The rivalry between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins ranks as one of the best in the National Hockey League for obvious reasons. The matchups between Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin bring unquestionably some of the most entertaining hockey over the last decade. The two clubs now play each other in the Metropolitan Division following the NHL lockout as the Penguins continue to dominate the Eastern Conference and the Capitals strive for another postseason performance.
However, the rivalry doesn’t stop at the highest level of hockey. The Hershey Bears and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, affiliates of the Capitals and Penguins, have been going against each other since the 1999-2000 season, when Wilkes-Barre/Scranton became a franchise in the American Hockey League.
The Penguins have a phenomenal history of developing players into NHL talent, with Marc-Andre Fleury, Brooks Orpik and Tyler Kennedy all reaching the show after spending time with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. During the Penguins most recent Stanley Cup championship in 2009 over the Detroit Red Wings, ten former Baby Pens players helped Pittsburgh accomplish the greatest feat in hockey.
The Hershey Bears is the AHL’s most storied franchise by all accounts, accumulating a league leading 11 Calder Cups. They recently had their 75th season anniversary during the 2012-13 campaign, falling in the opening round to the Providence Bruins, minor league affiliate of the NHL’s Boston Bruins.
They’ve won back-to-back Calder Cups twice, most recently from 2008-2010 and previously from 1957-1958. They accumulated an AHL record 60 wins during their 2009-10 Calder Cup run, including a league record 24 straight victories at Giant Center. The Chocolate and White previously played at Hershey Park Arena, just a few thousand feet away from their new home.
The Bears have also had their fair share of recently developed prospects become legitimate NHL players including current Capitals John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Eric Fehr, Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby. First-year Hershey Bears coach Mike Haviland is experiencing the rivalry first hand as the season winds closer to the playoffs. He replaced former Hershey coach Mark French who didn’t have his contract renewed by the Washington Capitals this summer.
“You build up the hatred word, whatever you want to use,” Haviland said of the rivalry between the two opponents. “When you play teams this many teams there’s a lot being said down on the ice level, it’s a playoff atmosphere. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, you got to love the rivalries, that’s what it’s about.”
“You kind of get some throw back games, old school games, there’s nothing wrong with that, a little chirping going on at each side. I kind of enjoy it, I think they do too. It’s good for the game I think.”
Both clubs square off 12 times a year during a full season, with almost every matchup being a tough, physical battle. There aren’t many games where there isn’t at least one fight and numerous post whistle skirmishes.
Over the past five years, Hershey has bested the Penguins, going 28-20-5-2, but that number can be deceiving. With all the games that have gone post regulation, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is 27-21-3-4 over the same amount of time. Both teams play much better in their home rink, with the Penguins finding home ice advantage at the Mohegan Sun Arena and Hershey finding their edge at Giant Center.
There isn’t much love lost between the two teams and it will continue to be that way for the long-term in the competitive division of the AHL. Players playing against each other now will have a huge impact on the growing rivalry between Pittsburgh in the Washington as well.