Hershey coach Mike Eaves said he wouldn't want to see the Skipjacks on his schedule every night, but games between the arch-rivals played in multiple strings, like tonight's at the Arena (7:30, WLIF-AM 1300), don't bother him a bit.
"They are always a tough team to beat, but it seems like we play up to the level of competition," said Eaves, whose team is 10-12-5 against the rest of the league but 4-4 against the Jacks and 2-2 here. "My guys really get up for these games and put out a little extra."
The Jacks, who were knocked out of first place by the Bears in Wednesday's 6-4 loss, are 15-12-1 against the rest of the AHL, but have lost three one-goal games to their arch-rivals in the last five weeks.
"We never take Hershey lightly no matter what their record is," Jacks coach Robbie Laird said. "We certainly don't consider them a lesser team."
Laird said tonight's game in particular will be tough as the Bears come in with a well-stocked roster while his Jacks are playing without several top players.
Forward Tyler Larter and defensemen Kent Paynter, Jim Mathieson and Chris Felix, who broke his ankle with Washington last week, will be among the missing. Also in question is the return of defenseman Ken Lovsin, who filled in for injured Mikhail Tatarinov with the Caps Wednesday and could again play for them tonight at the Capital Centre against the New York Rangers.
The loss of the defensemen is a multi-edged sword for the Jacks. Not only do the remaining defensemen have a lower level of skill and tire more quickly due to the lack of manpower, but the power play has suffered without a quarterback on the blue line with a hard shot. The Jacks' power play was an impotent 0-for-7 Wednesday night.
"Paynter, Felix and Lovsin are our key guys with the extra man," Laird said. "They start the play and they keep the puck in the zone. We're cognizant of the problem, but there's not a lot we can do but keep working until we get healthy."
Although it was their eighth meeting of the season, and the sixth in little more than a month, Wednesday's was the first game that got nasty.
The Bears managed to get two Jacks -- defenseman Bobby Babcock and center Tim Taylor -- ejected in a ice-wide fight 10 minutes into the game Wednesday, but Eaves insists that the rough play that produced four ejections and 72 minutes of penalties was not by design.
"I know it was two-for-one, but we lost our best player in Tim Tookey and we certainly didn't want that to happen," Eaves said. "There was no game plan to go out and start fights."