Hershey Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber called out his team this week for lackadaisical play, and didn’t rule out shuffling the lineup or seeking trades if the team continues to hover around the .500 mark.
“No more Mister Goodbar around here,” said Barber. “We’re better than we’ve been playing, and if we can’t show that, I’m going to start getting snippy.”
Widely tabbed as a contender in the East, the Bliss are suffering through a second straight disappointing season. Last year, an injury to star LW Lance Sweet wound up tanking Hershey’s season. This year, the Bliss have been healthy, but have still struggled to live up to their preseason hype.
Barber’s blast came after the Bliss stumbled to a 2-2 tie against last-place Quebec on Tuesday. Hershey’s offense was anemic and the team struggled to generate quality shots against Tigres goalie Guillaume Levan. In Barber’s eyes, this was proof that the team is leaning too heavily on the high-scoring “Love Line” of Sweet, C Justin Valentine, and RW Christopher Hart.
“When the Love Line’s not on the ice, it seems like we’re skating around and marking time,” said Barber. “We can’t rely on them to generate all our offense. You only get so many whacks at the piñata in a game, and a lot of our guys are passing them up. We need to be a lot more aggressive.” He added, “We’ve got some quality reserves, and if things don’t change, I think those reserves are going to see more ice time, and some other guys are going to see more of the bench.”
Barber didn’t name names, but C Henry Constantine and D Seth Dowd have both been healthy scratches several times in recent games.
Outside observers have pointed to the team’s goaltending tandem of rookie Buzz Carson and veteran Milo Stafford as a key component of the team’s struggles, as neither has been tremendously effective this season. Barber has seemed hesitant to designate either one as the full-time starter, as both have seen roughly equal ice time.
The coach, however, declared that Carson is now the starter – at least for the time being. “Buzz has had some rookie bumps, but he’s growing better and more confident every day,” said Barber. “He deserves a chance to do it without having to look over his shoulder.
“But everything depends on us getting better over the next few weeks. If we don’t, nobody is safe. Not me, not anybody.”
Asked if he planned to look outside the organization for help if the team continues to stagnate, Barber said, “That’s not my call. That’s the front office, that’s Scott [Lawrence, GM]. But I’ll say this: If you keep making batches of cookies and they turn out wrong again and again, at some point you’ve got to think about trying a different recipe.”
The callout appeared to benefit the team, at least temporarily, as the Bliss proceeded to win back-to-back games against New York and Washington afterward. But will this this prove to be the start of a turnaround, or a temporary blip? The answer to that could determine whether further shakeups are coming in Chocolate City.