HERSHEY, Penn. – A disappointing 2017-18 campaign is long gone and the turning of the calendar to October brings a fresh crop of faces from top to bottom. Opening weekend 2018-19 however, didn’t quite go the way the Bears would have liked, dropping a 3-2 decision to Syracuse on opening night, followed by a 2-1 loss to Bridgeport on Sunday. Takeaways from the good, the bad and the ugly of Chocolatetown’s opening weekend.
Can there be any after an opening weekend going 0-2 on home ice despite making late rallies in both games Coach Spencer Carbery?
“Yeah it was nice that we pushed (Saturday).we pushed again for an equalizer Sunday but at the end of the day we’re 0-2 and haven’t converted those. There’s not a lot of moral victories right now,” said Carbery.
While there was not much to like for the Bears new coaching staff some positives can be found after two games. Top goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov making his North American debut on Saturday was tested early and often having to bail out his team for their mistakes. Stopping 28/31 shots he was impressive.
Samsonov's first big save in the AHL pic.twitter.com/wwMHPLQSYp
— Sin Bin Bears (@SinBinBears) October 6, 2018
Vitek Vanecek the following day was slightly less busy stopping 20 of 22 shots but did face six power-play chances against. Both netminders looked confident making big saves and keeping Hershey in it.
Beck Malenstyn is quickly making a positive impression for himself. The WHL champion is not shy in using his 6-foot-2 frame to throw his weight around, hitting everything that moves. He created opportunities offensively as well putting up five shots. Shot blocking in the defensive zone is another area he’s made his mark already. Keep an eye on #13.
Finally, some chemistry seems to be developing for some. The newly assembled first line of Shane Gersich–Mike Sgarbossa–Riley Barber factored in all three Hershey goals so far. On Sunday, the line out with the Bears being outshot 11-2, turned the tide of the first period for Hershey with an extended shift in the Sound Tigers zone leading to an 8-2 advantage in shots for Hershey the rest of the frame. Sgarbossa, a 40-point scorer for Manitoba last season, has scored a goal in each of the two games.
Sgarbossa behind the D takes advantage. Gersich and Ness on the assists. First AHL point for Gersich. pic.twitter.com/rwkHv5slJe
— Sin Bin Bears (@SinBinBears) October 7, 2018
Gersich registered his first AHL point with the assist on the goal Sunday against Bridgeport seen above. Unfortunately for Carbery, the trio who is also assembled on the power play hasn’t quite shown the same chemistry with an extra man.
Need for Speed
An area previously lagging far behind Atlantic division foes is speed. Newcomers Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Shane Gersich, and Sergei Shumakov to name a few, look put the Chocolate and White back on the map in that department. Gersich, already a Stanley Cup Champion, is firmly planting his role on the Bears top line with his ability to make plays. Granted penalty killing time, Gersich nearly got himself a breakaway blowing by defenders on multiple occasions. Axel Jonsson-Fjallby presented his wings most notably on Sunday as he flew down the ice and broke through two Bridgeport defenders drawing a power player for the Bears as he was slashed. While he hasn’t been able to do much offensively just yet, his breaking speed alone is enough to make him a real threat. Shumakov used his legs to burst in for two similar looking chances on Saturday and Sunday. Though both were denied, he continues to adjust to the North American game from the KHL and makes his presence known.
Goalies like to be busy, they like to get in the game early. With help from their teammates, both Vanecek and Samsonov got plenty of opportunities to get in the game. “Help” meaning turning the puck over inside the defensive zone and failing to clear the puck. Turnovers were a major issue particularly on Saturday for Samsonov who faced 14 shots in the second period alone. Many of which were the result of turnovers by defenders and failed clears. All of the Bears defense returned from last year, Jonas Siegenthaler nearly made the Capitals out of camp, they will all have to look the part if the Bears are to succeed.
It’s been a “burn the tape” effort for Hershey special teams so far factoring heavily in both of the team’s losses. Opponents going 4-for-9 on the power play to Hershey’s 0-for-8 is a tough hill to overcome for any team. An early power-play Sunday was a microcosm of the Bears early ineptitude when they surrendered three odd-man rushes to the short-handed Sound Tigers. One of which was a 2-on-0 and only failed because of overpassing and a missed shot, Vanecek would’ve had no chance if it had been on goal.
In another instance, Hershey had just been awarded a power play in the middle of the third period on Sunday trailing 2-1. On the ensuing faceoff, Mike Sgarbossa cross-checked the opposing center negating a golden opportunity to tie the game. Then, on the following face off with the teams at even strength four-on-four, the Bears promptly iced the puck thinking they were short-handed.
A team with eight new skaters, most of them rookies, will have growing pains and hiccups to be sure but with a seven-game road trip ahead, they must be addressed fast before the Bears find themselves in another October hole. The Bears are next in action on Friday as they head to the Midwest to take on Grand Rapids.