Bliss Run Wild At Sheetz as Season Ends

The Hershey Bliss saw their disappointing season wind to an end this week.  The players have long since resigned themselves to the fact that they won’t have a chance to defend their title.  As a result, they weren’t consumed by sadness or anger as the regular season drew to a close; rather, they were possessed by a feeling that C Justin Valentine described as “a really deep, deep weirdness.”  That weirdness boiled over on Saturday in a most unusual rest stop.

All of Hershey’s games this week were on the road, so the team spent the week flying from one Eastern city to another, including two separate trips across the border and back.  “We were all pretty punchy this week,” admitted Bliss C Spencer Kirkpatrick.  On Thursday night, they flew back in from Quebec.  Rather than heading to Washington, site of Saturday’s finale, the Bliss went home to Hershey to participate in an autograph session scheduled at a local mall on Friday.

Then on Saturday morning, the team boarded a bus down to DC.  “Somehow, it felt like our season in a nutshell,” said Valentine.  “Instead of getting ready for the playoffs, here we are rolling through the countryside in a bus, on our way to a meaningless game against our supposed rivals, who aren’t making the playoffs either.  I think something kind of snapped for us on that ride.”

When the bus got to Thurmont, Maryland, the team insisted on stopping.  The bus pulled into the Sheetz just off of US Route 15, and the team descended on the convenience store.  “We get a lot of buses through here,” said Sheetz clerk Alvin Clark, “but something about the way these guys came in told me they were going to be trouble.”

As the Bliss wandered the aisles, they began behaving (in Valentine’s words) like “a bunch of four-year-olds on a sugar high.”  Valentine and his fellow “Love Line” mates Lance Sweet and Christopher Hart grabbed sodas out of the case, snuck up on their teammates, and poured the sodas over their heads.  The team’s defensemen grabbed a 24-pack of beer and engaged in a drinking contest.  Kirkpatrick and RW Noah Daniels monopolized the Made-to-Order food screens, trying to top each other with increasingly elaborate custom orders.

LW Trevor Green cleaned out the store’s entire supply of jerky, reasoning that “maybe we’ll get in a crash, and this will buy us a day or two before we have to resort to cannibalism.”  Meanwhile, RW Sven Danielsen (known as the team’s “den mother”) bought one of every medicine on the shelf, saying that “you can’t be too careful on the road.”

Goalie Brandon Colt took things to another level when he grabbed a couple of donuts out of the pastry case and used them to play Frisbee with his backup, Milo Stafford.  The pair knocked over display racks left and right as they dove for donuts.

Chip Barber

After about 15 minutes of this madness, coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber (wondering where his team had gone) came into the store.  As he took in the chaos around him, the coach’s eyes bulged and the veins on his forehead throbbed.  “What the hell is going on here?!” Barber shouted, as his players froze.  After a couple of them mumbled attempts at an explanation, the coach held help his hand.  “Never mind, I don’t want to know.  You’ve got two minutes to clean this up and get out of here.”

The players sighed and obeyed the coach’s orders.  Just as the bus was about to pull away, however, Stafford came running out of the store, hollering after his colleagues.  As he got on the bus, Stafford explained that he’d found something he had to buy.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out an inflatable water toy in the shape of a rubber duck.  “I love rubber ducks!” Stafford said by way of explanation.

“I don’t know if I’m a coach or a zookeeper,” sighed Barber.  “Those guys were basically looting that poor store.  And they didn’t even grab any chocolate bars!”

Somehow, in spite of all the craziness of the morning, Hershey managed to win the game that night, defeating rival Washington 4-3 in overtime.  For the Bliss, it was a day to remember at the end of a season to forget.  “It was a cathartic experience, and I’m glad we did it,” said Sweet.  “Even though they’ll probably never let us in that Sheetz again.”

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Bliss Reflect on “Nightmare” Season

For the Hershey Bliss, 2018 has been a strange year.  Last year, they won a title nobody expected them to win, upsetting the heavily-favored Anchorage Igloos in 7 games for their first Vandy.  But this season’s results have been even more shocking; they plunged into the basement with a terrible start the first month, and were never able to dig themselves out.  The Bliss appear to be on track for a fifth-place finish as the season winds down, while upstart young squads in Hamilton and Quebec head on to the postseason.

This week, several of Hershey’s top players reflected on a season gone wrong, and what they’ll need to do to turn things around in 2019.

Justin Valentine

C Justin Valentine is Hershey’s captain and anchors the much-beloved “Love Line.”  He likened the first month of the 2018 season to “a fun-house nightmare.  It was like a bad dream that we couldn’t wake up from.  We were playing solid, dictating the pace, making our shots, but somehow at the end of the game we’d lose.”

Valentine cited a couple of games in particular that left the Bliss feeling “like we had a hex on us.”  In the first week of the season, Hershey outshot the Boston Badgers 37-25, but lost 4-3 when Badgers RW Charlie Brooks banked the game-winning shot off the crossbar, then off the back of goalie Brandon Colt.  Two weeks later, they outshot Michigan Gray Wolves 34-22, but managed to lose 3-2 in overtime on another fluky goal by C Hunter Bailes that deflected off a Hershey skate boot.

After games like that, “we’d just sit there and stare at each other and say, ‘How the hell did we lose that one?’” Valentine said.  “We couldn’t figure it out.”

Chip Barber

Four weeks into the season, Hershey was sporting a 3-16-1 record that left them only one point ahead of Boston for the league’s worst record.  At that time, coach Chip Barber sent shockwaves through the clubhouse by offering to resign.

“I was feeling the same shock and frustration as the rest of the team,” said Barber.  “Even thoughwe were playing better than our record, I felt like there was no excuse for us having that poor a record, and I wanted to take responsibility.”

The front office quickly rejected Barber’s offer, and the team seemed to rally around their coach, doubling their season win total the following week.  But then disaster struck the next week, in the form of an upper-body injury to LW Lance Sweet that put him on the shelf two weeks.

“That was just devastating to me,” said Sweet.  “I felt like we were getting ready to turn things around, then I went down.”

It was the second significant injury of Sweet’s career, and it stalled the Bliss’ momentum; they went 5-4-1 in his absence.  Since his return, the Bliss have played respectably, but they never caught fire; they haven’t won more than three games in a row all season.

“I feel like if we’d been able to run off once good long winning streak to get some momentum, we could have climbed back into it,” said Valentine.  “But it never worked out that way.”

Netminder Colt believes that the team’s failure rests in large part on his shoulders.  Last season, Colt went 24-16-4 with a 2.94 GAA and a .909 save percentage, then stood on his head in the Finals to capture MVP honors.  During Hershey’s nightmare month to open the season, Colt’s numbers tumbled, as he went 3-12-1 with a 3.57 GAA and an .879 save percentage.  He’s rebounded since then, but he remains among the worst starters in the league on a statistical basis.

“It’s frustrating, because I feel like I’m dragging the team down,” said Colt.  “Our defense is tight, and our offense is solid.  If I was on top of my game, I feel like we’d be in the playoffs.”

Colt’s teammates, however, disagree with his harsh self-assessment.  “Everyone’s taken a step back from last year, myself definitely included,” said Valentine.  “Blaming the whole year on Colter is like blaming the Chicago fire on Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.  We all played a part in it.”

Looking toward next season, Sweet is optimistic that the Bliss can return to contention.  “We’ve got the talent and the team to do it,” he said.  “We just need to avoid that brutal start and have some bounces go our way.  After this year, we’re due for some major puck luck.”

But the Bliss have a couple major obstacles to their contention plans: the two teams that will be going to the postseason in their place.  The Pistols and Tigres are both talented teams that are widely considered to be on the rise.  Even the New York Night are showing signs of respectability.  If the Bliss want to go back to the Finals, they’ll have to earn it.  And in order to do that, says their coach, they’ll need to rediscover their hunger for winning.

“Flags fly forever and all that,” said Barber.  “But winning your first title is like taking your first bite of really good Swiss chocolate.  You get that taste, and you can’t stop craving it.  It’s all you want.  We’ve got to bring that hunger with us next year.”

2017 SHL Finals – Game 7

HERSHEY BLISS 4, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 3 (OVERTIME)

Coming into today’s winner-take-all Game 7, Hershey Bliss coach Chip Barber was honest about the challenge his team faced.  “It’s a heck of an assignment, that’s for sure,” said Barber.  “One game for all the marbles, on enemy ice, and we’re missing our top scorer,” Barber told reporters.  “How’s it going to come out?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that every man in here is going to give everything he has to win it.  We’re not holding anything back, because there is no tomorrow.”

In order to dramatize the stakes of the game, Barber placed a bag of marbles in every locker in the visiting locker room.  “This is it, we’re playing for all the marbles,” the coach told his players.  “And I know you’re all ready to go all in for the victory.”  One by one, each player stepped to the center of the room and tossed their marbles into a big bucket with the Bliss logo on it.

Next, injured captain Justin Valentine stepped up.  “I’m not going to be able to win it for us out there today,” Valentine said.  “So I need you guys to go out there and win it for me.  I’ve got total faith in everybody on this team.  I know you’ve got what it takes to win this one.  Let’s do it!”  Valentine then pulled out his iPhone and cued up the ’90s pop song “Tubthumping” by Chumbawumba, with its inspiring refrain “I get knocked down, but I get up again/You’re never gonna keep me down.”

“Maybe it was a little hokey,” admitted the captain, “but it put us in the right mood for the game.”

It definitely seems to have worked, as Hershey managed to eke out a 4-3 win in overtime to stun the Anchorage Igloos and win their first Vandy.

“We’ve been counted out so many times,” said Bliss LW Lance Sweet.  “But nobody in here ever gave up, nobody ever lost hope.  We believed in ourselves, and that carried us through.”

Hershey certainly could have lost hope after the first period, when the Igloos scored twice.  LW Les Collins got Anchorage on the board 10:31 into the game with a shot from the half-wall that snuck in under Bliss goalie Brandon Colt‘s armpit.  Then with 30 seconds left in the period, the Igloos got set up in Hershey’s end, and LW Jerry Koons deflected a shot past Colt to make it 2-0.  The crowd at Arctic Circle Arena roared its approval, thinking the game was in the bag.

“That was a real gut-check moment for us,” said C Henry Constantine.  “We knew we were about to let it slip out of our grasp.”

But Anchorage switched to a defensive, trapping style in the second period and they succeeded in slowing the game down and frustrating Hershey’s attempts to generate offensive momentum.  As the minutes ticked away, Anchorage’s two-goal lead loomed larger and larger.  The Bliss needed a hero.  True to the tenor of this series, help came from an unexpected source.

When Hershey acquired LW Vonnie McLearen at the deadline, they hoped he would give them the offensive jolt they needed to take the division title.  The deal didn’t quite work out as expected; McLearen struggled to mesh with his new teammates and managed only 2 goals and 10 points in 21 games with the Bliss.  He was a non-factor through the first six games of the Finals, failing to record a point and skating anonymously on a third line that achieved virtually nothing in its limited ice time.

But when the Bliss needed a spark in today’s game, it was McLearen who provided it, scoring a pair of goals in the span or 80 seconds to tie the game and stun the Anchorage crowd.  When three and a half minutes left in the second period, Hershey finally achieved sustained ice time in the offensive zone.  After failing to find a good look at the net in several tries, D Ruslan Gromov fired a hard slapper well wide of the net.  But McLearen shook free of his defender and deflected the puck past Igloos goalie Riley Lattimore.  Hershey was on the board at last.

But McLearen wasn’t finished.  Just over a minute later, the Bliss managed to break the Anchorage press, springing McLearen on an odd-man rush with linemates Sven Danielsen and Lee Fleming.  Danielsen headed for the net, faked a hard slapshot, then flipped the puck back to McLearen, who found the upper left corner of the net to make it 2-2.

“Just like that, it was like somebody pulled the plug on the crowd,” said Constantine.

Early in the third period, a visibly frustrated Igloos team committed three straight penalties, putting themselves on the defensive for the first several minutes, including a 5-on-3 situation for over a minute.  Anchorage managed to surivive the two-man deficit, but were still on the penalty kill when the Bliss took their first lead of the game.  D Nikolai Kulkarov, on a feed from – who else? – McLearen, fired a shot from the blue line that beat a screened Lattimore.

Igloos coach Sam Castor was sharply critical of his team’s play during the opening minutes of the third period.  “That was the only time in the series when we really fell down,” said Castor.  “We let the game get into our heads, and we played dumb hockey.  That isn’t like us, and it cost us.”

Kulkarov’s goal seemed to snap the Igloos out of their funk.  On the ensuing faceoff, Bliss D Pierre Chappelle took a double-minor for spearing Collins, and Anchorage cashed in on the power play.  C Derek Humplik tied it up with a laser from the top of the right faceoff circle.  The score brought the crowd back to life, and seemed to spur both teams on.  The second half of the third period was intense, as both teams went flat-out, setting up golden chances and making amazing stops.  Kulkarov fired up his team with a series of shot blocks that left him visibly pained but kept the Igloos from scoring the go-ahead goal.  On the other end, Lattimore made several brilliant stops, earning a round of stick taps from his teammates.

After 60 minutes, the game remained tied.  Sudden-death overtime is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences in sports, and when it occurs in a deciding game, the tension ratchets even higher.  Both squads were running on fumes and adrenaline in the extra session.  “I think we were all dead on our skates at that point,” said Sweet.  “The only thing that kept us going was the stakes of the game.”

Perhaps fortunately for both sides, overtime didn’t last long.  Just over three minutes in, RW Tyler Cloude turned the puck over in the offensive end.  Danielsen corraled it and flung a head man pass to Fleming, who found McLearen on a breakaway.  The winger streaked toward the Anchorage net, deked a shot toward the right post, then slid it under a sprawling Lattimore for the winning goal.  McLearen celebrated his hat trick by collapsing to the ice and sliding into the boards, before bouncing up and into the arms of his teammates.

“It was a real mountaintop moment,” said Sweet.  “It’s the highest I’ve ever been in my life.”

Before the Bliss retired to the locker to spray each other with champagne and chocolate syrup, they shook hands with the Igloos and then received the Vandy from Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  The commissioner called Hershey the “never-say-die team” and added, “You showed the skeptics just what an incredible team you are, and you proved that you have the heart of a champion.”

There was no question who would get to take the ceremonial first lap with the trophy.  Valentine took his time skating around the ice, both to avoid aggravating his injured leg and to soak in the moment as long as he could.

“We went through a lot to get here,” said the captain as tears rolled down his cheek.  “Finally, we made it!”

Continue reading “2017 SHL Finals – Game 7”

2017 SHL Finals – Game 5

HERSHEY BLISS 6, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 1

Few people thought the Hershey Bliss would make it this far.  Coming into the SHL Finals, the Anchorage Igloos were the heavy favorites; the biggest question seemed to be whether they would win in four or five games.  After their 6-1 blowout in today’s Game 5, the Bliss find themselves one win away from the Vandy.  It was a game that came at a heavy price for both sides, however, as each team lost a key contributor for the rest of the Finals.

“We’re really excited to be one win away from the ultimate goal,” said Bliss coach Chip Barber.  “Now we’ve got to win one more, and we’re going to win it for Justin.”

That’s right; Hershey will need to win a game on enemy ice without their leading scorer, C Justin Valentine.  The Bliss captain went down with seven minutes left in the game.  Valentine was exiting his own zone and trying to get loose for a breakout when Igloos D Ted Keefe checked him low.  Keefe ducked as he made contact, causing Valentine to cartwheel over him and land awkwardly on his right leg.

Valentine lay on the ice for over a minute as the crowd at Chocolate Center fell silent.  Valentine limped off the ice on the arms of linemates Lance Sweet and Christopher Hart and did not return to the ice.  After the game, Barber confirmed that Valentine was done for the series.

“Justin hyperextended his knee and strained his hamstring when he got hit,” said the Hershey coach.  “He really wants to get back out there for the rest of the series, but he can’t even walk at this point, much less skate.”

Valentine’s injury was a particularly crushing blow after this game, when he and the rest of the Love Line lit up the scoreboard.  Valentine, Hart, and Sweet combined to score four of Hershey’s six goals (two by Valentine himself), and assisted D Reese Milton on another.  “We hated to see our brother go down like that,” said Sweet.  “It’s gonna be tough doing it without him, but we’re going to get this done and win it for him.”

Anchorage didn’t emerge from Game 5 unscathed, either.  Midway through the first period, Bliss RW Sven Danielsen and Igloos D Olaf Martinsson got tangled up in front of the Anchorage net and slid into goalie Ty Worthington, twisting his arm underneath him in the process.  Worthington remained in the game, but he seemed to have trouble reacting to shots, especially on his stick side.  Igloos coach Sam Castor reported that his netminder had suffered a separated shoulder and would not be able to play in Games 6 or 7.

“I’m amazed that Ty managed to make it through the game, to be honest,” said Castor.  “He was in incredible pain.  But he’s an incredible competitor.”

With Worthington sidelined, the Igloos will face back-to-back do-or-die games with backup Riley Lattimore in the crease.  Lattimore was a reliable second-stringer this season, going 11-6-2 with a 2.96 GAA and a .909 save percentage.  Still, he represents a significant step down from Worthington.

“We have complete confidence in Riley Lattimore,” said Castor.  “All we have to do is defend our home ice, and we’ll bring home the Vandy.”

Technically, Castor’s statement is accurate, but it suggests normality in a Finals that has been anything but normal.  Can the Igloos win two with Lattimore in net?  Can the Bliss keep their offense going without Valentine?  Can Hershey win one more and claim a thoroughly unexpected Finals win?  Luckily for us, the only way to find out is to play the games.

Continue reading “2017 SHL Finals – Game 5”

2017 SHL Finals – Game 2

HERSHEY BLISS 2, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 1 (OVERTIME)

After the Hershey Bliss were embarrassed 5-1 in the first game of the SHL Finals, many observers were ready to declare the series over.  The heavily favored Anchorage Igloos had bludgeoned the Bliss, goading them into taking foolish penalties and stonewalling their shots.  Although Bliss coach Chip Barber pointed out that it “only counts as one loss,” many wondered if Hershey would be able to recover.

Turns out that they could.  The Bliss shook off the sting of the previous game, and although it required overtime, they managed to top the Igloos 2-1, tying the series at 1-1.

“When it comes to the playoffs, you’ve got to have a short memory,” said Bliss LW Lance Sweet, who scored the game-winning goal.  “If you led a bad game get in your head, you might as well forfeit.  We weren’t going to let that happen.”

In the first game, Hershey committed four penalties in the first period and giving up three goals, digging themselves into a big hole that they were never able to climb out of.  With that in mind, Barber cautioned his team to avoid taking cheap penalties in this game.  It appeared that the Bliss hadn’t heeded their coach’s words when, less than a minute into the game, linesman Ken McGillis made a controversial offsides call that nullified a potential odd-man rush for Hershey.  A frustrated Henry Constantine slammed his stick into the boards and was assessed a two-minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“I was so mad at myself,” said Constantine.  “I thought we’d been ripped off on a bad call, then I went and made it worse.”

But the Bliss managed to kill off the penalty, and avoided taking any others in the period, which ended with no score.  Hershey also managed to avoid taking any penalties in the second period, after which the game still remained scoreless.  Through two periods, the game was about as evenly matched as possible: both teams had taken 18 shots, committed one minor penalty, and not managed to record a goal.

“Coming into the locker room after that second period with it still 0-0 really made us feel good,” said Bliss C Justin Valentine.  “Our confidence level was rising like, ‘Hey, we can hang with these guys.  And we can win this.'”

In the third period, Hershey went on the power play two minutes in when Igloos D Olaf Martinsson received a double minor for spearing Bliss LW Russell Nahorniak.  The Bliss needed only five second to convert, with Valentine blistering a close-range shot off of Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington‘s shoulder and into the net.  “That really silenced the crowd,” said Valentine.  “They knew that the way we were both playing, that might be the only goal of the game.”

The Igloos stepped up their pace after that in an effort to tilt the ice and overwhelm the Bliss.  Hershey held strong for much of the period, but with just under four minutes remaining, Igloos C Jake Frost and LW Jerry Koons got loose on a two-man breakaway that ended with Koons going top-shelf and finding the back of the net to tie it up.  The crowd at Arctic Circle Arena exploded as their heroes received new life.

The din only got louder a couple minutes later when Bliss LW Vonnie McLearen accidentally clipped Igloos LW Ben Summers in the face and got a minor for high-sticking.  The Igloos sent Worthington to the bench for a 6-on-4 advantage.  “We knew we were really going to be tested,” said Valentine.  “We knew we needed to stand strong.”

Stand strong they did, fighting off the penalty and sending the game to overtime.  The Bliss dominated the play in overtime but couldn’t quite break through until Igloos D Hans Mortensen was whistled for slashing, putting Hershey on the power play.

The Bliss didn’t press or panic with the man advantage.  They kept control of the puck, passing it around and waiting for an opportunity.  Sweet finally saw one when Bliss D Reese Milton faked a shot and slid it over to Sweet.  With Worthington out of position, the Bliss winger was able to find the open net, ending the game and giving Hershey a much-needed victory.

After the game, Barber highly praised the work of netminder Brandon Colt.  After a rough outing in Game 1, some fans were calling for Colt to be benched in favor of backup Milo Stafford.  But the coach kept faith in his starter, and Colt rewarded him with a strong game, stopping 33 shots.

“A lot of people were saying Brandon couldn’t handle it at this level, that he melts in the clutch like a bag of Kisses in a hot car,” said Barber.  “I don’t think they’ll be saying that after tonight.  This is a wide-open series.”

Continue reading “2017 SHL Finals – Game 2”

Bliss Clinch First-Ever Finals Trip

This week was the culmination of a three-year jersey for the Hershey Bliss.  Along the way, they have endured injury, heartbreak, self-doubt, frustration, and accusations that they couldn’t win the big one.  “Yeah, we’ve got a couple monkeys on our back,” said Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber.  “Heck, we’ve probably got the whole zoo back there at this point.”

The monkeys finally dropped off this week, as the Bliss outlasted the Washington Galaxy to claim their first-ever Eastern Division title and trip to the SHL Finals.

“Chocolate Chip” Barber

“I couldn’t be more excited about this,” said Barber.  “We’ve worked so hard and come so far.  For three years, we’ve had our faces pressed against the window of the candy store, but we haven’t been able to get in.  Now, we’ve finally unlocked the door, and now we can dig in and enjoy all the sweet, glorious chocolate bars we can eat.”

Hershey came into the season’s final week all but assured of clinching the division, leading second-place Washington by eight points with five games remaining.  After pounding New York 7-3 on Saturday, the Bliss moved to the brink, needing only one more point to clinch.  On Sunday, facing a Michigan team desperate to remain alive in its own division race, the Bliss nearly put up a shutout.  But Wolves LW Jorma Seppa tied the game with 1:17 left, and then D Max Madison potted the game-winner with 47 seconds left in overtime to hand Hershey a 2-1 loss.  Meanwhile, the Galaxy bulldozed New York 6-1 to avoid elimination.

On paper, nothing had changed: the Bliss were still one point away from nirvana.  But suddenly, it was all too easy to picture a nightmare scenario.  If the Bliss dropped their next two games and the Galaxy won both of theirs, that would set up a showdown between the teams on Friday for all the marbles.  And that would bring back memories of last season, when Hershey gave up four goals in the third period and cost themselves the division.

Justin Valentine

“We didn’t think history would repeat itself, but it was definitely on our minds,” admitted C Justin Valentine.

The easiest way to keep the nightmare at bay was to beat Quebec on Tuesday at Chocolate Center.  Though Quebec has struggled this season, it was no sure win: netminder Riki Tiktuunen is capable of putting up a shutout at any time.  But the Bliss came in determined, and it was they who earned the shutout, beating the Tigres 4-0.  D Reese Milton scored a pair of goals, and Valentine and C Spencer Kilpatrick each added one.  Meanwhile, their defense limited Quebec to only 14 shots.

The Bliss celebrated their win by soaking each other with Hershey’s Syrup.  “I think I’m going to need someone to soak me with champagne or beer just to get this out of my hair,” said LW Lance Sweet.  In the middle of the celebration, Barber made a brief but emotional speech to his team.  “Everybody doubted us,” said Barber.  “They called us chokers, called us weak, said we couldn’t win the big one.  Well, we just won it!   Everyone in here is a winner!”

Now Hershey prepares to head to the Finals, where they will be a significant underdog against the Anchorage Igloos.  “None of that scares us,” said Valentine.  “We’re used to being doubted and underestimated.  But they were wrong about us before, and they’ll be wrong about us again.  We’ve got the Love Line, and a great defense, and we’ve got two great goalies.  Bring it on, Anchorage!”

Interview of the Week: Lance Sweet

This week’s interview is with Hershey Bliss LW Lance Sweet.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with a man in the thick of a playoff race, a member of the Love Line, Hershey’s Lance Sweet.  Lance, thanks for speaking with us.

Lance Sweet

Lance Sweet: No problem.  Always glad to talk hockey!

SHLD: All right, let’s talk hockey!  Your Bliss have been out front in the East for the season, but lately you’ve fallen behind Washington.  What do you think you need to do to catch back up with the Galaxy?

LS: That’s definitely the question of the moment for us right now.  I think the key is going to be staying strong on both ends.  Especially defensively; lately, we’ve been playing in our own end too much.  We’ve got to be strong at denying entry and winning the puck battles in the neutral zone.

SHLD: Washington’s won the division title the last two seasons in a row. Does that put more pressure on you guys to get over the hump?

LS: I’d be lying if I said we didn’t think about it.  Definitely the way last year ended, that really hurt.  But the way we look at it, that gives us some extra fuel.  This is our chance to prove ourselves.  So I don’t think it’s pressure so much as inspiration.

SHLD: Washington certainly seems happy to fuel your rivalry.  What did you think of their “Hershey-pocalypse” bit?

LS: It definitely got us fired up, for sure.  I mean, it was a total waste of a lot of good chocolate.

SHLD: Do the Bliss plan to do anything to get back at them for it?

LS: As far as I’m concerned, the best revenge would be for us to beat them on the ice.

SHLD: Makes sense!  Let’s talk about the Love Line a bit.  To most SHL fans, when they think of the Bliss, they think you guys are the whole show.  A couple of years ago, when you got hurt and missed significant time, it sank your team’s season.  Is the Love Line still central to the team’s success?

LS: I don’t think so, and that’s a good thing.  The book on us used to be “Stop the Love Line, and you can stop Hershey.”  But now, if one of us went down – knock on wood – I think we’d be fine.  Maybe not Justin [Valentine], but if I got hurt, I think we’d be fine.  We’ve got so many other weapons: Kirks [Spencer Kirkpatrick], Horny [Russ Nahorniak], Connie [Henry Constantine], and more.  We’re a more balanced team, and we’re a stronger team.

SHLD: Since we’re talking about the Love Line, one last question: are you guys still as popular with the female fans as you were in the beginning?

LS: [laughs] Uhh… well, to be honest, yeah.  The ladies love us.  Of course, it’s a little different now, ’cause Justin’s engaged and I’ve got a girlfriend.  But Chris [Hart] is still single!  We send all the girls his way now.

SHLD: Can he handle that?

LS: I haven’t heard him complain.

SHLD: That’s good.  Well, thanks for a fun and interesting conversation, Lance!  Good luck the rest of the season.

LS: Thanks!  It’s been fun.