04/11/2011 - The HERSHEY BEARS kick off what they hope will be a run to postseason glory for a third consecutive season Thursday night, when the team hosts the Charlotte Checkers in Game 1 of the East Division Semi-Finals at Giant Center. Faceoff is at 7:00 p.m. The BEARS are looking to become just the second team in the 75-year history of the American Hockey League to win three straight Calder Cup titles.
Charlotte and HERSHEY played eight games during the regular season, and the two teams each won four games and lost four. The BEARS won two games of four at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, and the Checkers took two of four games played at Giant Center. Kyle Greentree led HERSHEY with five goals against Charlotte in eight games. Zach Boychuk led the Checkers in scoring with nine points in seven games against the BEARS in 2010-11.
While the 2011 East Division Semi-Finals mark Charlotte's first Calder Cup playoff appearance in the team's inaugural season in the AHL, there is a playoff history between the Checkers and BEARS. Prior to moving to North Carolina, the Checkers were the Albany River Rats, and HERSHEY'S 2010 East Division Final opponent. The BEARS swept last year's series four games to none, but three of the four games went to overtime.
The BEARS got tremendous news Sunday in the final regular season game of the year against Syracuse when Lawrence Nycholat returned to the lineup. Nycholat had not played since January 27 before returning Sunday. He had been sidelined the entire second half of the season with an upper body injury.
Charlotte finished the regular season in third place in the East Division with a record of 44-27-2-7, good for 97 points. Goaltender Justin Pogge, who is expected to start the series in goal with Mike Murphy sidelined due to injury, is 0-1-1 against HERSHEY in four appearances in 2010-11. The Carolina Hurricanes assigned forward Drayson Bowman to Charlotte on Monday. Bowman played 51 games for Charlotte this season and 23 in the NHL with the 'Canes. Zach Boychuk led the Checkers in scoring during the regular season with 65 points, and Chris Terry led the team in goals with 34. Charlotte finished the regular season tied with Norfolk for the most goals scored in the East Division (265), but also gave up the most goals in the East (243).
The Eastern Conference features two Atlantic Division semi-finals, as the top seeded Portland Pirates and fourth seed Connecticut Whale will meet in one, and the Binghamton Senators and Manchester Monarchs will meet in the other. Binghamton, the fifth place team in the East Division during the regular season, earned the right to cross over and play Manchester after having more points than fourth place Worcester in the Atlantic. The Senators are the three seed playing number two Manchester because of a higher point total than Connecticut. Top seed in the East Division Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will face fourth seed Norfolk in the other East Division Semi-Final. In the Western Conference, North Division Champion Hamilton will play crossover West Division Oklahoma City in round one, while Lake Erie will play Manitoba. In the West Division, Milwaukee will face defending Western Conference champion Texas, while Houston faces Peoria.
The BEARS will host the Checkers in Game 2 of the East Division Semi-Finals Sunday afternoon at 5:00 p.m. Game 3 will be Tuesday night in Charlotte at Time Warner Cable Arena, with Game 4 slated for Wednesday night in North Carolina Tickets for Sunday's game are on sale at the Giant Center box office, or by calling (717) 534-3911. Should a Game 6 or 7 be needed in the series, they would be played at Giant Center Sunday April 24 and Monday April 25. Tickets for those games will go on sale as soon as the games are necessary.