HERSHEY, PA – The Atlantic Division has been a tight race from the get go and the Hershey Bears needed a big weekend to stay near the top. They got exactly that with a perfect three for three week capped off by a home and home sweep of the Springfield Thunderbirds. The six-point week allowed Hershey to leapfrog Bridgeport and move into third in the division.
Notes and quotes from the weekend are below.
Friday night’s game marked Chris Bourque‘s 600th career American Hockey League game. The ten-year veteran is six points shy of 600 points in his career.
With the victory on Saturday, Head Coach Troy Mann earned his 100th career win behind the Bears bench. In 177 games as Hershey’s head coach, Mann’s record is 100-47-24.
Saturday’s game was also team captain Garrett Mitchell‘s 300th career game. Mitchell has played parts of eight seasons in the AHL, all with Hershey.
First Strike Offense
Scoring the first goal has been a key to the Bears success in the young season. They’ve opened the scoring in 13 games so far including all three of the team’s wins this week. Hershey has earned at least a point in all 13 contests.
“The Key (Saturday night) was to be the aggressor and dictate the pace tonight and thought we did a nice job on the road (Friday) night,” head coach Troy Mann said. “Now to come back at home on Saturday night you certainly want to be the aggressor and I thought we did that. It was important to establish the lead early.”
Grinders Get It Done
Zach Sill, Liam O’Brien, Nathan Walker and Brad Malone all reminded Springfield they were more than just tough guys and each played a role in key goals. Friday, O’Brien opened the scoring in Springfield with a nice individual effort by ripping off a defender and beating Reto Berra with a nice looking wrist shot. Walker scored a couple goals of his own including the game-winner in a game the Bears needed in order to stay above .500 on the road.
Sill had to defend himself for a big hit he made at center ice. The fight looked like an old school punching match with Ryan Horvat. If you’re a fan of fights you’ll want to watch this one. Sill later went on to secure the win with an empty-net goal late in the third.
On Saturday, Brad Malone dropped the gloves and was left bloodied after he stepped up to defend a hit on Christian Djoos. Springfield’s Sena Acolatse did his best to be a thorn in the Bears side and Malone had had enough of his antics. Acolatse was given a game misconduct for being the aggressor because he punched Malone after he was on the ice causing his visor to cut his forehead. Malone also chipped in to add two assists to go along with O’Brien’s two assists. Coach Mann expressed his approval for the grinders in the post-game on Saturday.
“I think we do a nice job here of our guys of managing of that type of environment on the ice whenever its needed,” Mann Said. “I do like our balance of grit from the Mitchells of the world, O’Brien, Sill and now Malone. (Malone) is that type of player that adds another dimension for us up the middle. Not only is he a big center but as you can see if he needs to he’ll drop them as well.”
Wake up Jakub
With two assists on Friday and another on Saturday, Jakub Vrana has points in six consecutive games and nine of the past ten. Vrana leads the team with nine goals and continually proves to be a lethal piece of the Bears top line. He can pass just as well as he can score. His playmaking ability was front and center on Travis Boyd‘s second goal on Saturday night. Skating in on a two on one, Vrana waited for the defender to dive and then found Boyd in the perfect spot to beat Mike McKenna. He has seven helpers for 16 total points in 18 games played.
Speaking of Travis Boyd, the second year Hershey centerman is in the midst of a four game point streak. The streak has him second on the team in scoring with 16 points ( 4 G 12 A). Boyd has bounced between the first and second line to go along with decent powerplay time. He was all over the ice on Saturday and both of his goals happened because of his own second effort. He’s had some tough luck in the goals department but the ability is there. He is reliable in the faceoff circle and a good puck battler in both ends. The Capitals have a solid prospect in the making here.
With injuries to Madison Bowey and Aaron Ness, Christian Djoos has played an important role on the Hershey blue line of late. Friday night he did an excellent job staying with and fighting off opposing puck carriers. Save one bad giveaway that led to a breakaway opportunity, Djoos made smart plays with the puck. He was rewarded for his efforts with his second goal in as many games.
R n’ R
Hershey does not play again until next Friday giving them a couple of extra days to recover. In coach Mann’s post-game scrum on Saturday, he told the media that the plan was to have injured defenseman Aaron Ness and Madison Bowey both return to the lineup on Friday in Lehigh. Additionally, injured rookie Tim McGauley is close to joining the team and may finally be in the lineup at some point in December.
Hershey is off until Friday where they will begin a home and home with Lehigh Valley and then remain at home to host Syracuse on Sunday.