I was in Hershey this past weekend, starting Saturday afternoon for the Bears' 1-0 win vs. the Charlotte Checkers (which I'll discuss later on) right on through the All-Star Skills Competition and the All-Star Game itself; I had a total blast all weekend long, but the best part of the whole thing was... the Battle of the Mascots!
T-Bone from the San Antonio Rampage quickly emerged as the fan favorite among mascots with his antics, including performing a partial strip-tease to show a well-developed set of "bull abs", and leading me to quip to my friend, "Wow, looks like Coco the Pear -- uh I mean Bear!! -- needs to do some working out this summer, if he wants to compete with that!" Antics abounded, and everyone, but everyone, ganged up on Tux, the mascot from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins - including "Mullet Guy," who was the referee for the first-intermission Mascots hockey game. Tux emerged after the
brawl -- er -- free-for-all -- I mean hockey game! sporting a bandage around his beak, another around his head, and wearing a sling on one wing. All of the mascots were pretty amusing; the Hershey candy bar mascots were also there, and, wearing a Reeses' Peanut Butter Cup hoodie, I got pounced by the Reeses' Peanut Butter Cup mascot and given a huge hug.
So here are my awards for the Battle of the Mascots in Hershey this weekend:
Most Unusual Mascot
The most unusual mascot has got to be the Adirondack Phantoms' - um, what is this guy supposed to be?! - anyway, he's orange... and there the connection to Phantoms ends.
Mascot with the Name that Made me Groan the Most
This one has to go to the Mascot for the Charlotte Checkers... his name? Chubby.
Best Mascot Fight
The Best Mascot Fight had to go to Screech of the Syracuse Crunch vs. Tux from WB/S. They got into it over by my section, and caused most of the fans to ignore the game in favor of watching Screech beat Tux up.
Most Athletic and Energetic Mascot
I've already mentioned T-Bone from the San Antonio Rampage; he wins this category hands-down.
And now... on to the weekend!
On Saturday afternoon, the Bears took on the Charlotte Checkers, and referee David Banfield quickly earned the wrath of the crowd, calling the Bears for just about everything, and the Checkers for... well... next to nothing. At least not other than as infamous "make-up calls," in the eyes of the Bears' faithful. The Bears killed off twelve - TWELVE! - shorthanded situations, including a full two minutes at 5-on-3, and Sheldon Souray finally scored the one goal of the matchup at 10:46 in the 3rd, on the Bears' only full power play of the game. Of Charlotte's six penalties, only one was not called while a Bear was already in the box for something else. Make of it what you will, but if Charlotte can't score on twelve power play opportunities, including a 5-on-3, they deserve to lose.
Sunday afternoon's skills competition was a lot of fun to watch; who knew Brian Fahey could unleash a 96.9 MPH slapshot? If the boy could aim, he'd be dangerous out there! (They gave him a third attempt because he missed completely on his first two, and when he finally put the puck in the net, it was fast enough to win the event for him.) He's no Zdeno Chara, but 96.9 MPH is pretty darned fast!
In the RBC Rapid-Fire competition, Bobby Butler of the Binghamton Senators positively burned Curtis Sandford of Hamilton, scoring in four of his five attempts. Jeremy Williams of the Connecticut Whale was the only player to hit all four targets in the Reese's Accuracy Shooting contest, though Hershey's own Andrew Gordon and Luke Adam of the Portland Pirates each hit three, as did RBC Future Star Ben Mariano.
During both the skills competition and Monday evening's All-Star game, the reception given to Alexandre Giroux was warm and welcoming. The fans up there adore him, and since he seems destined to a career in the AHL, perhaps he'll get to come back to Hershey one day.
At the end of the skills competition, the final score was Eastern Conference 19, Western Conference 7, a resounding victory for the boys from the East.
Monday was a little crazy, as it involved a round-trip back home to check on the kittycats, but there was plenty of time, and we got to the arena a bit over an hour ahead of the start of the game. Andrew Gordon scored the first goal of the game (and set a record) 14 seconds in off a fluke bounce, and that was pretty much the story of the game. At the end of the 1st frame, the score was tied at 4-4, and then the Eastern Conference took over and never lost the lead again, scoring five unanswered goals in the second before the Western Conference scored their fifth. Gordon potted his second goal midway through the third frame, and his line spent the rest of the game trying to get him the puck so he could record a hat-trick. Though they didn't pull it off, it was still a lot of fun to watch them try.
All-in-all, I spent a lot of the game laughing my butt off, and so did the players on the ice. It was a whole lot of fun to attend, and a whole lot of fun to watch. They say the All-Star game is meaningless, but I don't buy it. It's a lot of grown men playing pond shinny and having a blast doing it. It's a lot of laughter, a lot of "Keystone Cops" maneuvering on the ice, and a huge blast of fresh air at a point in the season when something like that is desperately needed. It's good, clean, hockey fun.