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AHL Morning Skate: May 16, 2024 |

The Hartford Wolf Pack is a loose team right now.

They traveled to Hershey on Tuesday, settled in and practiced at the Giant Center yesterday, and are ready to take another break from the Hershey Bears in the Atlantic Division Finals starting with Game 1 tonight.

A bit of déjà vu for the Wolf Pack. For the second straight season, Hartford defeated Providence in four games to set up a meeting with Hershey. Last year, the Bears swept the Wolf Pack three times in a row.

Part-time coach Steve Smith, the team's assistant last season, says his players are ready for what awaits them with the ever-talking, gifted Hershey crowd. The Bears were 29-7-0-0 at home during the regular season – outscoring visiting opponents, 112-60 – and won both home games against Lehigh Valley in the previous round.

“I am very happy to be in a hockey place where there are fans [intense], the fans are excited,” said Smith. “We look forward to the challenge.”

Goalkeeper Dylan Garandwho is 0-4 in four career starts at the Giant Center, knows what it's like to face the Bears when the home crowd is behind them.

“They're really popular,” Garand said. “They always sell out the building, so it's really nice to play here. It's good to have that.”

One player that is sure to draw attention from the team crowd is the Wolf Pack rookie forward Brennan Othmann, who plays a disruptive, physical game and is an integral part of Hartford's attack. But Othmann has the experience of being in some of the biggest stages of hockey in the IIHF World Junior Championship and the Memorial Cup.

“I love this energy,” Othmann said. “I like the pressure, and I like when the fans are with you or against you. I think it keeps me going, it makes me angry. I know the boys are looking forward to it.”

Having played one game in the last 11 days, the Syracuse Crunch are ready to open the North Division Finals against Cleveland tonight.

The Crunch had six days between their last two division semifinal games against Rochester, rallying to see a three-goal streak disappear at home in Game 4 to eliminate the Amerks on the road in Game 5. It's been six years now. days since that victory.

“We had a very good week of practice,” the head coach Joel Bouchard he said in the lead-up to the clincher against Rochester. “We did everything we could to be very efficient during the week, and the boys delivered.”

They do more than exercise, too. Bouchard recalled that there were many open conversations about how his players felt after the Game 4 loss.

“It's easy for us on video, behind the bench and on the field to have an opinion. But I always like to see how the players… feel or see it.”

Getting past Rochester gave the Crunch some much-needed early battle scars as the demands of the Calder Cup Playoffs continue to intensify.

“Now we have to continue to follow what's in front of you, handle the situation, disruption, and all those kinds of things,” Bouchard said. “We are a different team today.”

Jet Greaves received praise from the head coach Trent Vogelhuber with his energy, leadership, and preparation skills off the ice. Those skills came in handy in a tough, demanding sectional semifinal series against Belleville where three of the four games were one-goal decisions.

Next is Syracuse.

“We have a lot of respect for them,” Greaves said of the Crunch. “They play really hard. We know they eat well and have good players. It's going to be about matching that intensity, and I think it's going to be a competitive series.”

Vogelhuber was happy to see his players tested by a tough Belleville team. The division champion Monsters had a bye in the first round and a long break before the series against the Senators began.

“It was really hard to play against them,” Vogelhuber said. “I think I'm going out [a long break], you're not really sure as a coach what to expect. Will we be there? But I think it's good as we played with everyone's commitment. It just tells me that these guys are there. They really want to win.

“They have grown in confidence. They know what they are. They know what they have to do to win, and I think they have faith that everyone is on the same page and willing to do it.”

― with files from Patrick Williams

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