HERSHEY, PA –Three games in three straight nights is the norm for American Hockey League life. It’s no small task to take part in especially when travel is included. A rookie’s first career goal, another rookie’s first career shutout and three wins later it was a good weekend for the Hershey Bears.
Friday at Springfield Thunderbirds:
Hershey’s first game of the weekend was a bit scrappy early. Bears defenseman Joey Leach threw a heavy but clean hit that sent Dryden Hunt halfway over the Springfield bench. Josh Brown took exception with the hit and confronted Leach. They dropped the gloves but Brown assessed the extra minor. Paul Carey took advantage on the ensuing powerplay at the 8:43 mark to give Hershey a 1-0 lead.
Hershey lost one of their defenseman for the remainder of the weekend three minutes later. Hubert Labrie was chasing a puck in the corner of his defensive zone when he took a high hit from Ryan Horvat and was slow to get up. He is considered week-to-week and could miss 10-14 days with a lower-body injury. Labrie was Madison Bowey’s partner and defensive anchor and they had developed some good chemistry.
Seemingly a recurring theme for Hershey in this young season is the lack of discipline and it continued on Friday night. The Bears earned four penalties in the second period alone and gave Springfield seven powerplays overall. Hershey managed to survive the penalty onslaught only down 2-1 after two.
Playing down a defenseman and trailing 2-1, Hershey needed somebody to step up. Somewhat unexpectedly that hero would be rookie Defenseman Colby Williams. A faceoff win by Brad Malone led to a shot from the point by Williams. Malone went to the net and potted the rebound to tie the game at two in the third. In Overtime Travis Boyd found Williams flying toward the Thunderbirds net. The twenty-one-year-old defender deked to the backhand to beat Mike McKenna for his first professional goal and sent Hershey home with a victory.
Saturday vs Albany
The long travel day with the team arriving from Springfield at 4 am may have contributed to a sluggish start for Hershey in this one. The devils outshot the Bears 7-1 early on. Eventually Hershey found its legs and used a three-minute span in the first to score three unanswered goals. Christian Thomas who had been a scratch the night before responded in a big way by scoring his third goal of the season on a powerplay. Brad Malone added another, his fifth of the season 1:35 later. Stan Galiev capped off the rally with his first goal of the season.
The lead would prove to be more than enough for rookie goalie Vitek Vanecek who was impenetrable. He faced many difficult chances including second and third opportunities, something I thought plagued him a little bit at times in South Carolina. On this night though, Vanecek handled them all with confidence.
Colby Williams added another goal in the second period for good measure for his second in as many nights. He also picked up an assist for his fourth point in two games.
Albany would go on to outshot the Bears in the third and the game overall but they couldn’t beat Vanecek. The Czech netminder earned his first career AHL shutout with a stellar 29 save performance. The Bears were also able to keep their discipline giving the Devils just two powerplay opportunities.
Sunday vs Rochester
An important trend emerged from the weekend: scoring first. It happened again on Sunday just over two minutes into the game. Chandler Stephenson found Christian Thomas with a perfect backhand saucer pass and he beat Linus Ullmark to get the Bears offense off and rolling. Riley Barber picked up his third goal of the season to extend the lead to 2-0 in the final minutes of the first.
The Bears fourth line of Garrett Mitchell, Zach Sill and Nathan Walker has done a good job on the forecheck but to this point hasn’t really been a factor on the score sheet. That would change on Sunday. Sandwiched around a Justin Bailey goal for Rochester, Walker and team captain Mitchell each found the back of the net off of hard-working shifts. Sill earned an assist on each tally, his first two of the season.
Aaron Ness was a force offensively all night and with a little good fortune from a Travis Boyd broken stick that deflected the puck to Ness in front and he buried it to make it 5-2 Hershey. The goal came on the powerplay and was the fourth straight game that Hershey has scored at least one powerplay goal.
Rochester put one more in by pulling Ullmark on the powerplay with six minutes left. Despite the goal to make it a 5-3 game, the result never seemed to be in doubt and the Bears held on.
The Hershey offense played a vital role in the weekend sweep and most of the roster took part. Fourteen of the Bears registered at least a point in the three game stretch. Brad Malone extended his point streak to four games and Chris Bourque now has points in five straight.
Both Hershey goalies were outstanding stopping 77 of the 80 shots that they faced over the weekend. Joe Cannata has bounced back from his opening night stinker going 4-1 with a 2.83 goals against average. Vanecek has looked very solid with the shutout improved to 2-1-1 with a 1.51 GAA and 0.949 save percentage.
The five-game win streak has vaulted the Bears to second in the Atlantic Division behind Wilkes-Barre.
Another three in three is on tap next weekend as the Bears travel to Albany on Friday and then return home to host Bridgeport and Lehigh Valley on Saturday and Sunday.