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Broadcast Blog: The Countdown is On

Broadcast Blog: The Countdown is On

09/12/2017 - Hello Bears fans! The countdown is on...hockey is almost here! Our NHL affiliate, the Washington Capitals, open training camp on Friday. I'll be there along with Hershey's VP of Hockey Ops, Bryan Helmer. I'm looking forward to catching up with many of the Bears vying for a spot with the big club, as well as seeing some new faces. As for the Bears, players assigned by Washington, professional tryouts, and those signed to AHL deals, are expected to report to Hershey by Sunday, Sept. 24. The first on-ice session will take place on Monday, Sept. 25. A full tentative training camp schedule is expected to be released next week. 

Obviously there will be a lot of guys who will be looked at very closely. The cancellation of the Capitals Rookie Tournament in Fort Myers due to Hurricane Irma was the right call. Germain Arena, where the games were supposed to be held, was instead used as shelter for over 5,000 people. To answer a question from my friend @mattbishop2 on Twitter, the lack of getting time to see some young players with the cancellation of the tournament makes training camp even more important. 
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As we get closer to the season, the chatter about the 2017-18 Hershey Bears is picking up. I answer more of your questions in my Mailbag below, but a question mark among many fans is what forwards will lead the offense this season for the Bears. That is a valid concern considering Paul Carey (24 goals), Christian Thomas (24 goals) and Stanislav Galiev (21 goals), have all departed. Jakub Vrana and his 19 goals will likely be in Washington too. That's a lot of offense to replace, but depending on who Washington sends to Hershey, the Bears might be getting some big time offensive players. 

John Albert is one Washington signed player I expect to see in Hershey. His career AHL-best is 28 goals with St. John's in 2013-14. Wayne Simpson signed his first NHL deal after a great year with Providence of the AHL. Washington will likely assign him to Hershey, and he is coming off a 16-goal, 49-point campaign.

A player who does have a one-way NHL contract is Tyler Graovac, but there will be a tough fight ahead for him to make the Capitals' roster it appears. He had 21 goals with the AHL's Iowa Wild in 2014-15. The last big question mark is Devante Smith-Pelly. His signing appeared to be a great low-risk deal for the Capitals at the league's minimum of $650,000. Smith-Pelly's last AHL season was 2013-14 with Norfolk, a year in which he scored 27 goals. I'd expect the former second round pick to get a great look in Washington's camp, but with the addition of Alex Chiasson on a PTO, the forward group in Washington is even more crowded. If Smith-Pelly did not make the Capitals, he'd have to clear waivers to be sent to Hershey. If for whatever reason he did end up in Chocolatetown, he'd be relied on as an elite offensive player. 

I do expect Hershey to add several forwards on professional tryout agreements (PTO's) in the coming week. The Bears will also sign one more depth forward to an AHL deal. Stay tuned for that. 
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Taking a look at the blue line, there are going to be some key battles in Capitals' training camp. I still believe Aaron Ness is going to have a great shot at making Washington's club to start the year. He has some NHL experience, is the cheapest option at $612,500 and is a leader and former captain. After Ness, the biggest battle for a roster spot probably comes down to two familiar faces for Hershey fans. Both Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey are primed to take the next step and move up to the NHL. Djoos' season last year was something we haven't seen from a Hershey defender in a long time, and his offensive skills are elite. Bowey however has the size, and is a right-handed shot who might fit perfectly next to Brooks Orpik. Washington will be watching these two closely in camp. Djoos does have to clear waivers if he did not make the Capitals, so that could give him the upper hand to make Washington's roster, at least to start. 

One player on the blue line to watch in camp is Jonas Siegenthaler. Hershey fans have gotten to know Siegenthaler over the past two seasons as the Swiss defender has joined Hershey late in the season. Each of Siegenthaler's stops in Hershey came after the end of his season with the ZSC Lions in Switzerland's top league. However, the 20-year-old defender is set to spend the full season in North America and is looking to take the next step in his game. Siegenthaler has had a very productive summer, and is reporting to camp in great shape from all indications. He arrived in DC early to work with Washington's strength and conditioning coach, Mark Nemish, and the former second round selection is looking to make a great impression on Washington's brass. I do think there are a few players in front of Siegenthaler on the depth chart, but the Capitals are high on the young defender. He showed flashes of brilliance during his stint last season with the Bears, but there was an adjustment to the North American game. Things move quickly in the AHL, and even quicker in the NHL, and Siegenthaler will look to speed up his decision making with the puck in 2017-18. He's a big body that will be tough to play against, and I expect him, along with other exciting young defenders, like Connor Hobbs and Lukas Johanson, to give Hershey a great injection of youth to the blue line. Hobbs and Johanson are two names Hershey fans will learn quickly. 

The Bears have also bolstered its defensive depth. Last year injures, and a lack of depth on the backend, hurt Hershey during a tough January. However, this year the team is stacked with talented defenders with AHL experience. The signings of Tommy Hughes, who spent the last four years in Hartford, and Paul Geiger, who played for Rochester last season, will make the blue line battle in Hershey just as intense as Washington's competitive camp.  
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Summer Mailbag

I want to hear from you! Tweet me--@zackfisch-- your questions on Twitter and I may answer them in a future blog. 

@LukeAdmoanis: Do you see McGauley making the team? Also what's the deal with all the defensemen under contract? How will it shake out?

Tim McGauley had a great junior career and will come into camp for his second pro season determined. He was coming off surgery to start last year, and showed flashes of being a really skilled offensive player in South Carolina. However, he didn't make the team's playoff roster, so he likely will need some more seasoning, but I expect him to have a good camp and look to impress the Hershey coaches. If I had to guess, I see him in South Carolina to open the season. Regarding the defense, see above. It's all about depth. Not everyone is going to play in Hershey, but with last season, and the uncertainty in Washington, the more bodies the merrier. 

@theJoshvlt: Will Hershey bus to Charlotte or fly?  Maybe talk about travel in general, I know they bussed in the northeast, what about the new cities?

The Bears will fly to Charlotte this season. Overall, as you mentioned, we bus to most places. We have a great bus with captain's chairs that is very comfortable for the players. There is TV and WiFi on the bus as well, so it's a nice setup. Last year the Bears flew to St. John's, a trip they'll no longer have to make. However, the club will fly for the midwest trip to Milwaukee, Grand Rapids and Rockford this year, but we'll bus to Laval, Belleville, and Toronto. Flying has it's perks, but it can also be a hassle hauling all the gear onto commercial flights. Luckily our equipment managers take great care of us. 

@EmptyMaybe: The forward corps has been physically small the last few years - a lot of the additions bring size. This by design or happy accident?

This is by design. The Bears will obviously welcome good players if they can play no matter their size, but in the last press conference of the year, Troy Mann said, "We're going to talk to Washington and I certainly think we need to add more size." Hershey felt their lack of size played a part in a bigger Providence team knocking them out in the second round of the playoffs. The Bears have addressed this over the summer, and a big name to watch in training camp is 6-7 forward Mathias Bau. He'll be hard to miss. 

@Bannyrat27: What's your take on seeing more East and West conf matchups? Can we expect more to come? I'd love to see us play some Cali teams.

I LOVE getting a chance to play the Western Conference teams. This is something that isn't done much due to the fact that it costs a lot of money to travel across the country. However, the Bears and VP of Hockey Ops Bryan Helmer, were very interested in bringing some new teams to Giant Center and seeing the west more. When this was discussed at league meetings, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton joined the fun, and so did three Western Conference teams, and now we will get to see some different clubs, including the defending champs, at Giant Center. I know more Western Conference teams are interested in joining this next season. I'm not so sure that'll be the California teams...we probably need to get them up to the same number of games as the rest of the AHL before they're making any trips out this way. 

@TeahlDog: What do think of the goalie situation for the 2017-18 season?

It'll be the same as we ended last season with: Holtby and Grubauer in Washington, Copley and Vanecek in Hershey, and Milner and Adam Carlson in South Carolina. A lot of people thought Grubauer may have been selected in the NHL expansion draft, and he was not, which is good news for Hershey as had Grubauer been selected, Copley would have likely been in the NHL. 

Between Copley and Vanecek, I think the Bears have one of, if not the best, tandem in the AHL.

@RoseSprintman3r: With 2 solid goalies will we see a different rotation to give Vanecek more pipe time or do you predict we will burn cops out?

At the end of last season Hershey rode Pheonix Copley because they had to win pretty much every game to make the playoffs. Copley went 11-5 down the stretch, and Hershey made the playoffs largely in part due to his play. However, the Bears love what Vitek Vanecek did his rookie season, and they are excited to have both goalies back. There is no need to have Copley play every game, but he'll get the bulk of starts. In a three-in-three, I'd expect Copley to start two games, and Vitek one. 

@Rbloss64: Does Kelly Zajac have a shot at making the Bears opening roster?

After a great nine game stint with the Bears where he had seven points (four goals, three assists), Kelly Zajac re-signed with Hershey this summer. He's a guy with AHL experience who can play center or wing. I expect him to get good minutes during Hershey's two preseason games, but I think he may start the season in South Carolina, and once again be one of the top call-up options. Hershey lacked centers last year, but their center depth could quickly fill up with new additions like John Albert and Tyler Graovac. 

@MissEileen: Is there any update on Ryan Bourque? That kid was huge part of urgency of the team last year.

I loved Ryan Bourque's game and I loved working with Ryan off the ice as well. However, I don't see Ryan back next season. He qualifies as a veteran, and AHL teams are limited on the number they can dress. Hershey wanted to use more of their veteran spots on scoring, and a player like John Albert brings that pedigree, and can also penalty kill. Last year the Bears had three players as veterans (Garrett Mitchell, Zach Sill, Ryan Bourque) that all played a similar style, so unfortunately the veteran rule really hurts the Bears here as they liked Ryan a lot. To answer @Bri_Maxwell's question, I don't see Ryan Bourque getting a PTO in Hershey. I do think an AHL team will sign him, at least to a PTO. It's an odd summer. There are still some very good names like Bourque, and Christian Thomas, out there. 

@12th_man_Tifosi: How would you fully describe relationship between Bears & Caps? Do coaches see eye to eye with Caps? What's #HBH fanbase attitude towards Caps?

The relationship with the Capitals is great. Troy Mann, who is a Capitals employee, talks to Caps management, and Caps coach Barry Trotz regularly. Troy is allowed to coach his team the way he sees fit, and the Capitals have a ton of faith in him. However, he does consult with Washington management regarding development. I should note, Troy's first goal is to win. If you've met Troy, he is extremely competitive. He has won a Calder Cup in Hershey and his main focus is doing it again. Regarding the Bears' fanbase and their thoughts towards Washington, I think it should be positive. Since the Capitals took over as the main affiliate, Hershey has continued its winning ways. The Bears have won three Cups with the Capitals, and continue to be a great team, year after year. Last year, Washington really stepped up to the plate when Hershey needed them most, acquiring Tom Gilbert and Pheonix Copley. Those moves got the Bears into the playoffs. Members of Capitals management are in Hershey every game. While Doug Yingst may have had more of a say over hockey operations, fear not. VP of Hockey Ops Bryan Helmer is involved in every decision Washington and Hershey make regarding the Bears. Helmer is in constant communication with Caps management. At the end of the day, Washington's main goal is to win the Stanley Cup, but they want their prospects to win, and they fully understand the history and the success in Hershey

@kyle_mace: Hi Zack. First time long time. Would you rather fight 1 bear sized penguin or 100 penguin sized bears?

I'm assuming this big penguin is from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton? I'm going with that. So with that said, I'll fight the penguin...because there is nothing more fun that beating a penguin from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Am I right? 
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Thanks for reading! On a personal note, I'm excited to announce I'll be calling the St. Louis Blues at Washington Capitals preseason game on Sept. 22 for Capitals Radio 24/7. Thanks to Hershey legend John Walton for the opportunity! 

See you at the Giant Center soon. Go Bears! 

-Zack Fisch

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