The Hershey Bliss welcomed an old friend back to the lineup on Wednesday. LW Lance Sweet, a member of Hershey’s famous “Love Line,” had been sidelined for almost a month with a lower-body injury. Sweet’s injury has been the most significant in the SHL this season, both in terms of duration (he missed 20 games) and impact.
“Lance is one of the keys that makes our offense go,” said Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber. “With him out, it’s like an engine missing a cylinder.”
The uniquely close chemistry of the Love Line (Sweet, C Justin Valentine, and RW Christopher Hart), a trio that has played together and hung out together since high school, made Sweet’s loss all the more damaging. Second-line LW Russell Nahorniak slid up to the first line with Sweet out, but his game was an awkward fit with Valentine and Hart.
“I kept studying tape of the Love Line in action, trying to be as much like Lance as I could,” said Nahorniak. “But that was just messing me up.”
It was just as frustrating for Sweet to be off the ice, especially as Hershey sagged without him. “When I first got hurt, I couldn’t even come to the arena,” said Sweet. “It was too painful to see them skating around without me. I got over that eventually. But the closer I got to getting back, it was kid being a kid on Christmas Eve, having to stay in bed when all you want to do is go down and open the presents.”
When Sweet was finally cleared to start practicing with the team over the weekend, Barber had to restrain his player’s enthusiasm. “Lance was so thrilled to be back on the ice that he wanted to do everything double speed. I about had to throw a leash on him to slow him down.”
Sweet received a standing ovation when his name was announced in his return to the lineup on Tuesday. Sweet’s return inspired the Bliss to an emotional 6-2 win over the Igloos, and his presence has reenergized the Hershey offense, which had been flagging. Sweet has scored 6 points in the 4 games since his return. “With Lance back, we’ve got a top-notch attack on both ends of the ice, and we know we can beat anybody,” said Valentine.
The question is: Is it already too late? The Bliss went 5-14-1 with Sweet out of the lineup, collapsing from second to fourth in the East and falling 15 points behind the first-place Washington Galaxy. Barber acknowledged the gap that the Bliss needed to close but said, “Either way, this is a crucial time for us. Even if we can’t catch Washington this year, we’re building the kind of cohesion and toughness we’ll need to win it next season. We’re not about to mail in the rest of the season, that’s for sure.”