Bliss Celebrate V-Day in “Sweetest” Style

Thursday was Valentine’s Day, and the SHL celebrated with a full slate of games.  Most teams didn’t make much of the holiday, but the Hershey Bliss pulled out all the stops for their game against Kansas City and treated their fans to what the team called “The Sweetest Game on Earth” (a play on the city’s slogan, “The Sweetest Place on Earth”).

For starters, all fans attending the game received a heart-shaped box with the Bliss logo on it, filled with (what else?) Hershey’s Kisses.  The team replaced its usual in-game musical selections with romantic tunes, from “Can’t Help Falling in Love” to “As Long as You Love Me” to “Let’s Get It On.”  The theme continued on the ice, as the team’s usual chocolate-bar shoulder patches were replaced with heart-shaped patches, as were the captain’s “C” and alternate’s “A”.

nibs

The Bliss turned their mascot Nibs into Cupid, complete with toga and angel wings.  Throughout the game, Nibs went through the stands looking for loving couples.  When he found them, he gave them gifts ranging from flowers to giant Special Dark bars to Hersheypark tickets to gift certificates to local restaurants.

“We wanted to show our appreciation to the couples who chose to spend their Valentine’s Day with us,” said Bliss GM Scott Lawrence.  “Because what could be more romantic than a hockey game for two?  That’s what I’ve tried to convince my wife, at least.”

The Bliss didn’t forget their single fans, either.  The team held a “Blind Date” promotion, in which fans who bought special tickets in Section 214 were randomly seated beside other single Bliss rooters.  Those who hit it off were offered two tickets for a future Bliss game.  Lawrence said that several fans in the section took the team up on its offer.  “Who knows?  Maybe someday there will be a marriage out of it!” said Lawrence.

Unsurprisingly, the “Love Line” (Hershey’s top line of LW Lance Sweet, C Justin Valentine, and RW Christopher Hart) featured heavily in the promotion.  The team held a silent auction to raffle off each of the trio’s game-worn jerseys, as well as a date with Hart (the only “Love Line” member who is still single).  Proceeds from the silent went to the local Boys and Girls Club.

“To me, this is a really cool opportunity to give back to the community,” said Hart.  “I mean, I go on dates all the time, but I don’t usually do it for charity!”

Perhaps inspired by all the love in the air, Hershey rolled to a 4-0 shutout win.  The Love Line played their part in the rout: Valentine scored a goal and Hart had an assist.

Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber felt that the “Sweetest Game” was a fun promotion, and he hopes the team will do it again in the future.  He did have one suggestion, though.

“You’re handing out all this chocolate to the fans, which is great,” said Barber.  “But what about me?  I was expecting to come in and find a bouquet of chocolate-covered strawberries on my desk, or one of those big Special Dark bars or something.  But I got nothing.  Where’s the love for the coach?”

Love Line Immortalized in Chocolate

Hershey, Pennsylvania is famous for its connection with the chocolate company of the same name.  The SHL’s Hershey Bliss haven’t hesitated to exploit that connection.  The team is names after a Hershey product, they play in an arena called the Chocolate Center, and they’ve offered several chocolate-themed giveaways.  This week, however, marks the biggest connection yet between the candy company and the hockey team.

This week, the candymaker unveiled a life-size statue made entirely of chocolate that depicts the hockey team’s famed “Love Line” of LW Lance Sweet, C Justin Valentine, and RW Christopher Hart.

“A lot of us at Hershey are big hockey fans, and we love the Bliss,” said Hershey marketing executive Jack Tinker.  “We thought this statue was a great way to show our appreciation for the team.”

The statue, which weighs over 800 pounds, took two months to complete.  It was sculpted from “Hershey’s finest milk chocolate,” according to Tinker.  Working from team publicity photos, sculptors created a quality likeness of the three Bliss stars.

Tinker said that the statue was inspired by Lenny, a 1700-pound chocolate moose statue found at an ice cream parlor in Maine.  A Hershey executive visited the ice cream parlor on his summer vacation, and came back with the idea of doing something similar.  After seeing a promotion for the Bliss in the local newspaper that featured the Love Line, the idea came together.

Hershey showed the statue privately to the Love Line last week, and all three players were impressed by the lifelike quality of the statue.  “They even captured the way my hair flops around when I’m on the ice,” said Sweet.  “I don’t know how they did it, but it’s awesome.”

“It’s like staring into a mirror,” said Hart.  “A delicious chocolate mirror.”

“When you’re a kid, you dream of being such a big star that they build a statue of you,” said Valentine.  “I never thought it would happen so soon… or that, you know, it would be made of chocolate.”

On Friday, Hershey publicly unveiled the statue in the lobby of its Chocolate World exhibit at Hersheypark.  There were audible gasps as the assembled crowd beheld the statue, and dozens of phones and cameras emerged to capture it for posterity.

Next week, when the Bliss are back in town, the statue will be brought to the arena and wheeled onto the ice between periods.  Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber said, “This will be an exciting moment for our fans.  For me personally, I’m divided.  On the one hand, I think it’s a great idea and a tribute to a deserving group of guys.  On the other hand, I’m seriously peeved that I’m supposed to look at that much chocolate up close and not eat any of it.  I might need to keep an emergency stash of bars in my pocket so that I don’t just run out on the ice and go after it.”

The Bliss are planning to build a refrigerated display case in the concourse of the Chocolate Center so that the statue can be displayed there in perpetuity.  “We want to take special care of the statue,” said Bliss GM Scott Lawrence.  “The last thing we want is for it to melt during the next heat wave.”

East Up for Grabs

Who’s going to win the SHL’s Eastern division?  Who knows?  If the first three weeks of the season have proven anything, it’s that there’s no clear favorite.

“Maybe, instead of beat each other up for 60 games, we should just pick the winner’s name out of a hat,” said Washington Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle.  “That would probably be just as fair.”

Washington SmallReagle’s Galaxy were the division favorites coming into this season after essentially going wire-to-wire last season and pushing the champion Anchorage Igloos to seven games in the SHL Finals.  But much like the Igloos, Washington has struggled to stay above the .500 mark.  Unlike the Igloos, however, the Galaxy haven’t had to deal with any major injuries.

So what’s plaguing Washington?  Offensive malaise.  While RW Jefferson McNeely has bounced back from a disappointing season to be an elite scoring force, LW Casey Thurman has gotten off to a slow start (5 goals, 11 points).

The primary culprit, though, has been the Galaxy’s third line.  Last year, the line was a secret weapon for the Galaxy, providing a consistent offensive presence.  This year has been a different story.  Washington lost LW Todd Douglas and C Drustan Zarkovich in the expansion draft; their replacements, rookies Henry Van Alpin and Barry Sullivan, have struggled badly.  Van Alpin failed to record a point in 10 games, and has been a healthy scratch in three straight games.  Sullivan, expected to be a strong two-way force, has posted only 1 goal and 2 assists so far.  The current points leader on the third line: stay-home D Bill Corbett.

“Obviously, we’ve had some growing pains with the third line,” said Reagle.  “If we can get them producing the way we expect, I think we can start to pull away.”  So far, though, they haven’t.  Their 8-6-1 start has them on top of the division by a single point.

Hershey SmallIf any team in the East was expected to challenge Washington, it was the Hershey Bliss.  They stumbled to a disappointing third-place finish last year after a major injury to star LW Lance Sweet sank their season.  This year, though, Sweet was back to 100%, and the team seemingly strengthened itself on both ends in the offseason.

The result?  So far, not much.  Hershey’s 6-7-2 record puts them fourth in the division, three points back.  The “Love Line” – the famous first line that won the fan’s hearts last season – is off to a so-so start after providing the bulk of the Bliss offense last year.  Neither Sweet, C Justin Valentine, nor RW Christopher Hart leads the team in goals this year; all three trail rookie C Spencer Kirkpatrick, who has 7.

At the other end of the ice, the leaky goaltending that bedeviled the Bliss last year remains a problem.  Hershey dealt last year’s starting netminder, Riley Lattimore, to Anchorage and handed the crease to 21-year-old prospect Buzz Carson.  It hasn’t worked out so far, as Carson has posted a 1-5-1 record and a 3.67 GAA.  Like Lattimore before him, Carson is in danger of losing the starting job to veteran backup Milo Stafford.

“Obviously, we’re not happy with what we’ve seen in net so far,” said Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber.  “It’s like biting into a nice tasty chocolate bar and getting a big squirt of lemon juice.  A burst of sour in the middle of the sweet.  We’ve got to get better.”

With neither Washington nor Hershey taking control, the door is open for some surprise contenders.

New York smallLast season, the New York Night finished in second place more or less by default with a 28-29-3 record.  Their high-caliber offense was undermined by a near-total indifference to defense and spotty goaltending.  This season is largely the same story – the Night are first in offense and last in defense once again – but despite being outscored on the season, their 7-6-2 record has them only a point behind Washington.

Hamilton SmallTied with New York is the Hamilton Pistols.  The Pistols were widely perceived to be writing off the season as part of a rebuilding effort, but had a surprisingly strong first week and remain in the hunt.  Powered by a brilliant performance from their potent first line and a comeback showing from goalie Brandon Colt, the Pistols remain stubbornly above the .500 mark.

Quebec SmallEven the expansion Quebec Tigres, whose offense has cratered after an injury to Zarkovich and who have slid into the cellar, are only six points behind the first-place Galaxy.

Will Washington and Hershey right the ship and take control of the division?  Will Hamilton and New York be able to spring a major upset?  Will Quebec be able to keep up?  Anything seems possible in this wide-open division.

The ever-optimistic Reagle sees a bright side.  “Look at the NFL,” the Washington coach said.  “For years, they’ve managed to sell widespread mediocrity as thrilling and competitive.  We can do the same!  Tune in next week for As The East Turns.”

Hershey’s “Love Line” A Fan Favorite

Hershey BlissOne week into the SHL’s inaugural season, and we already have a fan-favorite line.  Fans of the Hershey Bliss are swooning over their first-line forward grouping: LW Lance Sweet, C Justin Valentine, and RW Christopher Hart.   The trio have been dubbed the “Love Line,” and their on-ice chemistry is likely to be key to Hershey’s chances of savoring postseason success.

Lance Sweet
Lance Sweet

The three players have known each other since attending high school together in Toronto, and they’ve played together so long that they can always find each other on the ice.  “They’ve got such a great feel for each other,” said Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber.  “One of them will bring the puck up, and he’ll just know where the other two are on the ice.  They’re like those twins that can communicate telepathically.”

Justin Valentine
Justin Valentine

But it’s not just their silky-smooth game that makes the Love Line so popular.  The three are all young, handsome, and unattached, which has made them popular with female Bliss fans.  Signs that have been spotted at Bliss games include: “Justin, I’ll Be Your Valentine”; “Hershey Is the SWEETest Place On Earth!”; and “Chris Stole My Hart”.  Barber described his top line as “a boy band in skates, basically.”

Christopher Hart
Christopher Hart

All three players seem flattered but a bit puzzled by the adulation.  “I mean, we haven’t even done anything yet,” said Valentine.  “We could be serial killers for all they know.”  If the wins keep coming, though, they might become the most eligible bachelors in Central Pennsylvania.