In their first two seasons as the Washington Capitals‘ top minor league affiliate, the Hershey Bears were back-to-back Calder Cup finalists. They won the title in 2006 and were runners-up the following year. With so much on-ice success, this parent club arrangement has been a source of pride for the Capitals organization and a beacon of hope for their fans.
Six players from the Bears’ Calder Cup-winning team are current Capitals — forwards Tomas Fleischmann, Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich and Dave Steckel, defensemen Mike Green and Jeff Schultz. Through 47 games, these players have combined for 39 goals – including five game-winners – and 52 assists.
Another call-up occurred in November. The Capitals relieved head coach Glen Hanlon of his duties on Nov. 23 and promoted Hershey’s Bruce Boudreau to be the interim head coach. Washington is an impressive 15-7-4 (.654) since that point and Boudreau was named the permanent head coach on Dec. 26.
Back in Hershey, there are 11 Capitals prospects playing for the Bears under their new coach Bob Woods.
According to Capitals General Manager George McPhee, the system under Woods remains the same and the organization is happy with what they have seen.
"They’re winning more than they’re losing and if they can get healthy they’re actually a pretty good team," he said.
Chris Bourque, LW
2nd round, 33rd overall, 2004
The 5’7, 173-pound son of hockey hall-of-famer Ray Bourque, Chris made his NHL debut with the Capitals on Nov. 6 at Atlanta. He made two more appearances before he was sent back down to Hershey where he has scored 14 goals and 13 assists in 37 games. He missed three back-to-back games Dec. 7-9 due to concussion symptoms but he has played in every game since then.
Bourque’s numbers are down from 2006-07, his best season thus far as a pro. He led the Bears last year in assists with 33 and scored 25 goals.
Bourque is praised for his forecheck and his aggressive play. He has scored a pair of shorthanded goals.
Andrew Gordon, RW
7th round, 197th overall, 2004
For a late-round draft pick, Halifax native Andrew Gordon (5’11, 180 pounds) has exceeded expectations. Through 27 games with the Bears, Gordon has seven goals and 14 assists.
"He really has the talent to be an NHL player," McPhee said. "He just needs the experience."
Gordon collected an assist on the fastest goal in Hershey Bears history. The goal, scored by Grant Potulny, was scored eight seconds into the first period of the Bears’ New Year’s eve home game against the division-leading Philadelphia Phantoms.
Gordon began the 2007-08 season with the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays but was promoted to Hershey after scoring eight goals and six assists in 11 games. Since then, he has played on a line centered by longtime friend Andrew Joudrey with Potulny at left wing.
Andrew Joudrey, C
8th round, 249th overall, 2003
In his first full year of professional hockey, Joudrey is providing the Bears with some offensive depth. He has scored five goals and nine assists in 28 games.
"Joudrey is smart, kills penalties and is really quick," McPhee said. "He has a chance to be a good fourth line player."
Joudrey broke a finger on Dec. 28 when he blocked a Norfolk shot in the second period. This caused him to miss the Bears’ next five games but he returned to action in time for a three-game weekend Jan. 11-13.
Joudrey and Gordon both hail from Halifax, Nova Scotia. They both played Jr. A hockey for the Notre Dame (Sask.) Hounds, and they both went on to play U.S. college hockey in the WCHA, albeit at different schools.
The 5’11, 185-pounder signed with the Capitals following the conclusion of his college season last spring. He made his AHL debut on April 4, scoring the Bears’ lone goal in a 4-1 loss at Binghamton. He made four additional regular season appearances adding a goal and an assist. Joudrey also played nine games in the 2007 Calder Cup playoffs where he collected two assists.
Stephen Werner, RW
3rd round, 83rd overall, 2003
Werner is playing his second full season in the Capitals organization.
The 6’1, 210-pounder began the year with South Carolina before being recalled to Hershey on Dec. 29. At the time of his promotion, Werner was the Stingrays’ second-leading scorer with six goals and 15 assists in 25 games. He has since appeared in eight games for Hershey scoring a goal and four assists.
Werner also split his time in 2006-07 between Hershey and South Carolina with 26 games played for each team. He began the year in Hershey but was sent down after a disappointing one assist in 12 games. He found his stride in South Carolina with nine goals and six assists in 24 games and was recalled in March. With an additional two-game ECHL assignment in April, Werner’s totals were three goals and three assists for the Bears and 10 goals, seven assists for the Stingrays.
Werner made his Hershey debut in March 2006, appearing in four late-season games and notching three assists. He has yet to appear in the playoffs for either team.
Kyle Wilson, C
Free Agent, 2007
9th round, 272nd overall, 2004 (MIN)
In his first full season with the Bears, Wilson (6’0, 200 pounds) is second on the team with points (29) with 13 goals and 16 assists through 42 games. He scored a hat trick on Jan. 19 against Springfield, his second as a member of the Bears.
Wilson was a point-a-game scorer in the month of December including a three-point night at Norfolk on Dec. 14. He closed out the month with a six-game point streak.
Wilson joined the Bears midway through the 2006-07 season following a brief stint with the San Antonio Rampage. He signed a contract with the Capitals on July 5, 2007.
Sean P. Collins, D
Free Agent, 2007
Collins (6’1, 215 pounds) signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Capitals in March 2007. He made three appearances for the Bears in the stretch run of the 2006-07 regular season but was left off the playoff roster. This year, Collins appeared in 10 games before suffering a concussion in November. He has remained on the injured list ever since and will continue to be out indefinitely. Collins has yet to score his first career AHL point. He has a minus-3 rating and 11 penalty minutes so far this year.
Jamie Hunt, D
Free Agent, 2006
Hunt (6’2, 195 pounds) has scored four goals – already twice as many as last year – and six assists. He netted the game-winner on Dec. 2 in a 6-4 win over Norfolk.
When he made his lone NHL appearance on Dec. 29, 2006, it came at a time when the Capitals were suffering from a rash of injuries and illness. This year, the injury bug has hit Hershey particularly in the defensive corps. The Bears – without the likes of Tyler Sloan, Dean Arsene, and Chris McAllister – have scrambled to fill the void.
Hunt has been stepping up his game. He leads all Hershey defensemen in games played with 40. The Bears lost both games in which he was scratched, allowing five goals in each. Due to injuries and call-ups, 12 different blue-liners have appeared for the Bears in at least one game this year. They have dressed just five defensemen in each of the last four games.
"He’s been playing well," Woods told the Patriot-News. "I think the big thing is he’s kind of been put in a role where he has to take charge a little bit more. I think it brings out the best in him."
Sami Lepisto, D
3rd round, 66th overall, 2004
Playing in his first season in North America, Lepisto (5’11, 180 pounds) has scored one goal and 16 assists in 30 games. The 23-year-old currently leads all Hershey defensemen in points and he has a team-best plus-14 rating.
"Lepisto is really coming along nicely," McPhee said. "He certainly has great sense and terrific skill and he seems to be making the quickest strides. He’s a little bit older than everyone else."
Lepisto scored his first professional goal on Jan. 12 against Lake Erie. It stood as the game winner as the Bears defeated the Monsters 6-4. The Bears are 9-4 (.692) when Lepisto records at least one point. He missed 11 straight games in October and November and one more in January due to a knee fluid problem. He has appeared in each of the last five games and 19 out of the last 20. Like Hunt, Lepisto has been called upon to carry extra weight due to a lack of healthy defensemen.
Patrick McNeill, D
4th round, 118th overall, 2005
McNeill made his professional debut this year after four years with the Saginaw Spirit (OHL). He began the 2007-08 campaign with South Carolina but was promoted to Hershey in November after scoring three goals and seven assists in nine games with a plus-3 rating. After 25 games with the Bears, the 6’1, 200 pounder has scored a goal and eight assists with a plus-3.
"McNeill is doing well," McPhee said. "He moves the puck well and has terrific mobility."
McNeill suffered a shoulder injury in Hershey’s Jan. 12 win over Lake Erie and has missed the last four games.
Sasha Pokulok, D
1st round, 14th overall, 2005
Held to just 17 games due to multiple concussions, things looked grim in 2006-07 for Pokulok. Fortunately, the 21-year-old Montreal native has enjoyed better health this year, but, according to McPhee, Pokulok still has a long way to go.
"He has the ability and it’s up to him to continue to develop and play in a way that will give him a chance here," McPhee said.
This season, the 6’5, 220-pounder has appeared in 30 games for Hershey and has been a healthy scratch on other nights. He is credited with five assists and has a plus-6 rating.
McPhee denied rumors that the Capitals had given up on Pokulok when they drafted Karl Alzner.
"You never give up on players unless they give up on themselves."
Pokulok signed with the Capitals following his sophomore season at Cornell. He was good for the occasional point in college as he scored seven goals and 16 assists in 53 games, but it was for his big imposing frame, skating and puck-handling abilities that he was drafted with the Caps’ first pick.
Daren Machesney, G
5th round, 143rd overall, 2005
Machesney is enjoying success in his first full year in the American Hockey League. Through 19 appearances, Machesney is 12-3-1. He is currently ranked third in the AHL in save percentage (.926) and sixth in GAA (2.25).
"(Machesney) was probably the most improved player from start to finish last year and he should probably be starting more now because he’s been doing a good job," McPhee said. "He’s really quick and athletic, he has a terrific attitude, he’s been very patient, and obviously when he gets in he plays well."
Entering the year as veteran Frederic Cassivi’s backup, Machesney had a chance to move up on the depth chart when the Capitals’ Brent Johnson suffered a knee injury on Dec. 28. Cassivi was called up and remained in Washington until Jan. 12. During that stretch, Machesney won all six of his starts and he made all 19 saves on Jan. 2 in relief of Davis Parley, a call-up from South Carolina. Machesney’s only day off was when Johnson made a rehab start for Hershey.
While the 6’0, 185 lb Machesney’s numbers sound promising, they may be a bit deceiving. He has benefited from the Bears’ division-heavy schedule in which they have already played eight games against league-worst Norfolk. Machesney has won all six of his starts against the Admirals. In those games he has a 1.17 GAA and .961 save percentage. His numbers are more modest against everyone else, 6-3-1, 2.82 GAA and .909 save percentage.
With Cassivi back in Hershey, Woods told the Lancaster (Pa.) New Era that he anticipates giving the two goaltenders equal time between the pipes.