Location: Giant Center – Hershey, PA
Paul Fixter, the new head Hershey Bears coach, watches the
players from the stands as they skate in an exhibition struggle. It is not his team playing tonight, but the
Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Islanders in a scrimmage with hockey
greats such as Jeremy Roenick and Alexei Yashin. Fixter, who was once the video coach for the Colorado Avalanche,
knows the importance of observing as the first step in preparing a winning
team. His training camp players analyze
the games details, passes and moves.
For Paul Fixter, this season is more than a basic science lesson in
creating hockey greats. It’s about the
Last season, Fixter was the assistant coach under Mike
Foligno. During morning skate for game
3 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Chicago Wolves, the
inevitable happened. Mike Foligno,
Hershey Bears former head coach is hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat. Fixter was appointed interim head
coach. “I was prepared because I’ve
prepared for this challenge all year if it ever arose,” he told the press after
the first ever playoff win in Giant Center history.
But Fixter’s immediate challenge now lies in sorting out
which Hershey Bears players will make the roster in a team consisting mainly of
Colorado Avalanche an
d Tampa Bay Lightning prospects. At least four players were cut after Thursday’s skate: defenseman B.J. Heckendorn, center Sylvain Deschatelets,
right wing Brent Gauvreau and defenseman Ian Turner. Heckendorn reported to the
UHL’s Muskegon Fury while the rest to ECHL teams: Turner to the Reading
Royals; Gauvreau to the Mississippi Sea Wolves; and Deschatelets to the San
Arena formerly known as the First Union Arena, Wilkes-Barre, PA
Game: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton vs. Hershey Bears —
Even in preseason it is still known as the I-81 rivalry
given the rugged play more than the traveling distance down the highway. But this year, the WBS-Pens without Glenn
Patrick rely on the expertise of Michel Therien, formerly Montreal Canadiens
head coach. His style is one that
Fixter knows well since it is similar to that of Bob Hartley’s, former Colorado
Avalanche head coach. To top things
off, the Pens had their team of known AHL top prospects who had played already
twice together this season: Surovy, Beech, Civek, Armstrong, just to name a
few. Fixter was nervous: “I was antsy to get going”, but “once it got going, it was
easy to make decisions on the bench.”
Paul Fixter has Paul Jerrard to count on to make
these decisions. Paul Jerrard, once a
Hershey Bears player on the winning 1997 Calder Cup championship is his new
assistant coach. Paul Jerrard relishes
teamwork in the defensive corps. During
the game, he stressed to his players the obvious: clearing the puck and good
The Hershey Bears found themselves tied in the
third period after a power play shot from Agris Saviels. In his full second year as a defenseman with
the Hershey Bears, Saviels, who was part of Latvia’s 2000 World Championship
team, scored from center point behind Pens goaltender Brochu. Saviels plays with confidence on the puck,
but still tends to depend on stick checks instead of physicality as scouts have
previously noticed. However, his
chances of making a marked presence on the team given his late performance is
high for the young Latvian. However,
Jeff Finger, rookie defenseman, who previously played for St. Cloud State, was
a frequent flyer in the penalty box.
Three consecutive penalties during the game proved maybe too much for
the Hershey Bears as Wilkes Barre won the game 3-2. Tomas Slovak, WHL’s runner up to the Bill Hunter Memorial trophy,
also struggled during the game.
Paul Fixter teaches them with words of
wisdom: “Mistakes are going to happen. It’s how you recover from your mistake
and that’s where we have to get a little bit better.” He taught Peter Budaj how to deal with his mistakes in goal last
season as he sometimes became frustrated with his own performance. Peter Budaj, OHL star and Colorado’s first
selection in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, is a perfectionist. Last year, he carried most of the pressures
of a back up goalie. But during this
preseason, Budaj stepped up to become number one goalie as Phil Sauve moved up
to the Colorado Avalanche. Budaj with
a remarkable performance stopped 17 out of 18 shots.
But tonight, the pressure was not
precisely on Budaj but on young Tom Lawson.
Lawson, first-team league All-Star for the UHL’s Fort Wayne Komets is
physically awesome at 24 years of age standing 6’5” and 200-pound on goal. In fact, Lawson studied goaltender Garth
Snow closely during last night’s Islanders vs. Flyers exhibition game. “He’s a great student of the game,” says his
new teacher Paul Fixter. According to
Lawson, the Hershey Bears provide a new opportunity: “I really wanted to go to a place where I could get better….”
However, Colby Armstrong’s shot proved to be too much for the rookie goalie
giving up the tie.
Location: Giant Center – Hershey, PA
Game: Hershey Bears vs. Wilkes Barre-Scranton
Penguins – preseason
Although spirits were high after their
first preseason game, the pressures of playing at home ice became more
apparent. Peter Bu
daj was placed on
goal. Again, the pucks flew by and the
saves were made without much help of the defensive corps. In fact, Hershey Bears hockey known for
defense was just a shadow of itself.
The defensive corps appeared to be a lost ballet, confused as to their
positions. Basically, in Paul Fixter’s words “guys just running around,
circling and doing all the things you expect at this time of the year”. Mikko Viitanen, Finnish player who carried
a brief stint with the Espoo Blues, seemed quite lost. But not to make excuses, Vittanen did not
play for the entire 2002-2003 season suffering from injury.
Remember it is not about the rookies.
Tonight’s lineup was supposed to be a
stellar one consisting of known players who have AHL experience such as Steve
Brule, Travis Brigley, and Charlie Stephens.
However, the veterans according to Paul Fixter were simply
“disappointing.” Steve Brule, ex-Albany
River Rat and Hershey Bear right wing, attempted to get hot on the offense just
to experience opening night jitters.
However, this changed in the third period with a pass going to Mark
Jerant scoring the only goal of the night.
Mark Jerant at 6’5” and 205 pound heavyweight played only twelve games
last season for the ECHL’s Dayton Bombers but was sidelined with injury. It’s a tough game for free agents, and
Fixter liked what he saw but at the end the game is purely based on arithmetic
with players both from Tampa Bay and Colorado Avalanche also wanting to make the
Perhaps the Hershey Bears game was not
what it was supposed to be but the fights were the main attraction of the
event. David Koci, from the
Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins dropped Rob Voltera, second year Bear right
winger on the ice leading to a match penalty for attempt to injury, game
misconduct and automatic suspension.
Rob Voltera led the extinct B.C. Icemen of the UHL in penalty
minutes. He was perhaps preparing
himself for the next game.
Location: Giant Center – Hershey, PA
Game: Hershey Bears vs. Binghamton Senators –
Rob Voltera scored a first period goal against Senators’
Adam Munro. No more running and
circling around for the Hershey Bears.
Steve Moore, ex-Harvard captain and versatile player for the Hershey
Bears scored another goal for the team.
But the true winner of the night was Tom Lawson who with expert ability
shut out the Senators with 25 saves.
After this win, the Bears cut a total of six players from
their roster: defenseman DiCaire, left
wing Soucy, center Craig and goalie Brian Eklund from the Tampa Bay Lightining
prospect group were released. Right wing Lanny Gare was assigned to the UHL
Quad City Mallards and Jeff Reynart was released from his tryout contract. Lanny Gare who assisted on Moore’s goal is
set to be called up to the Bears in case of injuries. Tampa Bay cuts also lead to the addition of Willis, Alexeev and
Trepanier to the Bears. Also, D.J. Smith, who did not make the Colorado
Avalanche will provide veteran leadership to the Hershey defense.
From the stands, Paul Fixter looks up at the banners hanging
from the dome ceiling of the Giant Center.
He wants his own banner to commemorate his first year as Hershey Bears head coach.