The Worcester Ice Cats defeated the Manchester Monarchs 3-2 last night to even their American League Eastern Conference semifinal series at two games a piece. Why is that of note? It means more R&R for the Hershey Bears — perhaps too much of it.
The Bears ended their conference semifinal series with Albany in upstate New York last Thursday night. The Bears swept the Rats, but the series was anything but easy — three of the games went to overtime. Knowing that Manchester and Worcester had yet to play even game 3 in their series, Bears head coach Mark French gave his club a long weekend off from practice and additional playoff preparation. Some Bears players began their break immediately: the Quebecois contingent of Alexandre Giroux and Mathieu Perreault summoned a rental car to the River Rats’ rink late on Thursday night and began their modest journey home right then and there. Most Bears’ players returned to Hershey on the team bus early Friday morning and then departed for the weekend. I actually had a Bear sunbathing at my family pool this weekend. Given what AHLers’ weekends typically look like, sunblock and Arnold Palmers in tall glasses were a welcomed respite.
The Bears will return to practice on Monday at Hersheypark Arena.
But necessarily Hershey can’t see any playoff action this coming week. The Monarchs and Ice Cats have at least two more games between them, and the AHL, like the NHL, has to allow a bit of a break between series so that travel arrangements can be made and teams can get home and get a fresh set of clothes packed. Then there’s this: non-hockey arena obligations thwarting the start of series. This coming weekend, there’s a wine festival at Giant Center. And beginning soon, Hershey’s Giant Center will host high school graduations. (So does Hersheypark Arena). And the Ringling Brothers circus is coming to the Bears’ home rink from May 26 through May 31. The Bears of course have home ice throughout the AHL postseason.
There’s a very real possibility that the Bears will follow many of us to the beach on Memorial Day weekend. They’ll endure more than 10 days without competitive hockey before resuming play in the Eastern Conference finals and could enjoy a comparable break at month’s end depending on the length of that series and what happens with play out in the Western conference. Remember, the Calder Cup finals, should Hershey qualify for them, have to start in Hershey.
Sun-tanned and well-rested hockey players pursuing another American League title. You can’t imagine it much pleases the coaching staff. Then again, would you really want your team grinding it out and practicing only against one another day after day, week after week, while awaiting a new foe? Injuries are always a risk even in modest practice skates.
The other interesting aspect about all this waiting around is that it has a clear impact on the off-season training AHLers need in order to prepare for NHL fall training camps. Karl Alzner and Mathieu Perreault, for instance, want to hit the weight room hard this summer and bulk up for what they hope will be NHL duty beginning in October. But when your season doesn’t end until mid-June, and you factor in recovery time for a full season’s rigor, the summer calendar is remarkably compressed. And in the case of Capitals’ prospects in Hershey, this is most particularly the case: they just don’t much stop playing hockey before June. The Capitals, of course, have the opposite dilemma.