with only one goal – to make the team
Each season players from juniors and lower minor leagues
arrive in Hershey, a town known for its hockey heritage and chocolate with only
one goal – to make the team. As the new
players lace their skates in this NHL lockout era, they prepare for the best as
they fight for their own spot. This year the new Hershey Bears are prepared to
follow their new motto “up close and personal.”
Last season, despite their dual affiliation with Tampa Bay
Lightning and the Colorado Avalanche, the club failed to make the playoffs. Now that the Lightning contracted players
moved to the Springfield Falcons, the Bears must count on both new and familiar
faces to get the job done. They are
prepared for a comeback.
They opened their second training camp under head coach Paul
Fixter with a total of 39 players.
“I thought our work ethic was tremendous,” commented the
coach after the first exhibition game against the Wilkes-Barre Penguins. This season General Manager Doug Yingst and
head coach Fixter are prepared to create a winning team by balancing solid
goaltending, offensive speed and sound defense. Their style will be quick, gritty, sharp and extremely
The goaltending roster includes 22-year-old Peter Budaj, 20-year-old Tyler Weiman and 25-year-old Tom
Lawson. Peter Budaj returns to the
Bears after a brief appearance on Team Slovakia at the World Hockey
Championships. He did not see any game action at that time during that stint
but learned from watching experienced goaltenders such as Martin Brodeur. During training camp scrimmage, Budaj proved
that to catch pucks he must use his whole body. He is aware that he still needs to work under the tutelage of
Craig Billington to improve his ability to catch rebounds and improve his line
of vision in front of the net.
Newcomer Tyler Weiman at 5’11 was Colorado’s sixth pick, 164th
overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.
He played last season for the WHL, Tri-City Americans and presented to camp
with great professional potential. A
virtual unknown to Hershey hockey, his style is reminiscent of Wilkes-Barre
goaltender Andy Chiodo.
Weiman who started skating by the age of two in his hometown
of Bruno, Saskatchewan was trained by his father to play forward. But as a child, he became fascinated with
goaltending equipment, choosing to play this position. Weiman developed an edge to accurately read
plays. During training camp, he proved
his ability to spot the puck despite net crowding and easily pressured menacing
defensemen away. Scouts believe that
his only detriment in development is his size.
The young goaltender was cut from camp and sent down to Fort Collins,
Colorado in the CHL to further develop his abilities.
Returning in Hershey Bear uniform is veteran goaltender Tom
Lawson who trained on Toronto Maple Leaf ice.
“Lawdog”, as he is usually called by fans, is a favorite to beat out
Peter Budaj for starring goaltending role.
The mammoth player’s goaltending ability is based upon his outstanding
reflexes. He is also experienced on one
on one shoot-outs as he proved during training camp. This skill will give the Bears an edge.
Back in Bears uniform is Colorado notable prospect and
ex-St. Cloud hockey star, 24-year-old Jeff
Finger. Last season, Finger took great strides in his hockey training. He learned to play a more gritty defensive
style. This training camp proved to be
a starting point for a fruitful year.
Finger is not afraid to shoot the puck or drop the gloves to protect his
23-year-old Tomas Slovak, a top 10
Colorado prospect, still appears to show signs of arrested development. He lacks intensity in his hockey game
something that his teammate 22-year-old Mikko
Vittanen apparently seemed to pick up overall. Viitanen who was injured during the 2002-03 season worked on
strength conditioning to gain form.
Last season, he only played 20 games with the Hershey Bears and barely
kept up with the fast pace and was eventually sent down to the ECHL. This training camp, Viitanen’s performance
was remarkable even scoring his first goal against Binghamton goaltender Billy
Thompson during a scrimmage game with help from Johnny Boychuk, a 6’2, 215 lb in-your-face defenseman from
means business despite the fact that he is just a rookie. The 20-year-old defenseman is what a scout
wants in a player. He checks the
opposition never letting his guard down.
He passes with great ability and always focuses on the game. The local media had nothing but accolades
for his performance during the first exhibition game against the
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. They
reviewed his performance as a “promising sign for long-term success of the
on gaining greater strides in playmaking is Agris Saviels, a notable player who played in the 2002 Winter
Olympics for Team Latvia. This
22-year-old defenseman who was Colorado’s fourth round pick and 63rd
overall in the 2000 NHL draft improved greatly in the latter part of the
2003-04 season even showing off his scoring abilities. Saviels needs to learn consistency in order
to better contribute to his development and the team.
season the team has added the expertise of Hockey’s Future’s No. 1 Colorado
Avalanche prospect, Marek Svatos. Svatos who at 22 years of age has
undergone three orthopedic surgeries, continues to amaze with his rapid
puckhandling. With great speed, he is
able to pounce on the puck with confidence.
Svatos gained experience with the Colorado Avalanche scoring 2 goals in
4 games played near the end of the season. He continued through the postseason scoring against the
experienced Dallas Stars on April 14, 2004. His abilities stand out and are
even noticed by his Slovakian countryman and teammate Peter Budaj. Budaj admires that Svatos is the type of
player that goaltenders fear. This
season Svatos must gain chemistry with his fellow Hershey Bears teammates. Fixter will place most of the pressure on
his shoulders to lead them in the locker room.
nicknamed “Pharaoh”, is the mirror in speed of his Slovakian teammate Marek
Svatos but on the left wing. This
22-year-old 2001 NHL draft pick holds Boston University experience. He is quick, strong on the puck and can spot
breakaways easily. During the training camp scrimmages, he created instant chemistry
with his teammates.
in Bears uniform is right winger Cody
McCormick. He gained a roster spot
out of training camp with the Avalanche last season but still appears to have a
hard time adapting to AHL play. The
21-year-old player from London, Ontario seems to do best with structured
play. Simply put, he is a team player
and depends on the abilities of his teammates.
In the AHL, players are at times more prone to make mistakes and must
trust their ability to adapt their skills at a much slower pace than in the
NHL. McCormick can have a hard time
chasing the puck when his teammates are unable to follow through. This training camp McCormick battled with
adapting his own style of play. He will
continue to make strides as his teammates improve and develop into better
newcomer to training camp is Ryan
Steeves, the pride of the Yale ice hockey team. The 22-year-old center from Rockland, Ontario majored in
political science and pre-med and finished his Yale career earning 37 goals and
54 assists. During the Bears training
camp, he showed versatility on the ice.
His abilities in point producing and physical two-way play made him the
key man up at Yale. The Bulldogs
succeeded given the leadership talents of this 2002 NHL draft pick. This season Fixter will depend on his
ability to create more cohesiveness on the team.
Paul Fixter and GM Doug Yingst know that responsible team
play is what will make the Hershey Bears succeed. Creating a cohesive hockey playing system will be an easier task
with the NHL lockout. Call-ups which
affected the team tremendously last season, hindering their chances for a
playoff spot, will no longer be a factor.
The power play no longer appears to be the weak for the
Hershey Bears with strong forwards in the line-up. It appears that the penalty kill might be their weaker spot
averaging around 50 percent during the first two exhibition games something
that Paul Fixter will certainly address early on in the season. Overall, the Hershey Bears are prepared to
get more “up close and personal” delivering in-your-face hockey.
2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate
without permission of the editorial staff.