HERSHEY, PA – It has been a rough go for the Hershey Bears in their last three-plus weeks. Strengths at the start of the year have suddenly become weaknesses. While there are multiple contributing factors to the Bears current 1-7-2 stretch, goaltending hasn’t been at a level that it should be.
“We need some saves at some key moments of the game to keep us in it or keep the late. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been happening for us a long stretch of time and consequently that’s why we’re fifth in the division now,” said head coach Troy Mann after Sunday’s loss to Lehigh Valley.
Hearing those comments from Mann, it is no surprise that he and the coaching staff looked to make a move to provide some kind of boost to Vitek Vanecek and Joe Cannata in goal. Today the club announced that it has recalled Parker Milner from ECHL South Carolina. The 26-year-old Pittsburgh native was signed by Hershey in July but has spent the balance of the season with the Stingrays.
Milner has had a successful ECHL campaign with a record of 17-8-1 including a stretch of six in a row from December 27th to January 7th. He sits third in the ECHL in goals against average at 2.37. In 15 career AHL games, he has a 6-5-0-0 record with a 3.12 goals against average and a .902 save percentage.
This move is a temporary attempt to clean the slate for both goalies and give them a little extra time to work on their game with goalie coach Scott Murray.
Scratching players to reset their thinking and kickstart their game is an organizational tool that both the Bears and Capitals have utilized with success so far this year. For example, after a slow start from Jakub Vrana, Mann held him out of the lineup for a game. The following games Vrana lit up and eventually earned a call-up to the NHL. It’s a wakeup for Vanecek and Cannata that they’ve got a guy who has played well and is on an AHL deal, should one or both fail to improve.
This move is really the only organizational player move that Hershey can make in attempt to address the issues they have. The most glaring weakness since Madison Bowey went down injured has been the defense. Bowey was their top puck moving defender and played 20-25 minutes a night. Without him to carry the puck up the ice, defenders are forced into an increased role in breakouts that they might not be used to. It’s leading to defensive zone turnovers that teams like Wilkes-Barre and Lehigh have been absolutely feasting on. The positioning of defenders has also been off lately allowing teams the perfect opportunity for deflections and goals in the slot. It’s tough for any goalie to make a save in that environment. With Bowey out until April and the depth on the blueline light, there is no foreseeable fix to the defensive woes other than a continued emphasis on improving in practice.
The Bears at the minimum must hope that Milner provides that timely save that’s so desperately been needed to give the AHL’s fourth-best offense a chance to score.