Bears are the gold standard

KEN WIEBE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

No matter how you slice it, the Hershey Bears are the gold standard when it comes to American Hockey League franchises.

With more than 70 seasons of experience and nine championship banners hanging from the rafters, the Bears are the model most other teams, including the Manitoba Moose aspire to emulate.

It's fitting the Bears and their storied history serve as the opponent as the Moose attempt to win the first Calder Cup in franchise history.

"Everybody knows everything (about the team) in the community," said Bears head coach Bob Woods, when asked about Hershey, Pa. as a hockey town. "They love hockey and that's the focus. We've got a lot of history, including nine championships. We get good crowds and they are people that care, almost to a fault. They can be tough.

"They are pretty knowledgable, so they let you know when you're not performing."

Bears GM Doug Yingst enjoys the status that comes along with being a marquee franchise.

"It's an outstanding feeling, there's no question about that," said Yingst, who has been involved with the Bears for 28 years. "The difficult part is not finding how to get there, it's the continuance. Once you get to the final, what's next? You better stay there and you have to fight like heck just to build a competitive team and maintain that. It's really tough and it's challenging."

But what is it that's made the Bears so successful, both on and off the ice?

"From the infant stages of the franchise, the community got behind the team and is still behind the team," said Yingst. "There is a feeling of ownership amongst the fans and that's really important."

Yingst believes the Moose are a model franchise, but simply lack the longevity that the Bears enjoy.

Since becoming the primary affiliate of the Washington Capitals, this is the third time in four seasons the Bears have advanced to the Calder Cup final.

Veteran defenceman Bryan Helmer is in his first season with the Bears and knows first-hand what it's like to be part of the storied club.

"The expectations are really high there," said Helmer. "Playing for this organization, they expect you to win. There is pressure on you, but it's a good kind of pressure."

The Moose recognize who they're up against.

"Obviously, they've been there and have been through it," said Moose centre Jason Krog. "They're kind of like a (Detroit) Red Wings team. It seems like they're always in the mix, whether it's the semis, the finals or winning it.

"It's a compliment to them, but we can't really worry about (their history) There's no point getting too excited about it. It's a new year and we've had a lot of success this year too."

ken.wiebe@sunmedia.ca


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