Syracuse, NY – It’s no secret that the Hershey Bears have been desperate for goaltending help all season. Washington seemed to have all but solved the issue by bringing in former Bear Pheonix Copley from St. Louis via trade. Copley’s return to Hershey was going just fine until the third period. An awkward movement on a shot attempt saw his right leg get caught in a bad spot and Copley had to leave the game. Here’s what we know as of late Friday night:
Midway through the third period of the game between the Hershey Bears and Syracuse crunch, Copley’s right leg appeared to get caught underneath him as he adjusted from a scoring chance against late in the third period.
Copley injury. Does not look good. pic.twitter.com/7BJuIkEtYB
— Andrew Gallant (@AGallanzo) March 4, 2017
He immediately could not put any weight on his right leg and had to be helped off the ice to the locker room. He had made 27 saves on 28 shots up to that point in the game. Vitek Vanecek came on in relief and stopped all five shots he faced in the remainder of the third period. Copley earned the victory and the game’s first star honors for his 27 save effort in the 5-1 win.
The 25-year-old Copley was undrafted and originally signed by Washington to a two year entry level deal in 2014 out of Michigan Tech in March of 2014. He went on to have a very successful 17-4-3 season with Hershey in 2014-15. The following offseason he was traded along with Troy Brouwer to St. Louis for forward T.J. Oshie. He made his NHL debut in a relief appearance against Nashville on February 27th, 2016 allowing one goal on five shots.
Prior to the trade (Kevin Shattenkirk, Copley for Zach Sanford, Brad Malone, First Rounder and Conditional pick) that brought him back to the Washington/Hershey organization, Copley was on a serious roll with the Chicago Wolves. He was 10-2-1 in his last 13 starts when he joined the Bears. His return to Hershey was stellar as he had to help kill eight powerplay opportunities for Syracuse. His efforts would eventually earn him first star of the game honors. Thanks to goals by Tom Gilbert, Riley Barber, Christian Thomas (x2), and Christian Djoos, Copley had plenty of support. The Bears penalty killing unit was a perfect nine for nine and blocked a ton of shots in front of Copley. Aaron Ness briefly left the game after blocking a shot with his left arm but would return.
After the game, the team announced an update on Copley’s status that is surely to give Bears fans a sigh of relief.
Goaltender Pheonix Copley left tonight's game w/dehydration. He will travel home w/team, and is questionable for tomorrow's game. #HBH
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) March 4, 2017
It is a major positive that there is no structural damage and the Bears are lucky that the injury is not as serious as it initially appeared. A call up will be difficult as the team’s ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays, are playing in Colorado tonight and the most likely call up Parker Milner is in goal for the Rays. Vanecek is all but a lock to start in goal on Saturday in a key matchup with division leading Wilkes-Barre but will have little insurance with out a serviceable backup.
The games only get bigger for Hershey as the season comes to a close. The Bears need to a find a way to get two points on division leader Wilkes-Barre and hope that Rochester can beat Bridgeport. Having Copley has potential to be a game changer in the playoff race as long as he’s healthy but Vanecek has to carry the load when called upon. It’s make or break time for Hershey and We’ll find out in the next two weeks whether they’re contenders or pretenders.