Bears: Scouting the Enemy

(Photo Credit: Milwaukee Admirals // Facebook)

It has been a very long time since the Milwaukee Admirals have seen the Hershey Bears. In fact, the last meeting was the 2006 AHL Calder Cup Finals where the Bears defeated the Admirals and a very young Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber in a six-game series. That series ended in Milwaukee on 6/15/06 with a 5-1 Bears victory. Needless to say, much has changed for the two sides since they last played. Today: let’s simply focus in on what’s happening in 2017-18.

Much like the Admirals the Bears have only played three games so far this season. Unlike the Admirals the Bears haven’t had a great time during those three games: 0-2-0-1 record (1 point, 0.167 points percentage). They have scored 7 goals, allowed 16 goals against, and really didn’t start clamping down harder until their last game out – which ended in a 4-3 shootout loss on home ice to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The Bears will want to hope, result aside, that the trend in performance continues going in that direction.

The Washington Capitals’ AHL affiliate do bolster one of the older teams in the league with an average age of 24.42 on the current roster. Still, and I am amused with this, that’s only 0.01 more than the Admirals. Both sides pack a nice veteran dynamic to their locker rooms. For the Admirals, they will be getting the return of their captain Trevor Smith tonight after missing the past two-games due to an upper-body injury. The Bears meanwhile have someone who is becoming something of an AHL Legend over time, Chris Bourque. The 31-year old has played 661 games in the AHL during his professional playing career and produced an incredible 643 points (221 goals, 422 assists) in that time. He has won the Calder Cup three times in his career and that includes being part of the 2006 Bears team that won it in Milwaukee.

The younger batch that the Bears possess includes the Capitals first round selection in the 2016 NHL Draft, Lucas Johansen aka Ryan‘s brother. This is the first pro season for the soon to be 20-year old defenseman who finished up his major junior career at Kelowna (WHL). He was teammates with Justin Kirkland there and collected 98 points (17 goals, 81 assists) in 202 games in his junior playing career. He is early into the season, like his Bears team, but that plus/minus rating of -7 to start – it’s not ideal. Perhaps look for the Admirals to test the youngster if he plays tonight.

What stands out to me the most with the Bears right now is their goaltending for two reasons. (1) They currently have four different goaltenders on their roster. (2) One of those goaltenders, familiar to Admirals fans for his run with the Chicago Wolves, is Pheonix Copley. Now, to this point, Copley hasn’t played. The main work in net for all three games has been 27-year old Parker Milner. He has shouldered the full load this season for the Bears and has a rough 4.26 goals against average and 0.860 save percentage to show for it. It could be time for the Bears to give someone else a chance this weekend starting in Milwaukee.

Speaking of the weekend: energy is a factor. The Admirals play tonight and tomorrow night at home. Yet, the Bears are going to be running the Central Division gauntlet on the road: Milwaukee tonight, Grand Rapids tomorrow night, and Rockford on Sunday evening. That sounds brutal. And the Admirals can really make it that little bit harder on them tonight while also helping them a touch tomorrow by working over the Rockford IceHogs. Neither the Admirals or Bears have played since this past Sunday though. So, I would anticipate a fast start for both – all be it not the most crisp of play out the gate.

What are your expectations for tonight’s Home Opener? How excited are you to see a team from the AHL’s Eastern Conference finally making the trek over to Milwaukee? What are your memories of the last time these two locked horns in that 2006 AHL Calder Cup Finals?

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