Evgeny Kuznetsov and NHL Expectations

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Photo credit: Chris Gordon (Click to enlarge. He’s got beautiful blue eyes, you know.)

Evgeny Kuznetsov has had quite a year. Not only did he win a gold medal with Team Russia in the 2011 World Junior Championship, become the youngest player to ever be in the KHL All-Star Game and get engaged, but he also had the second-most goals ever in a season for a Russian player under 19-years old (17 to be exact). But how can we measure his success compared to the NHL?

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Mathieu Perreault, Francois Bouchard and Chris Bourque celebrate.

One look at the dismantling of the Chicago Blackhawks and it becomes apparent that the life blood of any hockey organization is its youth. If you can bring in young players that provide value at reasonable prices you have the ability to succeed in the long term. In the case of the Hershey Bears, it allows the Caps to fill their team with players who know how to win and execute Bruce Boudreau’s system.

The challenge then becomes not only which players to promote, but which players should be dangled in a trade and which you can simply cut bait with. The underlying question in all of this is simply: Does the front office feel a certain prospect can make it in the NHL?

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Alexandre Giroux Signs 1-Way Deal With The Edmonton Oilers.

Alexandre Giroux scores a deal with Edmonton.

Alexandre Giroux holds the Calder Cup. (Photos by Kyle M.)

Alexandre Giroux holds the Calder Cup. (Photos by Kyle M.)

One of the greatest Bears of all-time has finally left for a legitimate shot to stick in the NHL. Bears first line Left Wing Alexandre Giroux signed a one-way NHL contract with the Edmonton Oilers early Saturday morning.

Per Mitch Beck of Howlings, Giroux had several good offers on the table and chose Edmonton because he gets to play in front of an old mentor:

The Quebec City native will be reunited with ex-Rangers coach Tom Renney. The left handed shooting Center played for Renney in the one game he got in with the Rangers back in 2005. In that game he played just three shifts and drew a key penalty on the second shift that led to a power play goal.

Giroux told Howlings, that he had other NHL options, including an offer from the New York Islanders. He also had a much more substantial $1.3mm offer from the KHL that he leaves on the table in order to complete his dream of being a regular NHL player. He does it with no regrets. “It was a lot of money and it was a hard decision, but I’m really excited to have this chance to make an NHL roster,” the recently turned 29-year old said. “Coach Renney is a great coach and the organization has such a great history. I’m looking forward to going there and giving it everything I’ve got to help the team become a contender once again and prove I belong there.”

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Scenes From The Bears Calder Cup Fan Celebration

Last night was the Hershey Bears Calder Cup party at Giant Center.  RMNB could not attend, but our spies are everywhere.  From the aperture of Kyle Mace comes a parade of Bears images.  Let’s take a second to appreciate Alexandre Giroux‘s aviator sunglasses, maniacal beard, and spraying bottles akimbo. The man is one bass solo away from joining Motorhead.

Here is Kyle’s video:

Glorious stills after the jump!

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aucoinshoots

Keith Aucoin shoots while Aaron Gagnon surely does nothing meriting a penalty. (Chris Knight / The Patriot-News)

You gotta give the Bears this: they know drama.  Despite the Hershey offense being well tuned and on-target all throughout game five, the visitors could not gain a lead over the Stars.  By the end of regulation, the Bears had notched 37 shots, but all but one were summarily blocked by the excellent Stars netminder Matt Climie.  It took nearly fifteen minutes of extra hockey for Alexander Giroux to finally defeat the Stars defense and create Hershey’s first game-lead of the series.  The Bears beat the Stars 2-1 in overtime to put the series at 3-2, Hershey.

Don’t be mistaken by the low score; this was a 70+ minute exhibition of superb hockey.   The refs all but abandoned the concept of adjudicating hockey.  The two teams traded off in puck domination and net aggression.  Players dove to block shots with astounding frequency, and no player seemed to forget this is the finals– even when exhausted.   Michal Neuvirth, without a doubt, deserves tonight’s MVP nod for having rebuffed the Stars on perhaps a dozen excellent scoring chances.   John Carlson and Kyle Wilson, too, deserve applause for their precise defensive and shot output respectively.

But it was Alexandre Giroux, all but silenced before this play, who stepped up in overtime to score the game-winner. Roo pounced on a loose puck and swatted it in with a tenacity and alacrity that Climie could not match.  After blocking 41 shots, Climie was finally defeated the goalie by Alex’s force of will.  As John Walton would say, “Good morning, good evening, good night!”

The Bears are probably airborne right now, headed home to Hershey for the final one or two games of the series.  The Chocolate and White now have two chances to win the Calder Cup, and they seem more determined to do so than ever.

Clear your social calendar for Monday, June 14.

Captain America Scores Another Epic Goal. This Time John Carlson redirects the game winning goal into the net in the waning minutes of Game 4.

Above: Hershey celebrates their Game 4 win. Top: John Carlson does it again. This time, he redirects the GWG Home on a Bears PP.  (Photos by Chris Knight, The Patriot-News)

Above: Hershey celebrates their Game 4 win. Top: John Carlson does it again. This time, he redirects the GWG Home on a Bears PP. (Photos by Chris Knight, The Patriot-News)

Tonight could have gone very differently. Despite rediscovering their offensive mojo, the Hershey Bears could not generate a lead over the Texas Stars. With the end of regulation looming, the Bear shook off the threat of a do-or-die game 5 with Captain America John Carlson’s razor-sharp deflection past Stars goalie Matt Climie. An empty netter from Alexandre Giroux sealed the deal, and now we’re facing a unique prospect: the Calder Cup will be awarded in Hershey. With the series finally tied, the only question remains who will claim it.

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Boyd Kane scores the OT Game Winner and sends the Bears to the Calder Cup Finals for the fourth time in five years.

Boyd Kane gets mobbed by his teammates after scoring the GWG in OT. (Photos by Kyle M.)

Boyd Kane gets mobbed by his teammates after scoring the GWG in OT. (Photos by Kyle M.)

In front of their hometown fans in tonight’s game six, Hershey showed up to play, holding a huge edge in puck-possession time. But, as head coach Mark French would later say, the Bears’ effort those first 40 minutes was “misdirected.”  Manchester had a 24-13 shot advantage, and the Bears only managed 4 shots on goal in the first. Despite owning the puck much less, the Monarchs took what seemed like an insurmountable 2-0 lead heading into the third period.

Like they have all year, the Bears came back harder in the third and won their 7th overtime game of the playoffs (an AHL record). The Chocolate and White now advance to the Calder Cup Finals for the fourth time in five years and will face the winner of the Hamilton Bulldogs (MON)/Texas Stars (DAL) series! WOOOOOOOOOO!!

You know what? It’s been too long. Let’s play the bullets:

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Hershey Wins 3-2! Chris Bourque Scores The OT Game Winner!

Chris Bourque Makes Sweet Music With His Stick After Netting The OT Game Winning Goal in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals

Bourque Scores, Bears Win. Hershey only 2 more victories away from returning to the AHL Finals. (Photos by Kyle M.)

Bourque Scores, Bears Win. Hershey only 2 more victories away from returning to the AHL Finals. (Photos by Kyle M.)

For Game 2 of the AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Hershey Bears were in front of a sold-out and enthusiastic Saturday Night crowd of 10,726 and they did not disappoint. Chris Bourque tallied the game’s first goal with a slapshot from the right faceoff dot. The Monarchs’ Gabe Gauthier would then score back to back goals to make it 2-1. It would stay that way until the 3rd period when Hershey’s Steve Pinizzotto would score his second goal in two games and send it into overtime. That’s when the miniature-sized Chris Bourque would take in a pass from Keith Aucoin on a 2 on 1 and score short-side at 10:28 of the first OT giving Hershey their 5th playoff OT win of the year. Bourque’s (6g 12a) clutch second goal of the night also tied him for first place in the AHL Playoff Scoring Race with teammate Alexandre Giroux (10g 8a). Both have 18 points a piece and are now 1 point ahead of the Texas Stars’ Jamie Benn (who none of us have ever heard of).

Hershey now has a record of 10-1 in the playoffs and have won all 5 games that have gone into OT. The Bears will now travel to Manchester, New Hampshire and try to take a 3-0 series lead Monday.

Take a look at the rest of Kyle’s incredible photos from the game after the jump.

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Hershey Advances To The AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals

Mathieu Perreault praises God after scoring the game winning goal in OT. (Photo by The Patriot-News)

Mathieu Perreault praises God after scoring the game winning goal in OT. (Photo by The Patriot-News)

Tonight, the Hershey Bears rallied to win 5-4 in OT and swept the Albany River Rats in their second round series four games to none. With the thrilling victory, the Bears now advance to the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals for the fourth time in five years! HERSHEY RUSSIAN MACHINE NEVER BREAKS!

Left Wing Chris Bourque accumulated a third of his 15 total points in the playoffs tonight, as he scored or assisted on every Bears goal. He finished the game with 2 goals, 3 assists and 5 points. Bourque scored at 8:23 in the first period and then again 59 seconds into the second frame. However, the River Rats answered each of Bourque’s talleys with two goals of their own, and entered the third with a commanding 4-2 lead.

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