Golden Bears Head to Hibernationby Guy Flaming | May 28, 2010, 8:15 AM ET
After 3-1 and 4-3 wins at home to open the playoffs, everything was going as expected for the Golden Bears. They'd won two hard fought games against Brandon, a team they finished almost 20 points ahead of in the regular season, but the good times didn't last. Somehow the Wheat Kings rattled off four consecutive wins and stole the series in 6 games. "It's been 4 or 5 days now and I still feel numb," said veteran Mike Knuble. "There's no way we should be done playing already... but we are." The series with Brandon was an outright battle that really ignited in Game 2 when a line brawl broke out after Brandon defenceman Chris Campoli got under the saddle of Acadia's leading scorer, Mike Cammalleri. The sniper had 3 points in the game at that point but lost his cool after he claims Campoli butt ended him in the corner. The brawl sparked emotion that would carry over for the rest of the series. Brandon took Game 3 by a 5-2 margin and then evened the series by winning a pivotal Game 4 by a 6-5 score in overtime. Acadia blew a 3-0 first period lead in the game. "Looking back on the series, Game 4 was a huge swing in momentum," said forward Ryan Smyth. "We win that game and we're up 3-1 coming home. But we didn't and they were able to get on a roll." Game 5 also went to overtime and again it was Brandon that came away with the victory. The double overtime match featured another brawl, this time during the first extra frame. Keeping with the trend, Game 6 also went to overtime and the series ended with a Michal Rozsival goal at 5:17 of the second O.T. period. Another line brawl punctuated the overtime session. The stunning loss left many fans wondering what went wrong and they started to question decisions made by GM Guy Flaming and head coach Pete DeBoer. The team elected to dress 7 defencemen by adding Marc-Andre Bergeron and scratching a winger. Bergeron scored a couple of points playing almost exclusively on the power play. Netminder Tim Thomas ends the post season with a 2-1-0-3 record, a tough pill to swallow for the impending UFA who has probably played his last game with the Bears. "That's a tough way to go out, losing three games in overtime," he said, "I sure hope I get an offer from these guys because coming here really changed my life after what happened in Whitehorse and I'd definitely be open to returning to the Bears." While next season is still a long way off, most expect farmhand Jimmy Howard will get the opportunity to take over the starting job but that doesn't preclude Thomas possibly getting an offer to e the veteran back up. One player who really took his game to another level in the post season was forward Curtis Glencross. The feisty checker notched 38 points in the regular season but had 5 in the 6-game series against Brandon. "We really liked the way he stepped up for us, he was one of our best players in the series," said GM Flaming. "There's no reason not to expect next year to be even better for him." So looking ahead to the off season for Acadia, the team has 5 impending unrestricted free agents: Ryan Smyth, Jan Hejda, Tim Thomas, Shawn Horcoff and Mike Knuble. All will likely receive offers but only one can be retained under the SICHL's Franchise Player clause. Most expect that player will be Smyth who had 77 points including a career high 49 assists this year for Acadia. Jan Hejda will definitely get consideration for the title though. The SICHL will add two new teams next season and the resulting expansion draft will cost the team a player or two. It's already pretty clear that netminder Joey MacDonald will be exposed and the players most likely at risk to be claimed include Robert Nilsson, Garnet Exelby and possibly a veteran like David Legwand. "We know we're likely going to lose a couple pretty decent players," said Flaming, "That's the nature of the beast. When we came into the league we got our players via dispersal draft and we picked up players who helped us through the early stages of out franchise. Now we're at a point where we can afford to lose a player or two and still survive, thanks to good drafting and asset acquisition. Players expected to push for full time SICHL next season include centers Peter Mueller, Rich Peverley and Gilbert Brule. Newly signed Ryan O'Reilly may also factor into the big club's roster next year. Wingers Dustin Byfuglien and Cal Clutterbuck will get long looks and defencemen Rusty Klesla, Kris Russell and Ladislav Smid deserve an opportunity as well. Jimmy Howard is penciled into the starting position and he might be backed up by a rookie combo of Devan Dubnyk and Dustin Tokarski unless MacDonald doesn't get claimed or Thomas is re-signed. "It was a tough way to end a really positive year," Flaming said in his season ending address, "Obviously we're all disappointed with the way the playoffs went.. We do honestly believe though that the best is yet to come for this franchise."