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AHL Weekly Release: Bears clawing their way back


her_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … If it’s possible for a team which has played in the Calder Cup Finals each of the last two seasons, which finished first overall a year ago and which is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2007-08 to fly under the radar, the Hershey Bears have done it. But with eight weeks left in the regular season, Chocolatetown is getting itself ready for another long postseason push.

While the Philadelphia Phantoms were winning 13 of their first 15 games this season, the Bears lost seven of their first 11 and by the morning of Nov. 12, Hershey was already 19 points out of first place in the East Division, a division it won with a 51-win effort in 2006-07. Today, the Bears are just nine points off the lead with four games in hand on the Phantoms, and they hit their most grueling stretch of the season (14 of 16 on the road over 30 days beginning Thursday) with a 6-1-0-2 mark in their last nine contests.

Two-time AHL All-Star Joe Motzko owns modest numbers for a team scoring leader (18-20-38 in 41 games), but Hershey’s offensive production has been spread throughout the lineup all season. The Bears boast nine players with at least 10 goals on the year, tied with Chicago and Peoria for the most in the league. The Bears’ top two point-getters of late have been defensemen: Sami Lepisto, who leads all AHL blueliners in plus/minus rating this season (+25), has 18 points and a plus-15 rating in 15 games since Jan. 1, and Josef Boumedienne has points in 10 straight games since returning from a six-week stay on the injured list.

In Hershey’s 16 contests since New Year’s, rookie Andrew Gordon has tallied 10 goals and six assists while Chris Bourque (8g, 7a) and Motzko (6g, 9a) have 15 points each. Grant Potulny is third on the club with 16 goals, Kyle Wilson’s five game-winning scores are one off the AHL lead, and rookie Jay Beagle has battled through injuries to record 24 points in 33 games this season.

In his first full AHL season, Daren Machesney has been terrific between the pipes, showing a 16-3-2 record to go with his 2.25 goals-against average and .926 save percentage, good for third in the league. He has been sharing goaltending chores with Frederic Cassivi, the MVP of the 2006 Calder Cup Playoffs who ranks seventh all-time with 224 career AHL wins.

The Bears renew one of the oldest municipal rivalries in the AHL on Thursday when they visit the Lake Erie Monsters (7:00 ET, FSN Ohio). The cities of Hershey and Cleveland have accounted for 18 Calder Cup championships and 34 Finals appearances since the Cleveland Barons’ first title in 1939.

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POWER SURGE FOR PACK … Hartford made some edits to its franchise record book during a 7-5 win in Providence on Friday night. The Wolf Pack scored five power-play goals in the the span of 4:52 early in the second period to take a 7-1 lead, then held on as the Bruins fired 28 shots in the third period in an attempt to come back.

Andrew Hutchinson scored three of the five goals during the outburst, becoming the first Wolf Pack defenseman ever to record a hat trick. The Pack also set team records for power-play goals in a period (5), fastest five goals (4:52) and shots allowed in a period (28), and tied the club marks for power-play goals in a game (5), goals in a period (5) and fastest three goals (1:43).

Hartford’s win also represented the most goals allowed by Providence in a home game since a 7-1 playoff loss to Portland on Apr. 15, 2004.

VANDERMEER GETS CALLPeter Vandermeer made his National Hockey League debut with the Phoenix Coyotes on Sunday night, a little more than a decade after he first skated in the AHL. Vandermeer took eight shifts and was credited with two hits in Phoenix’s 6-3 loss to Nashville.

Vandermeer, who has amassed 2,374 minutes in penalties – good for fifth all-time – in 494 career AHL games, is a 12th-year pro who made his AHL debut with Rochester on Feb. 4, 1998. One of six hockey playing brothers from Caroline, Alta., Vandermeer has appeared in two Calder Cup Finals (Rochester, 1999; Hershey, 2007) and has also played for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Providence, Philadelphia, Grand Rapids, Hamilton and San Antonio.

ALL-STAR JERSEY AUCTION ENDS TUESDAY … The AHL and The MeiGray Group are auctioning off autographed AHL All-Star warm-up jerseys, with all proceeds going to benefit the Ace Bailey Children’s Foundation, Good Sports, Shriners Hospitals for Children and other AHL charities..

The auctions, which are linked from and which close beginning at 9:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, feature the special jerseys worn by all 43 of this year’s American Hockey League All-Stars during the warm-up skate at the 2008 AHL All-Star Game in Binghamton, N.Y., on Jan. 28. This is the fifth consecutive year in which the American Hockey League has auctioned off commemorative All-Star warm-up jerseys; previous auctions have combined to raise more than $80,000 for AHL charities.

ETC. … Since the Nov. 22 coaching changes that saw Bruce Boudreau promoted to the Washington Capitals and Bob Woods elevated from assistant to head coach in Hershey, the Bears are 20-10-0-4 (.647) and the Capitals are 21-11-4 (.639)… Behind goaltenders Drew MacIntyre and Cory Schneider, Manitoba has allowed two goals or fewer in nine straight games… Paul Szczechura’s 10-game scoring streak ended in Norfolk’s 3-2 loss to Binghamton on Saturday night… Philadelphia’s 3-2 win at Providence on Sunday marked the first time this season that the Bruins lost in regulation after scoring first (22-1-1-1); Rhode Island native Brian Boucher made 41 saves for the Phantoms in that win… Chicago’s Jason Krog, who leads the AHL in scoring with 72 points, now has 152 points in 93 AHL games over the last two seasons… Following Tuesday’s visit to Philadelphia, Syracuse will play 20 of its final 26 games this season at home… There were eight shutouts in the AHL over the weekend, including two by Toronto (Justin Pogge and Scott Clemmensen) and two by Chicago (Ondrej Pavelec and Robert Gherson)… Marlies netminder Justin Pogge will enter the AHL Chat Room to answer fans’ questions on Tuesday.