The Canadian team’s blue line and a stellar junior-eligible goalie named Carey Price — now starting for Montreal in the NHL — dashed our hopes. Too many Bears fans assumed — perhaps expected — that a third trip to the final seven-game series was an automatic for this season.
I saw a rough season coming, and had no qualms about saying so. I asked a friend, a member of the deluded “they’ll be back” gang, whether we’d still have as many fans at the end of this season, when the Bears likely would be mired in third place in the East Division.
The bad news is, it wasn’t third — Hershey just clinched the final playoff spot Saturday, cementing its fourth-place standing with a 5-2 win over Philadelphia.
But the fans certainly have been there. On Sunday, the Bears eclipsed last year’s season total for attendance by a few thousand, leading the league in that category for the second year in a row. Hershey also has outdrawn the other 15 teams involved in each of the last two playoff campaigns, including teams that played more home postseason games.
Perhaps one of the reasons the Bears are so successful on the ice is the attitude of the people in charge of the AHL’s oldest club. Earlier this season, I asked Doug Yingst, president and general manager of the Bears, how his team differed from those of his predecessors.
His answer wasn’t what you’d expect. He pointed out that this is not “his” team, any more than it was anyone else’s. He said he was just lucky to be in a position where he could steer the bus.
One fan in attendance learned the welcoming nature of the Bears Saturday — our own Joey Gulino. We took Joey — along with Sentinel photographer Brad Kreitzer, a semi-regular in Chocolate Town — to see his first AHL hockey. Knowing the right people, we also were able to get him involved in the festivities. He participated in an intermission contest, racing another fan to see who could suit up the fastest in hockey gear.
Joey didn’t win, but we did — we got to see The Sentinel’s assistant sports editor trying to pull on snow pants, while running, on ice, wearing sandals.
Your chance to see Joey involved in an unusual athletic pursuit is coming up next week — he and WCHX’s Dave Burman will be honorary captains for a donkey basketball game at Lewistown. Those two should offer respite on the evening of election day, when the other donkey-related contest comes to a close.
Your sports department got to go on the ice twice Saturday at Hershey. I was lucky enough to have won a contest for referring others to go to Bears games.
I’ve said before and I’ll say again: What could be better than a night out with 10,000 friends? I hope you’ll join us at Giant Center next year, or perhaps even for a playoff game this spring.
Tell them I sent you.
We’ve also been enjoying the success of several Bears who made it to the NHL, including our former coach. Nearly a third of the final roster in D.C. used to play in Hershey, and three of the five Capitals’ goals in Game 1 came from two former Bears.
That series, tied at a game apiece, continues tonight. The Bears open at home against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Wednesday, drawing the first contest despite sacrificing home ice, due to building availability issues.
For more on the AHL playoffs, check out The Sentinel’s Web site under Blogs. And keep looking there for other little sports tidbits there that don’t make it into the paper.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at email@example.com.