On Thursday night, 13,567 people in Consol Energy Center watched the Hershey Bears claim a 1-0 win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Among the crowd were several former and still-partial Bears who are currently playing and practicing with the Capitals.
While all levels of any NHL organization are linked, the Capitals and Bears share an additional bond in their rivalry against Penguins, whether from Pittsburgh or Wilkes-Barre. That players can first experience the intensity of contests against a foe in the American Hockey League and then rise through the ranks in parallel to their rival counterparts only strengthens the competition.
During his time in Hershey, Eric Fehr faced off against now-Pittsburgh Penguins like Max Talbot, Marc-Andre Fleury and Tyler Kennedy. Current call-ups like Jay Beagle and Mathieu Perreault are accustomed to battling in the corners against players like Alex Goligoski and Mark Letestu.
"It gets heated; it gets physical. Coming up from the minors at the same time, a lot of the guys you get used to playing from Wilkes are in Pittsburgh," Fehr said. "When we're all up [in the NHL] the rivalry continues. Some of those [AHL playoff] series got real physical, real chippy. There was a lot of stick work and everything that comes with intense playoff series like that."
One of the biggest differences between the two pairs of contenders, though, is that in the AHL, Hershey and Wilkes-Barre will meet 10 times in the regular season. They usually play each other in exhibition contests and again in the playoffs as well, bringing extra familiarity.
"I remember the first year we won the [Calder] Cup, I think we played Wilkes-Barre 19 times in one year," said Andrew Gordon, who was reassigned to Hershey on Wednesday. "So you really get tired of going into the corner against those same guys that have been line matching you for a quarter of your season. Things carry over and your blood sort of boils when thinking about getting back for what they did last time. You just really want to put those guys down and put those guys behind you."
FROM THE POST
The NHL is sticking to its guns and says it expects the Winter Classic will be played as scheduled despite the impending rain. "We fully expect to get the game in on Saturday," John Collins, the league's chief operating officer, said Thursday.
Still, weather models are trending wetter for Pittsburgh on New Year's Day. Keep up with the latest forecast over at the Capital Weather Gang.
AROUND THE WEB
NHL.com caught up with Alex Ovechkin last night at Consol Energy Center, where he was cheering on the Bears against the Baby Pens:
Alan May talks about the joy of playing for the Capitals alumni -- and against Mario Lemieux. (CSN Washington)
Who would play better in bad conditions, the Capitals or the Penguins? (Puck Daddy)
If you're in Pittsburgh for the Winter Classic, there's plenty to do on New Year's Eve. (Post-Gazette)