HARTFORD, CT- What happens in the faceoff dot can be one of the most important yet underrated moments in hockey. Wednesday night, the faceoff dot proved to be the undoing of the Hershey Bears.
The opening frame of this game at the XL Center featured some fun fire wagon hockey. After about nine minutes of back and forth whistle-free hockey, Hartford was whistled for back-to-back penalties to give the Bears a five-on-three powerplay. Three shots yielded no goals for Hershey.
At the 16:03 mark of the first, rookie Hershey defender Colby Williams got beat pinching in on the offensive attack, which led to a two-on-one with Hartford’s Malte Stromwall and Nicklas Jensen. Madison Bowey dove to try and take away the cross-ice pass between the two and missed badly. Goalie Joe Cannata’s aggressiveness was just enough to force Jensen behind the net. Jensen looked to have room to tuck it behind Cannata’s skate but Bowey recovered from his dive to swat the puck away. Bowey’s alert play proved to be pivotal as just 40 seconds later, Tyler Lewington fired a slap shot from the top of the right faceoff circle past Magnus Hellberg to give Hershey the 1-0 lead.
After a relatively uneventful seven minutes to start the second period things escalated rather quickly. Hershey Captain Garrett Mitchell was called for tripping at the 7:19 mark. Hartford controlled the ensuing faceoff and Chris Brown was able to deflect the puck past Cannata to tie the game 1-1. Riley Barber nearly restored the Bears lead after he broke into the Hartford zone and cleanly beat Hellberg but he found the crossbar.
Hartford took advantage of the miss as defenseman John Gilmour was allowed to carry the puck behind the Hershey goal and found Stromberg backdoor to beat Cannata for the 2-1 lead. A minute later Hershey created a neutral zone turnover and Aaron Ness, Paul Carey, and Jakub Vrana rushed into the offensive zone three-one-one. Ness opted to pass to Carey who made no mistake to tie the game at 2-2.
It looked as though Harford took the lead back with 3:54 to play but the goal was washed out because Robin Kovacs crashed into Cannata which allowed Mark Carey to put throw it into the wide open net. Kovacs was sent to the box for goalie interference but the Bears couldn’t convert and the period ended a 2-2 tie.
In the third period, the teams traded chances but neither could find the back of the net. Hershey was given a powerplay with 2:14 left to go in the period after Calle Anderson was called for delay of game. The chance went awry and regulation ended in a 2-2 tie.
Ryan Graves would go on to ice the game for the Wolfpack with 2:25 to go in the overtime. After an offensive zone faceoff loss for Hershey, Harford controlled the puck and was able to get the puck to the point where Graves fired the puck off the post and in for the 3-2 victory.
What went wrong for Hershey: The Bears lost key faceoffs frame to frame in this one. Hershey couldn’t buy a faceoff win in their initial five on three powerplays in the first period. A lost faceoff also led to Hartford’s lone powerplay goal (1/5 on the night). Finally, just before the game-winning goal in overtime, Hershey had an offensive zone draw but couldn’t gain control of it. Hartford never relinquished control of the puck before ending the game. With Wednesday night’s overtime win, the Wolf Pack are now 13-1 in the last 14 games decided after regulation time.
What Went Right: Joe Cannata was fantastic tonight no doubt about it. He made big saves and bailed out his defenseman when they made turnovers in front (looking at you Madison Bowey with your backhanded pass right in front of the net). Making 32 saves on 35 shots is about all you can ask for out of a goalie. Paul Carey’s line with Travis Boyd and Jakub Vrana did a good job of generating offense all night and two of the three recorded a point.
Hershey falls to 1-2-2 (four points) on the season, while Hartford improves to 3-2-0 (six points). The Bears return to Giant Center Saturday and Sunday for back-to-back games against Binghamton and Lehigh Valley.