The Calder Cup finals, which begin tonight in Winnipeg, pit the Hershey Bears (the AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals) against the Manitoba Moose (affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks). Naturally, there was one question we wanted to ask Hershey's Chris Bourque(notes) and Manitoba's Jason Krog(notes) in previewing this intriguing matchup:
Who would win in a fight between a bear and a moose?
"I think that all depends on what kind of bear we're talking here. Like a grizzly bear," said Bourque, a forward in his fourth year with Hershey and the son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque of the Colorado Avalanche (/snark).
"Moose are pretty big. But bears are pretty feisty, too."
Krog, who was the AHL MVP last season in winning a Calder Cup with the Chicago Wolves, considered the question for a moment.
"Well, I gotta cheer for the moose, don't I?"
But from a technical standpoint, sir; who would win the fight?
"Probably a bear," said Krog.
Is this a harbinger of things to come in this series?
"I would hope not."
Coming up, five less-Discovery-Channel-esque things to watch for in the Calder Cup finals.
1. Who Are These Guys?
The best teams in their respective conferences, the Bears and Moose didn't face each other in the regular season.
"It's kinda weird," said Krog. "I don't think I've played them in the last two or three years."
Krog said he doesn't think there needs to be some sort of flashpoint moment to get theses teams emotionally invested in the finals. He also believes they will both be well aware of each other before the drop of the puck.
"Both teams have video. Technology has taken over in the sporting world. We have a good idea with what they do."
2. Between the Pipes
The battle between Cory Schneider(notes) of the Moose and Michal Neuvirth(notes) of the Bears is fascinating. Both have appeared in 16 games during the tournament. Both have played to a 2.03 GAA and 12 wins. Neuvirth, however, leads in save percentage (.929 to .924) and has three shutouts to zero for Schneider.
"Neuvy's been incredible for us. I can honestly say that if he wasn't here, we wouldn't have made it this far. He gives us a chance to win every single game," said Bourque.
That said, Manitoba's keeper is no slouch. "I know Cory Schneider personally I know he's an unbelievable goalie, and he's going to be tough."
3. The Department of Veteran Affairs
Both team rosters echo each other: good young players, solid goaltending and a mix of veteran names that help steady the locker room.
Among the NHL veterans on the Moose are Krog, defenseman Nolan Baumgartner(notes) and forward Mike Keane (a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Montreal Canadiens, Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche). The Bears boast defenseman Bryan Helmer(notes), center Keith Aucoin(notes) and a slew of players who have seen time with the Capitals in the last two seasons.
Krog thinks age ain't nuthin' but a number. "I don't think it matters much on the age, as long as you've got good chemistry and leaders."
4. The Best Offensive vs. a Good Defense
The Winnipeg Sun makes the point that this series could turn on the Bears' top line against the Moose checking line:
Hershey will have the services of top centre Keith Aucoin, who sat out the fifth game of the Eastern Conference final against the Providence Bruins with a muscle strain.
He'll be skating with Graham Mink(notes) and AHL MVP Alexandre Giroux(notes), who led the AHL in scoring with 60 goals and 97 points during the regular season and has added nine goals nad 20 points in 16 playoff games.
Manitoba's shutdown unit of captain Mike Keane, Mario Bliznak and Guillaume Desbiens(notes), along with Mark Fistric(notes) and Maxime Fortunus(notes) on defence will be responsible for trying to hold that unit in check.
Obviously, home ice will be key in this battle.
5. The Local Hysteria
Speaking of home ice, Winnipeg officials are expecting a sellout of over 15,000 fans for tonight's Game 1. The fan support for both of these teams is impressive.
Krog hadn't played in a Canadian city before joining the Moose. "On a weekday, we would get seven or eight thousand people. The fan support's been solid all year, and it's only gotten better in the playoffs," he said.
Bourque said the Bears are basically the only show in Hershey, and the fans have been great.
"Since Day One, it's been unbelievable here. You go around town, people recognize you," he said. "It's a small town, there's only 10,000 people here; our rink holds over 10,000, and it's pretty much sold out every game."