Hershey, PA – A bit of a late start to this one for good reason. During the pre-game, Hershey’s Vice President of hockey Operations Bryan Helmer announced Hershey would once again host the outdoor classic at Hershey Park Stadium on January, 20th 2018. The announcement helped get the lively crowd going and was just the boost the Bears needed to weather the storm as they rallied to down Toronto.
Giant Center was rocking but things got off to a cautious start. It took 6:40 of game time before the shot total eclipsed a single shot.
Thanks to a former Bear, Brooks Laich, Hershey got the all important opening goal. While on the penalty kill, Laich made an errant pass in his own zone and the puck went right to Christian Thomas. Thomas skated right to the goal and beat an outstretched Garret Sparks to make it a 1-0. Sparks was stretched beyond his limits of the play and left the game after facing just one shot. Antoine Bibeau took over in goal for the Marlies and would finish out the game.
Hershey’s goalie on the other hand, fresh from an ECHL stint definitively made his presence felt in the first. With Zach Sill in the box, Joe Cannata answered the call for the Hershey penalty Kill to help preserve the 1-0 Bears lead after one.
Joe Cannata's desperation save keeps the Bears 1-0 lead. pic.twitter.com/pB6Pw5lfXn
— Andrew Gallant (@AGallanzo) February 26, 2017
Early second period provided a perfect example of how Joe Cannata’s Hershey tenure has gone. After a great start in the first, Colin smith ramped a shot off Darren Dietz‘s stick and in past Cannata 2:25 into the second. Then Mason Marchment broke free and scored blocker side on Cannata 13 seconds later. Goals in quick succession like this has been a going concern for Cannata all season and one of the main reasons for his demotion to the ECHL last month.
Andreas Johnsson added a third goal for the Marlies in a span of 8:18 in the second period. What started as a 1-0 Hershey lead had ballooned to a 3-1 Marlies advantage.
Hershey got the opportunity to stop the bleeding on the powerplay and did just that. Chris Bourque was in perfect position to tip a Christian Djoos pass past Bibeau to cut the deficit to 3-2.
The Bears goal provided much needed new life. Darren Dietz made an excellent read of the play and walked in from the point. Chris Bourque found him and Dietz fired home his his sixth goal of the season to tie the game at three.
The Bears came out for the third on a mission and largely held the better of the play in the final frame. The Marlies were given a powerplay with six minutes to go but Joe Cannata returned to his first period form and shut them down.
Chris Bourque was whistled for another Hershey penalty but before that powerplay expired, Toronto’s Johnsson was called for tripping. When Bourque stepped out of the box to put the Bears back on the powerplay. It was a mess and the Bears couldn’t get anything going. And then coach Mann did made a very smart move, he called a timeout.
“Powerplay started with Bourque coming out the the box and we just never seemed to get set to our rhythm there. We get the timeout there and get on the same page and you know it worked out,” Mann said with a smirk.
In the dying moments of the powerplay, Liam O’Brien camped right in front of Bibeau. Djoos got the puck down to O’Brien who corralled the puck from one side of his body to the other and into the net with 3:03 to go in regulation time for the 4-3.
Toronto mounted a furious comeback attempt with extra skater but they could not convert despite three icing calls against Hershey.
The key to this win was the resiliency of the Bears. The game began to slip away in the second but they never panicked. The powerplay missed some chances but when they finally scored on what was their third opportunity to cut the game to 3-2, it restored Hershey’s confidence when they needed it most.
Hershey sits one point back of Bridgeport for fourth in the Atlantic which makes Sunday’s game in Bridgeport all the more important.