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Prospect report: Connor Hobbs responds to healthy scratch

Prospect report: Connor Hobbs responds to healthy scratch

Hershey update: 19-11-7-2, 4th in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 1-3-0-0

The Hershey Bears have hit a rough point in their season with seven losses in their last eight games. The Bears managed to halt a five-game losing streak with a win Saturday over Lehigh Valley, but then lost both of their games since.

The loss of Madison Bowey certainly hurts, but goaltending has been an issue of late. In a midseason review of the AHL published on NHL.com, Patrick Williams writes, “Goaltending and a thin group of defensemen have slowed the Bears, but management with Hershey and the Washington Capitals are traditionally aggressive in making late-season moves to solidify any areas that need help.”

After a very strong start to the season, Vitek Vanecek has struggled of late. In his two starts over the past week, he allowed six goals on 30 shots to Lehigh Valley on Friday and four goals on 21 shots to Binghamton on Sunday. For the season, his save percentage has now dropped to .902.

Players tend to hit these rookie walls midway through the season as teams and coaches begin to learn more about a player and adjust accordingly. One thing Vanecek really needs to work on is tracking the puck through screens. That’s a difficult part of the game to learn, but an important one as the bodies just get bigger in the NHL.

Despite his struggles, however, Vanecek has still outplayed fellow goalie Joe Cannata so it would be unfair to blame Hershey’s recent slump on the rookie netminder. Still, Vanecek was a strength for this team early in the season and as of now that is no longer the case.

Sunday’s game against Binghamton was Star Wars Day in Hershey. You can see the highlights here:

The first takeaway from that video is clearly Hershey did not have the rights to the Star Wars music.  Jakub Vrana continues to impress this season with his great shot on the power play for the goal. It’s clear watching him that his talent is a step above the AHL level. If the Caps were a basement team this year, he’d be up in the NHL. As Cup contenders, there’s no real place for Vrana just yet, barring injury of course. In all likelihood, however, this will be his last season in the AHL.

Star Wars Night also featured a great fight by the always feisty Nathan Walker. If the injury bug hits the Caps at some point this season and the team finds itself in need of a bottom-six forward, I think he could make his NHL debut. He proved he can play with bigger players in the preseason and he gives great effort on every shift. He is a handful on the forecheck and capable of generating turnovers in dangerous areas.

Bears assistant coach Reid Cashman offered a mid-season evaluation of the team’s defensemen to the Lebanon Daily News. Here are his thoughts on Bowey:

He’s another young defenseman who is in his second pro season who has gotten better on a week-to-week basis until his injury. He has a lot of talent and is very athletic who is learning how to execute his retrievals and make his first pass. He has continued to develop and evolve but he won’t be a finished product for another couple years.

Interesting take on a player who I thought would make his NHL debut this season if not for the recent injury.

Cashman provides evaluations for the team’s other defensemen including Caps prospects Tyler Lewington, Christian Djoos, Darren Deitz and Colby Williams. It is definitely worth a read to see his thoughts on each player.

RELATED: Alex Ovechkin critical of officiating Monday in Pittsburgh

Other prospect notes:

Forward Shane Gersich has been tearing it up in the college ranks since his unbelievable spin move in November. That continued this week with a goal and an assist in North Dakota’s two games. As Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald notes, “Since that November night, Gersich has 12 goals in 13 games, ranking second nationally during that timespan—only behind Northeastern's Zach Aston-Reese (16 goals).”

Check out the full article on Gersich’s incredible season here.

Forward Brian Pinho remains the leading scorer for Providence College this season with 20 points in 22 games. In a midseason report of the Hockey East conference, Joshua Kummins of SB Nation writes that Pinho “has developed into a true top center this year.”

An interesting situation played out this week in the WHL for defenseman Connor Hobbs who scored a goal and an assist for Regina on Friday. You can see the highlights here:

The goal comes on a nice wrist shot, but the assist was very impressive as he showed off his stickhandling abilities and vision with a great backdoor pass to set up the goal. Even with the effort, however, Hobbs was made a healthy scratch for Saturday’s game. Why? Because what the video does not show is that Hobbs also took three minor penalties in what was ultimately a 6-5 loss.

How did Hobbs respond? With two goals and an assist in a 5-1 blowout win on Sunday which earned him first-star honors for the game. Hobbs was actually moved from defenseman to wing for the game and seemed to enjoy the experience.

“I found it so weird and forechecking was so much different than getting forechecked,” Hobbs said. “It was nice being on the other side of the pancake for that one.”

For more on Hobbs’ response to the healthy scratch, read this article from Murray McCormick of the Regina Leader-Post.

Forward Garrett Pilon also earned first-star honors in the WHL over the week with his performance Tuesday as he led Kamloops to a 4-1 win over Moose Jaw. He recorded a goal and an assist in the game. Check out his great work on the forecheck to generate the goal here:

First-round draft pick Lucas Johansen did not earn any specific honors, but he did have an impressive week for Kelowna with one goal and four assists in three games.

MORE CAPITALS: Caps make special arrangements on dads trip for Oshie

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Capitals service dog Captain wins Sports Dog of the Year

Capitals service dog Captain wins Sports Dog of the Year

As if any other candidate would even come close, Captain was named Sports Dog of the Year on Friday afternoon.

The four-legged phenom has been everywhere this fall, making his presence felt all over the DMV, and his popularity has extended nationwide.

Captain doesn't take days off and is always ready to have some fun.

He was there to maintain the peace during the biggest shopping day of the year and he made sure your Cyber Monday gifts arrived on time. 

He inspires greatness and has been a driving force behind the Mystics' WNBA Title as well as the Nationals' World Series victory.

He knows when its time to put in the work as well. He's always on time for meetings, and he has never missed a practice.

He's preparing to assist a Veteran or First Responder one day, and he's already making progress.

And he's always ready to celebrate.

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D.C. youth coaching legend Neal Henderson gets his due with U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction

D.C. youth coaching legend Neal Henderson gets his due with U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction

WASHINGTON — For 40 years Neal Henderson has given underprivileged kids the chance to play hockey at Fort Dupont Ice Arena.

On Thursday, Henderson was honored for his life’s work with induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

Henderson was inducted along with NHL greats Tim Thomas and Brian Gionta, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and U.S. Olympian Krissy Wendell. He heard kind words spoken about his program, the Fort Dupont Cannons, from the likes of Bettman, Alex Ovechkin and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and also received a video tribute. 

It’s been quite a week for Henderson, who drew a sustained ovation from the crowd at Tuesday’s Capitals-Boston Bruins game when acknowledged on the big video board at Capital One Arena. 

“It’s amazing. Something I never believed I could be a part of,” Henderson said. “It’s the zenith of my life other than being married and having a son. I’ve enjoyed what I have done. I didn’t do it for the reasons of being here. I did it for the love of kids and the parents who trusted me with their children.”  

Henderson said he “became completely numb” when he got the phone call learning he’d be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. The Cannons developmental program, based at Fort Dupont, is designed to help local underprivileged kids play an expensive sport that is out of reach for many. Fort Dupont features the oldest minority hockey league in North America. 

It’s not a route to the NHL. But Henderson has helped kids play high school and college hockey, passing on the lessons he’s learned over decades: That hard work and character matter. That education is crucial. He believes hockey helps forge those traits. The Cannons give kids a chance to travel to other cities to play games. They were an integral part of the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone campaign, which seeks to broaden the sport, make it more inclusive, help better communities.

A clip showed during Ovechkin’s tribute video after being named the Wayne Gretzky International Award recipient at Thursday’s induction dinner, showed the Stanley Cup at Fort Dupont with the Cannons. That was Ovechkin’s idea, according to Leonsis.

“I asked Alex ‘Where do you want to go?’ He said ‘I want to see kids at Georgetown Cancer Center.” And we went there. And then he wanted to pay homage to Coach Neal,” Leonsis said. “And so we went to Fort Dupont. It’s great that he’s here.”

Henderson said he hoped his induction would help encourage more people of color to embrace hockey. He started the program in the late 1970s thinking he’d simply get his son through the program, which works with kids ages 8 to 18. But he just kept going – in part because kids kept coming to the Cannons and in part because he just couldn’t refuse them. Decades later he’s still here working with them. 

“A lot of people don’t feel that they have the opportunity when it’s right at their back door,” Henderson said. “If they take just one more step they’ll find that there are people out there that’s willing to help them. All you have to do is be there willing to make sure they get the chance.”

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