Saturday, May 1, 2010

Who do we root for now?

(Photo from The AHL)
As you’ve no doubt heard, the 2009-2010 Washington Capitals season was ended prematurely on April 28th, 2010 in a Game 7 at Verizon Center. Collapsing after gaining a 3-1 series lead, the Capitals lost the next 3 games, scoring only 3 goals along the way. So, what do you do now that the hockey team you planned to watch and support for the next 2 months suddenly is out of the playoffs?
You choose another team (or teams), of course!
After a bit of thinking…. here are the teams that I will support the remainder of this season. They aren’t all NHL teams, yes, but the NHL isn’t the only hockey league around.
Team #1: The Hershey Bears, AHL (American Hockey League)
(Photo from The AHL)
The Hershey Bears, an AHL team playing in Hershey, Pennsylvania, is the Washington Capitals’ minor league affiliate. The AHL is 1 step below the NHL, and serves primarily as a league were teams can develop prospects and give less-essential players more playing time than they’d receive in the NHL, as well as players who are rehabilitating from an injury. There are also some players who never make it to the NHL, but have long and successful AHL careers.
The Hershey Bears are the oldest and most successful AHL franchise in existence. Just last year, the Bears won their AHL – record 10th Calder Cup (the playoff champion trophy, serving the same role as the NHL’s Stanley Cup). This season, the Bears have not only mirrored the success of the Capitals team, but have, incredibly, exceeded it. In 80 games this season, the Bears have a 60-17-3 record, good for 123 points…. 8 points better than the next closest team and had many record streaks. The Bears also had the top 2 AHL scorers, Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux.
Where these two franchises split is in playoff success. Just last night, the Hershey Bears eliminated the Albany Rink Rats in 4 games to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, their 4th appearance in 5 years. They won the Calder Cup last year, and won in 2005-2006 with Bruce Boudreau as coach, and a roster than includes many current Capitals players, such as Tomas Fleischmann and Mike Green.
I still wonder how on earth two teams can play in a similar way with the same or similar players, and manage to have such different results. Regardless, the Capitals system definitely works in the AHL, and Hershey looks to use it to get their 11th Calder Cup this year.

Team #2: The San Jose Sharks, NHL

(Photo from Yahoo)

All in all, I am pretty neutral about the San Jose Sharks.
However, the reason I am rooting for them this playoffs is that, perhaps, they can prove that a system like the Capitals can win a Stanley Cup. They can prove that, a season after a catastrophic playoff collapse (2009, Round 1, 4-2 series loss to Anaheim) that a team can bounce back and be successful.
I also am rooting for the San Jose Sharks because now, unlike before, I feel their pain. Imagine how bad the Washington Capitals first round exit made you feel. Now imagine that season after season after season….. it’s just depressing. I used to laugh at the Sharks…. now I hope they succeed.
Team #3: The Montreal Canadiens, NHL
(Photo from Yahoo)
Yes, I know we lost to them.
I know it is painful.
But, as the saying goes, “Misery loves company.”
And it would be fantastic to see the Pittsburgh Penguins be embarrassed by the Montreal Canadiens, same as the Capitals.
Also: The 2010 IIHF World Championship
It’s no Winter Olympics, but the IIHF World Championships still feature world hockey superpowers sending the best players that are available to play for the world title.
Team Russia will have the services of Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Semyon Varlamov, so hopefully those three can end the season on a high note. Reports also say that Brooks Laich will be on Team Canada. Nicklas Backstrom, due to a hurt shoulder, will not play for Team Sweden.

I hope all of you readers find something exciting, and possibly hockey related, before Washington Capitals hockey action returns this September!

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