Hershey, PA- A struggling Hartford team in town on top of the return of blueliner Madison Bowey made Friday night’s game look like a cakewalk on paper. In reality sloppiness, bad bounces and a no-quit mentality from the Wolfpack is what the Bears got. A quickly climbing point producer Christian Djoos saved the day as he sprang for four points including the overtime game-winner as the Bears pulled out the 4-3 victory.
After a period and a half of “oh so close” and just misses, the game suddenly exploded to life. Liam O’Brien boxed in for a controversial cross checking call, Matt Carey deflected a Taylor Beck point shot home to put Hartford up 1-0, 10:06 into the second period.
Just 44 seconds later Hershey’s Paul Carey (no relation) finished off a silky give-and-go with Djoos to tie the game at one. The Bears responded with strong pressure and outshot the Wolfpack 9-4 in the period. Just before the period expired, Hartford allowed Djoos to sit in the slot all alone where he hammered home his 11th goal of the season for the 2-1 lead 2.3 seconds to go Carey and Travis Boyd each factored in on both of the Bears goals.
The Bears had the perfect opportunity to carry the momentum in the third but they could not. Hartford stormed back on the speed of John Gilmour. Gilmour blew by Tyler Lewington and found Dan Catenacci in front of the goal. Pheonix Copley nearly made a miraculously save and got a large chunk of the shot but not enough to keep it out and the game was one again tied 4:52 into the third.
Hershey Captain Garrett Mitchell broke the tie with his 100th career AHL point 1:29 later. Mitchell was in the perfect spot to deflect a point shot by Tom Gilbert to give the Bears a 3-2 lead.
Hartford continued fighting and stunned the Giant Center crowd with a late third period goal. Copley handled a Marek Hrivik shot just find but inadvertently deflected it right off Nicklas Jensen and into the yawning cage to tie the game at 3-3 in the final three minutes. Recognizing Hershey’s woeful overtime record, Bears fans were stunned silent.
Christian Djoos wasted no time turning that fear and uneasiness into jubilation. Nearly a minute into overtime Stanislav Galiev fed Djoos the perfect pass that he one-timed to the top corner for the huge game-winning goal. With Bridgeport losing 3-0 in regulation, and the division race as tight as it is, Djoos’ four points could not have come at a more important time in the year.
The big night for Djoos not only lifted the Bears, it also lifted himself into the top 20 in AHL scoring and the top three and point scoring by defensemen. With 48 points (12 G, 36 A), he sits four points of the leading defender Syracuse’s Matt Taormina (14 G, 38 A). Hershey Coach Troy Mann had high praise for Djoos after the game.
“(Djoos) is the real deal and you’ve got (Tom) Gilbert with him. They’re an excellent pair and they’ve got some chemistry together. Djoos is going to play for the Caps one day just a matter of when. He’s certainly feeling good about himself and playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Mann said.
The win coupled with the Bridgeport has jumped the Bears up to the fourth spot in the Atlantic with 79 points. Providence (79 points) holds a game in hand on Hershey and sits in third place. Lehigh lost to Wilkes-Barre and remains at 82 points.
Look for Madison Bowey to come out, Colby Williams and Jakub Vrana to step in as Hartford and Hershey will do it all again at Giant Center Saturday night at 7 pm.