Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Bears sounding bullish
Hershey used to Calder Cups, but Arniel says that's history
Sure, Winnipeg is a hockey town. One with the lumps and bruises of losing its NHL franchise and the glory of a WHA organization that captured three titles in a golden era. But in the AHL, we're virtual newcomers without a single championship banner to stare at in our swanky downtown rink.
The Hershey Bears, however, are more like the Montreal Canadiens of the AHL and make our Moose look like the Atlanta Thrashers when it comes to tradition.
Before you spit out your crumpet and start calling me a heretic, philistine and traitor all in one spittle-flying sentence, check out the facts.
The Moose, who finished first overall in the AHL this season and will hold home-ice advantage in the Calder Cup final series beginning Saturday night at the MTS Centre against the history-heavy Bears, are entering this stage for the very first time in their 13-year existence in Winnipeg.
The Bears, on the other hand, have won nine Calder Cups and own a 70-year history in the AHL. Hershey has been to the Calder in three of the last four years alone. When it comes to tradition, in this league at least, the Bears are boss.
"They don't hang banners for division or conference titles here. Just championships," Bears coach Bob Woods said early Tuesday morning after complaining of a lack of sleep fresh off an Eastern Conference title win over the Providence Bruins on Monday night.
"Nine Calder Cups. It's easy to keep track of. You just look up in the rafters. And they like to remind you of the wins around here."
The Bears play in a new building, the Giant Center, and have turned their old rink into a museum celebrating the eight decades of pro hockey in Hershey and the 800-plus men who have worn the team's colours.
Hershey led the AHL in regular-season attendance with a mark of 8,897 per night while the Moose lead playoff attendance with an average of 8,919 customers through eight home dates.
Moose coach Scott Arniel tips his hat to the Bears and their past but isn't interested in it as far as it pertains to this series.
"They've been a staple of the AHL for a long time. For anybody that hasn't been down there, the old building was a tough place to play and the fans in the new building are rabid and they love hockey," Arniel said. "They play great there. They're a great example of what a lot of teams want to be. "Especially in a U.S. market. They do a great job of bringing quality teams in there year after year. They've obviously learned how to win. They've been in the final three of the last four years. They know the ingredients of getting themselves to this stage. We face the formidable task of facing a team at this level.
"But there's a first for everything and we're looking forward to our opportunity. They have their history. Until you build a history and have a foundation, it's all stepping stones. History is yesterday's news. It's about what we've done in the last couple of weeks. It's the best team in the East against the best team in the West. It comes down to who is the best team in this seven-game series."
The Moose had sold more than 7,400 tickets for Saturday's series opener on Tuesday and club director of communications Scott Brown says a sellout is the team's hope.
"Our expectations are to be sold out for Saturday night. That's our hope and our expecations from our fans," Brown said. "This is a championship final of the highest level of hockey in this city. It's the first pro final this city has been involved in in 30 years. We're excited and we want our fans to share in the excitement. We expect a sellout."
A sellout for hockey at the MTS Centre is 15,015.
Game 1: Saturday @ MTS Centre, 7:30 p.m.
Game 2: Tuesday @ MTS Centre, 7:30 p.m.
Game 3: Saturday, June 6 @ Giant Center, 5 p.m.
Game 4: Sunday, June 7 @ Giant Centre, 3 p.m.
*Game 5: Tuesday, June 9 @ Giant Centre, 5 p.m.
*Game 6: Friday, June 12 @ MTS Centre, 7:30 p.m.
*Game 7: Sunday, June 14 @ MTS Centre, 7: 30 p.m.
All times CDT
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 27, 2009 C3
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