took to move on.”

Now, Carey finds himself a free agent once again. Despite rumors of possibly signing overseas in Europe, the Boston native hopes to stay stateside. “Definitely hit the reset button this summer and see what my options are. Most likely stick around here and try to find a job in the States.

“As of now, that’s where my head’s at. I feel like I’ve got a couple of years of good hockey to play over here. Whether it’s this level or the next. Europe would be something in the cards at some point, not sure when.

“Obviously, the NHL is still my dream. I’m hoping to stay there and make a career out of that, but you never know what happens. I’ll regroup with my agent and family and figure it out from there.”

If Carey does stay in the US, there’s a chance he could be giving USA Hockey an easy look at his game as he is a top candidate for the US Olympic team next year if the current non-NHL agreement stays in place. “That would be pretty special, but that’s pretty far away, and a lot of things would have to go right or a certain way for that to happen,” he said, visibly excited by the thought. “I’ll be ready, and I’d love the opportunity to represent my country.”

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Stingrays use third period comeback to top Monarchs, take 3-2 series lead Sun, 21 May 2017 03:29:29 +0000
Kelly Zajac, seen here with Hershey prior to a game in 2017, had the third goal for South Carolina Saturday night.

The South Carolina Stingrays, the ECHL affiliate of the Hershey Bears, are just one win away from the Kelly Cup Finals after defeating the Manchester Monarchs 3-1 on Saturday. The win gives them a 3-2 edge in the series, with Game Six on Monday night.

Even though the 2017-18 ECHL schedule was released earlier this week, there’s still a lot the South Carolina Stingrays have to compete for in the 2017 Kelly Cup Playoffs. The Stingrays, fresh off of a 2-1 win Friday night that tied the series, went into action with a chance to take the lead for the first time in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Stingrays would have to come from behind, as Manchester would score just over eleven minutes into the first period when Matt Leitner would score on a power play to give the Monarchs the early 1-0 lead. Former Hershey Bear Colton Saucerman collected the primary assist on the goal. The Monarchs would hold the lead through to the second intermission.

South Carolina would come out flying in the third, with Steven McParland scoring the tying goal just four minutes into the final frame. Joey Leach picked up the primary assist, continuing the impact by players who wore the Chocolate and White.

Just over a minute after the goal, the Rays would go on a power play. They took the lead on the man advantage when Oliver Archambault buried a backdoor pass to give them a 2-1 edge.

South Carolina would finish off the scoring when former Bear Kelly Zajac finished a two on one rush with a beautiful deke, putting the icing on the cake for the Stingrays. Parker Milner made 19 saves for the win, and the Stingrays are on the verge of a huge comeback after only winning one of the first three games played in North Charleston. Game 6 is on Monday in Manchester.

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No reasons to be disappointed in Vanecek’s first season in Hershey Sat, 20 May 2017 19:02:44 +0000

At only 21-years-old, Vitek Vanecek had one of the best seasons a goalie could have at his age in the AHL. The young netminder went 18-10-7 in the regular season with five shutouts, despite a very rough month at the end of December through the end of January, where he went 0-5-2.

“I’ve said this to a number of people, you take out four weeks of his season, his numbers are excellent,” said head coach Troy Mann after the Bears game seven loss. “It’s unfortunate we played Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre for that stretch of hockey late-December and early-January.”

“It was good season. I feel good for my first season in AHL. I feel great,” said Vanecek during exit interview day Friday.

Despite playing 38 games this season, the Czech Republic native was not a full number one goaltender this season for Hershey, splitting time with Joe Cannata to start the year, then sitting for all but ten games after Pheonix Copley was acquired at the trade deadline. But a large workload in his first season at this level should bode well for Vanecek as he is pinned for the Bears number one job next season. “I play 38 games in season. That’s good for me because I was rookie, so I think it helps me for next season.”

Four of those ten games that Vanecek played after the trade deadline came during the playoffs. Vanecek played in relief of Copley, who was injured in game four of the second round. “I don’t think you can say we lost the series because of our goaltending,” said Mann after game seven. “I’m sure [Vitek] would like to have that one back [from game six]. He’s certainly not the reason we’re not moving on.”

Vanecek now has an offseason to prepare for his number one role in Hershey next year, but first has some repairs to do. “I go to Washington now for surgery in my eye, and then I go back to Czech. Hard work in summer and a little bit of rest.”

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Stan Galiev looks for new opportunities after regaining confidence Sat, 20 May 2017 17:18:59 +0000

For the first time in his professional career, Stan Galiev played an entire season with one hockey team. No recalls, no assignments, just hockey. But stability in your location does not mean stability in your hockey life.

First, it was injuries. Galiev missed a weekend in October after getting hurt, then missed a month after getting hurt mid-November again. The Russian forward struggled in those first nine games of the year, scoring only two goals and five points.

However, after the second injury, Galiev was one of the hottest players in the AHL. Stringing together two long point streaks (one five-game and one seven-game), and scoring 19 goals and 34 points in his first 35 games back from injury.

But struggles once again began in mid-March. Galiev had an 11-game scoreless streak after that seven-game point streak which began after the trade deadline. The 25-year-old was rumored to be on the trading block, but ended up staying in the Washington organization.

He got his scoring touch back with three goals and seven points in 12 playoff games with Hershey. Now, Galiev feels he’s prepared to play full-time in an NHL lineup after playing sporadically with Washington last season. “I just need a good opportunity,” he said. “Last year was tough to be in the lineup once per week. It takes your game away, and you don’t have much confidence.”

He got that confidence back with Hershey during that 35-game stretch by enjoying the game of hockey again. “I just had fun, you know? Scoring goals, getting some points, and helping the team rack those points for playoffs. Like I said before, when you play with confidence, everything is clicking.”

Now a free agent, Galiev will most likely be moving on from Hershey and the Capitals organization. “It’s going to be interesting. I don’t know where I’m going to be. I don’t think about it yet. It’s up to my agent. He’s doing all the work; I just have to prepare for next season. Work hard, train hard.

“It’s going to be something different for me.”

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Synonymous with Hershey Bears Hockey, Bourque, Mitchell prepare for free agency Sat, 20 May 2017 15:24:51 +0000

If you were to ask a person from Central Pennsylvania to name a Hershey Bear, even if they had only been to a few games over the last 10 years, you will likely hear one of two names: Garrett Mitchell or Chris Bourque.

Mitchell, 25, and Bourque, 31, are both set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1 after each signing two-year contracts before the 2015-16 season. The two were leaders within Hershey’s locker room that set the standard for how you should hold yourself as a member of the Bears and brought stability to the club.

Head coach Troy Mann talked about how his goals when he returned to Hershey in 2014 were to get the team with the times regarding growing the organizations with staff and more attention to detail when preparing for games. One of the other major parts was stabilizing the veteran presence on the team. “Much like a Grand Rapids and Detroit has done over the years where you see, maybe not all six vets being the same every year, but maybe three or four veteran presence that have been around the organization and understands what’s going on. That’s why [Aaron] Ness was signed to a two-year deal last summer, that’s why [Zach] Sill was.

“Mitchy and Bourquey are in those same areas of what we’re talking about. I know they both want to be back, and some of that is out of my pay grade in terms of determining that, but certainly will express my opinion when it comes to talking about next year.”

Mitchell has spent part of seven seasons in Hershey, being named captain after a vote by his teammates in 2015. During those seven seasons, he had never gotten a look at the NHL level, until the end of this season when he played his first NHL game with the Capitals.

“I have two little girls at home and play in the NHL, all in one year, with my wife and my mom and dad and everybody able to come to that game in Washington. Definitely for me it’s a feather in the cap,” said Mitchell. “I don’t know if I’m going to get back [to the NHL], but if I don’t, no one can take that game away from me.”

It’s the first time in Mitchell’s career he goes into free agency unrestricted. “This is kind of the first time that I’ve ever had to go through something like that. It’s the first time I’ve ever been a ‘free agent’ per se that I could go anywhere and you know Washington doesn’t own my rights.” But that doesn’t mean Mitchell wants to go somewhere else. “As I’ve said before, this is a great spot. We love it here.

“I’ve shown them what I can do on the ice. That’s up to those guys [Washington] make those decisions. I don’t get paid enough to make those decisions,” said Mitchell with a smile. “Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye. But at the same time, the six years I’ve had here have been unbelievable.”

Bourque, who accomplished many different milestones this season, echoed that statement of hoping to stay in Chocolate Town: “I’ve got a handful of good years still left in me. I’ll see where I end up. But obviously, I love playing in Hershey. That’s a question that should be answered here the next couple of weeks.”

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South Carolina Stingrays Defeat Manchester Monarchs To Tie Series Sat, 20 May 2017 02:50:28 +0000
Domenic Monardo, seen here during a game in 2016, had an assist in South Carolina’s 2-1 victory Friday night.

The South Carolina Stingrays tied their series with Manchester Friday night as they picked up a 2-1 win behind goals from Andrew Cherniwchan and Rob Flick, along with Parker Milner making 33 saves on 34 shots. The win puts South Carolina, the only remaining team in affiliation with the Washington Capitals playing playoff hockey, two wins away from heading back to the Kelly Cup Finals.

The game featured a lot of past and present ties to the Hershey Bears organization. Fans will easily remember many current Stingrays players that skated with the Bears, such as Milner, Joey Leach, Kelly Zajac, and Domenic Monardo.

The Manchester roster also features a lot of ex-Bears: Colton Saucerman (who still has his epic beard intact), defenseman David Kolomatis, and Ashton Rome, whose name is featured on the Calder Cup as a member of Hershey’s 2010 championship.

The Stingrays were outshot 34 to 21 for the game, but found goals from Cherniwchan and Flick, who had an incredible snipe from the top of the circle after being fed a puck from Monardo, to get a 2-0 lead. South Carolina saw their lead cut to just one when Manchester scored just under 14 minutes into the third period but they were able to keep the Monarchs off the board the rest of the night.

The series is noticeably physical, underscored by the chaos that ensued after the final horn when Milner came out and got into the face of Manchester’s Kevin Morris. Morris was given an unsportsmanlike conduct minor at the end of regulation.

Game 5 is slated for Saturday night. Unlike the AHL, the series format is a 3-4, meaning the Stingrays need to win two more games in Manchester order to win the series.


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Jakub Vrana on late season struggles: “It’s behind me now.” Sat, 20 May 2017 00:32:19 +0000

It was a familiar scene for Jakub Vrana Friday morning at Giant Center. For the third year in a row, he was packing his hockey equipment in a large red Washington Capitals bag before heading home for the summer. At only 21, Vrana is viewed as the Capitals top prospect, but a tumultuous finish to his second full season as a professional, he finds himself in a tough situation.

Vrana became a healthy scratch for Hershey a few times throughout the year. The scratches seemed to be somewhat of a message sender after a bad game, or series of games, for Vrana. One of them came after an overtime loss to Wilkes-Barre where Vrana seemed to miss his assignment and allow Kevin Porter to score in OT on a breakaway. Another scratch came during the Lehigh Valley series after a lackluster performance in the first three games.

So how does the former first round pick feel about the struggles? “It’s behind me now. I’m always looking forward,” said Vrana.

After game seven against Providence, head coach Troy Mann was asked about Vrana’s performance. “I thought he was okay,” said Mann. “I thought he was average. He has some spurts there; you could see the speed. It was a tough year for him at this level for whatever reason.

“We’re still driving to develop here as much as we are winning. He is a first round pick, so I put him in and maybe he gets a goal or sets up something…Just inconsistent play. Hopefully, he can correct as he moves forward. Maybe it’s in Washington; maybe it’s back here, I’m not sure. He’s the one that’s going to answer that in terms of his play.”

“It was the coach’s feel,” Vrana said about the line-up decisions. “I can do my best. It’s the way the coaches decide. I don’t really know what the answer is for that. Like I said I’m looking forward.”

While the public comments by both Mann and Barry Trotz could be viewed as confidence killers, Vrana’s morale remains high. “I know what kind of player I am. I have my confidence, I know I did my best on the ice in the playoffs. I’m not going to blame it on anything. I know nothing came for easy for me; obviously, I didn’t have any points, and I couldn’t help the team, but that’s how it is sometimes. You have to remain positive and look forward. I have a summer in front of me. I have lots of time to think about it and get better and come stronger next year.”

The lack of a permanent home was tough at times on the Czech Republic native. Four recalls and reassignments between the NHL and AHL this season had him play a total of 77 games among the two leagues. “It’s been tough times of the year when you’re traveling a lot and you try and stick with one team, and you’re with another going up and down. It was a good learning process for me.”

While expectations for Vrana remain high from both Washington and himself, the possibly of seeing Jakub Vrana in an NHL line-up every night will have to wait until October.

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