Tomas Kundratek plays for the Hershey Bears...but he might be a future star for the Caps
We are at the tipping point in this whole sordid NHL lockout saga.
Last week, the NHLPA gave its executive board the green light to file a disclaimer of interest, a move that would essentially dissolve the union and enable the players to sue the NHL for anti-trust violations (ESPN).
If the NHLPA goes down that path a season that has been on the brink for what seems like forever could finally be lost.
So, what is a Washington Capitals fan to do? A season that held much uncertainty—but lots of promise—might now be over before it even began.
One thing Caps fans can do to satisfy, somewhat, their hockey craving is to start paying attention to the Caps' affiliate teams.
Perhaps the best known of the Caps affiliate teams is the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL). The Bears own the distinction of being the longest continuously operating franchise in the AHL, having started play in 1938.
Not only have the Bears been around longer than the other AHL franchises, they are also the most successful, having won the coveted Calder Cup trophy 11 times. The Bears also have the most playoff appearances with 63.
Along the way, some very good coaches have called Hershey home, including Bryan Murray, Bob Hartley and Bruce Boudreau.
So if you are a Caps fan, you are sick of the lockout and just want to see some hockey played already, you could do worse than to try and catch a Bears game or learn a bit more about the team.
For those so inclined, consider this article an introduction of sorts to the Hershey Bears. It is always hard to really get an idea of what an AHL team is all about until a fan has a better understanding of the players on that team.
That is what this article is all about, to try and give Caps fans a better idea of some players on the Bears who are difference makers—and who might end up wearing Caps' jerseys someday.
Here now are seven players on the Bears that you need to know.
Weight: 179 lbs
Ryan Potulny currently ranks sixth on the Bears as far as points scored with 14 (four goals, 10 assists). To be fair though, Potulny has played in about nine games fewer than many of his teammates so that might explain why some of his numbers may appear, at first blush, to be off.
Regardless, Potulny is a player to watch because of what he has accomplished in his AHL career so far and what he brings to a Bears team that will look to him to lead by example.
It was back in 2008 when Potulny scored a goal in the fifth overtime of the longest playoff game in AHL history. This goal was the beginning of good things for Potulny.
During the 2010-2011 season, Potulny played for the Binghamton Senators and he was a major reason the Senators won the 2011 Calder Cup. In fact, Potulny led all skaters during the 2011 playoffs with 26 points in 23 games played.
For the 2011-2012 AHL season, Potulny came to the Bears. He led the Bears with 33 goals and finished third in points with 65.
Potulny was particularly dangerous on the power play as he led the AHL with 19 power play goals. He is one of the more clutch players on the Bears as his overtime goal in Game 3 of the playoff series against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton helped to extend the series.
With his repeated success over the years, it is little wonder why Ryan Potulny is an alternate captain for the Hershey Bears and why he is a player Caps fans should keep an eye on.
Position: Left Wing
Weight: 227 lbs
The current captain of the Hershey Bears is a player to watch for a variety of reasons.
At 6'2" and 227 pounds, Boyd Kane is kind of hard to miss. One of the more physical players on the Bears, Kane is a force to be reckoned with.
A season ago, Kane showed how valuable and versatile he was as he ranked sixth on the Bears in points. More impressive, however, was that he led the Bears in the plus/minus category with a plus-12 rating.
What Bears' fans have to love about Kane is that he is just a winner. Everywhere he goes, good things seem to happen.
In 2005, Kane won a Calder Cup while being the captain of the Philadelphia Phantoms. The next season, Kane was the captain of the Hershey Bears who just so happened to win the Calder Cup in 2006. In pulling off that feat, Kane became only the second player in AHL history to captain two different AHL teams to the Calder Cup in consecutive seasons.
The man is a natural to wear the "C" on his jersey and his leadership skills are a huge asset to any team for whom he might play.
He has some NHL experience to speak of also having played in 31 such games over his career, thus far.
Kane is off to a bit of a slow start this season as he only has 13 points through 30 games. But when he is on the ice, good things usually happen as evidenced by his plus-seven rating.
Another clutch player with a ton of experience and skill, Boyd Kane is a player every Caps fan should get to know.
Weight: 186 lbs
Garrett Stafford is currently in his first season with the Bears but he is no stranger to the AHL wars. Stafford has been playing in the AHL since the 2005-2006 season.
What Caps fans would like most about Stafford is how he is developing into a very good two-way defender, similar to Mike Green. No, he does not have Green's rocket of a slap shot, but he has shown some good vision and he has developed into a very good set up man.
Stafford has scored at least 10 goals in five of his seven seasons in the AHL and has notched at least 30 assists in four of those seasons.
Last season, Stafford split time between the Portland Pirates and the Hamilton Bulldogs and he led Hamilton's blueliners in goals scored.
Stafford's best season may have been the 2009-2010 campaign when he played for the Texas Stars. Stafford helped to lead the Stars to the Calder Cup finals where they were beaten, somewhat ironically, by the Bears. In 21 playoff games that year, Stafford scored four goals and had six assists. But his minus-eight rating showed he still had work to do.
This season in Hershey, even though Stafford has only played in 19 games, he still ranks fifth on the team in points with 15 (one goal and 14 assists). His minus-four rating is something that needs to improve however.
Still, if you want to catch a glimpse of a rapidly developing two-way defender, then watching Garrett Stafford is well worth your time and effort.
Weight: 193 lbs
Speaking of effective two-way defenders for the Hershey Bears, Tomas Kundratek has to be mentioned.
Kundratek is big, strong, fast and has a scorers touch.
Last season was Kundratek's first in Hershey and he lead all Bears' blueliners with 12 goals. He also added 11 assists and had a solid plus-three rating.
In early January of 2012, Kundratek was called up by the Caps and he appeared in five games. Though he did not score, people who watched him play were generally impressed with his ability. He more than held his own against quality NHL opposition as he had an even rating through his five games with the Caps.
There is a lot of potential with this young man, especially after his defensive game improves a bit more.
This season, he has tallied nine goals and eight assists through 30 games played. His 17 points are good enough to be tied for third on the team. His nine goals ties him for the most on the team.
His minus-12 rating, however, is the worst on the team and it is an area of his game he absolutely must improve on if he ever wants to get called up to the NHL again.
Nevertheless, Tomas Kundratek is a threat to score at any time and is one of the most exciting players on the entire Hershey roster.
Weight: 180 lbs
Out of all the Bears, Zach Hamill is one of them who has quite a bit of actual NHL playing experience.
It was last season when Hamill played in 16 games for the then defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. Hamill fared pretty well over that stretch as he had two assists and a plus-three rating. That's not too bad at all.
Up until this current season, Hamill had played his entire AHL career in Providence as a member of the Bruins. He has consistently put up solid, albeit it not spectacular, numbers.
His best season so far was the 2009-2010 campaign when he played in a career high 75 games, scored 14 goals, had 30 assists and finished second on Providence in scoring.
You are also talking about someone who when he was with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL was the captain of the team in 2006-2007 and was also the WHL scoring champion.
This is Hamill's first season in Hershey and he is off to a very strong start. His nine goals has him tied for the team lead and his 17 points has him tied for third on the team in scoring.
His plus-nine efficiency rating is best on the entire team.
Zach Hamill was a very solid addition to the Bears' lineup this year and he is definitely a player with whom Caps fans should get familiar.
Position: Left Wing
Weight: 198 lbs
Jon DiSalvatore is what you might call the model of consistency.
How consistent you ask? Well DiSalvatore has played in the AHL since the 2005-2006 season and he has scored at least 20 goals in every single season.
That is particularly impressive when you consider that the Bears are the fifth AHL franchise he has played for after stops in Peoria, San Antonio, Lowell and Houston.
Another thing one has to be impressed by with DiSalvatore is his durability. The fewest games he has ever played in an AHL season was 66 when he was a member of the San Antonio Rampage for the 2007-2008 season.
While his first season in the AHL was, statistically speaking, his best, he is coming off consecutive 61 point seasons in Houston all the while serving as the team captain. It was this consistent production that helped lead the Aeros to the Calder Cup finals in 2011.
This is DiSalvatore's first season in Hershey and he is on pace for another stellar year. He is currently tied for the team lead in goals with nine and he is currently second on the team in points with 24.
And, as can be seen in the video clip, he just scored his 500th career AHL point against Toronto back on November 25, 2012.
Jon DiSalvatore is as solid and consistent a scorer as you will find anywhere in the AHL and he is another member of the Bears who Caps fans should keep their eyes on.
Weight: 209 lbs
Jeff Taffe is a player who can do it all for the Hershey Bears.
He has been around for what seems like forever playing in parts of nine AHL seasons so far. At 6'3" and 209 pounds, he is a handful for the opposition to deal with and Taffe knows how to use his size to his advantage.
He has scored at least 20 goals in four of the seasons in which he has played including a career high 30 goals in 2010-2011 while he was playing for the Rockford IceHogs.
His most productive year, however, was the 2008-2009 season when he was a member of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. That season, Taffe scored 25 goals and had 50 assists for a career high 75 points.
Taffe also has probably the most actual NHL experience of any member of the Bears. He has played in 175 actual NHL games during parts of eight seasons. During the 2007-2008 NHL season, Taffe appeared in 45 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins, scoring five goals and registering seven assists. Over the course of his NHL career, he has scored 21 goals and assisted on 23 others.
All that experience has transitioned well to Hershey so far this year. Taffe and Jon DiSalvatore were key components to the Houston Aeros attack last season and now, with both men in Hershey for the first time, they do not seem to have missed a beat at all.
As referenced in the last slide, DiSalvatore has been quite productive so far. Taffe has been even more so. He currently leads the Bears in scoring with seven goals and 25 assists. He is currently the only member of the Bears who is averaging over a point per game (1.03).
Jeff Taffe is an extremely experienced and very talented member of the Hershey Bears and someone who Bears fans are hoping will lead them back to the Calder Cup championship.