After three weeks how do things look for the Hershey Bears?
In seven games, Hershey has gone 3-2-2, good for fourth in the Atlantic Divison with eight points. In terms of special teams, Hershey ranks tenth in the eastern conference scoring four goals on 29 power play opportunities (13.8%). The penalty killing unit has killed 28 of 33 opportunities (84.8%) and ranks seventh in the conference. The past week was good for the Bears as they recorded at least a point in all five of their games.
Now that the basics are out of the way, let’s go a little more in-depth into the team.
A tale of two Vranas: Jakub Vrana is a highly touted prospect for the Washington Capitals after being drafted 14th overall in the 2014 National Hockey League entry draft. After scoring two goals in the season opener, Vrana struggled in his next two games registering just one shot and zero points per game. As a result, the 20-year-old winger was a healthy scratch for Hershey’s game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on October 23rd. Head coach Troy Mann spoke on Vrana’s play after Hershey’s most recent game against Lehigh Valley.
“It’s not all about points for (Vrana). He needs to compete, he needs to get to those traffic areas, he needs to win those wall battles because those are the things that are going to get him to Washington full time,” Mann Said.
The young Czech winger bounced back well after his benching. In the three games following his scratching, Vrana posted three goals and two assists and took over the team lead with seven points overall. Not only that he was winning puck battles and creating opportunities for his teammates.
“We’ve talked to him about it and we felt that he’s responded in the right way from his healthy scratch last week,” said coach Mann.
The defense: Still a work in progress especially with the injury to Christian Djoos and rookie Colby Williams stepping into the lineup. The organization’s top defensive prospect, Madison Bowey, has impressed with his ability to pinch in and create plays offensively. Bowey has two goals and three assists so far. He has been caught pinching a little too aggressively a couple of times which is a little troublesome but his defensive partner Hubert Labrie has proved more than capable to work along side the young defender. Labrie has even had decent looks to chip in offensively himself. Outside of specific pairings, the defense still could use some work on breaking out of the defensive zone and limiting the turnovers in its own end.
Goaltending: It was not a good start to the Washington/Hershey era for the new number three goalie Joe Cannata after giving up five goals on 12 shots against Rochester on October 14th. The former Utica Comet has since found his game and was able to improve his numbers to 2-1 with a 3.00 goals against average and .867 save percentage. His best performance was a 32 save effort on October 26th in an overtime loss to the Hartford Wolfpack.
Rookie Vitek Vanecek has appeared in three games so far this season. After a couple of tough-luck starts, the Czech netminder finally got his second career AHL win and first win of the 2016-2017 season over Lehigh Valley with a 22 save effort in a close 3-2 win on October 30th. His defense left him out to dry many times due to defensive turnovers but he answered the bell and looked impressive. The team’s plan is to manage his starts for specific opponents but he should get a decent look this season. Vanecek’s record is 1-1 with a 2.01 GAA and .933 SV %.
Killer B’s, Standouts so Far: I touched on Madison Bowey above but he’s not the only dangerous “B” on the Bears. Travis Boyd has been particularly good in all facets of the game. He has won key faceoffs and is seemingly all over the ice. He has a done a good job of forcing turnovers and finding his teammates in the perfect position to score. Boyd is yet to score a goal this season but he is on a three game point scoring streak and has six assists in seven games.
Riley Barber: Entering his second full season in Hershey, Barber has caught fire of late. The 22-year-old has recorded at least one point in four straight games. He was assigned top line duties in four of the past five games and did not look out of place.
Chris Bourque: After setting a career high in goals with 30 last season, Bourque has just one goal so far. It isn’t for a lack of chances and he has still been an important factor in the offense with five assist and six points. It seems only a matter of time before the league’s reigning MVP wakes up in the goal-scoring department.
After a somewhat sluggish start, Hershey has gone 3-0-2 in its last five games and seemingly found its sea (or ice if you will) legs to get rolling. Injuries to key players like Stan Galiev, Dustin Gazley, and Christian Djoos haven’t helped but it seems the offense has turned a corner after three weeks. Only time will tell if the team can carry its recent momentum into a busy 12-game November slate.