Sunday, April 4, 2010

Bears Munch on Crunch to Set Record

Though the seasons have changed in the six months since the Hershey Bears’ season-opening win on October 3rd, 2009, one thing has remained constant-their winning ways. On Saturday night, exactly six months to the day of the first win of this season, the home team made history by recording their 58th win of the season against the Syracuse Crunch at Giant Center, 6-1.

Hershey’s win was also their 33rd home triumph of the season, tying another AHL record that they have the opportunity to break by defeating the Norfolk Admirals on Sunday, the same team against which they picked up their first win.

Boyd Kane gave the Bears an early lead only 1:07 into the contest by redirecting a Patrick Wellar shot that trickled between the wickets of Syracuse’s starting goaltender, Kevin Lalande.

Less than a minute after Kane’s caper, the Bears’ Mathieu Perreault, who returned to Hershey after a recall to the Washington Capitals, failed on his penalty shot attempt, being foiled in his backhand attempt by the glove of Lalande.

Hershey’s penalty killing unit, which ranks first in the loop in PK proficiency, was responsible for the second goal, with Jay Beagle’s dogged determination on the forecheck which forced Lalande into a turnover that led to Beagle’s 15th goal of the season at 12:30.

“I knew that they had all their guys on one side of the ice,” Beagle said. “Their goalie was kind of left out to dry there, and I just tried to pressure him to cough up the puck. I don’t know if it hit my skate, but it just popped loose and I was able to grab it and put it on net.”

Beagle’s goal was the last of the period, but there was plenty of roughhousing in the latter stages of the period that excited the crowd. Hershey’s captain, Bryan Helmer, was in the middle of the melee, throwing an impressive looking uppercut intended for Syracuse’s Evan McGrath that connected with nothing but air.

“I thought Nygel (referee, Nygel Pelletier) did a good job and took care of most of the stuff. Guys stood up for each other, and that’s a team,” said Helmer. “That’s what a good team does, and probably why we have 58 wins.”

Continuing the successful first period formula, the Bears struck again early in the second period, this time on the power play, with Alexandre Giroux generating the red light by sizzling a shot by the stick side of Lalande for his 45th marker of the season.

“We had a lot of power plays tonight, and I think we tried to be a little too fancy,” Giroux said. “We do that play all the time; Coiner made a great pass and set me up perfectly for the one-timer.”

Giroux’s goal gave him 98 points on the season, tying last year’s point total and putting him within two points of reaching the century mark in Sunday’s home finale.
“It would be nice to do it at home. I’d like to beat my total points from last year, which was 98 and now if I can get a higher number, that will be another milestone. Hopefully I can do it in front of the home crowd,” he said.

Lalande atoned a bit for his first period stickhandling fiasco by lofting a pass to teammate Evan McGrath that culminated with McGrath beating Hershey netminder, Michal Neuvirth, on a breakaway foray at 8:56.

McGrath’s goal was the only real challenge faced by Neuvirth who was making his first appearance since the March 19th outing against the Albany River Rats when he lasted only one period before he was forced to leave the game with a lower body injury.

Sixty-eight seconds after the McGrath marker, the Bears quickly countered when Beagle collected his second bone of the game, beating Lalande from his doorstep after receiving a pretty setup from Perreault.

“As soon as Perre was going behind the net, I thought five-hole if he gives it to me just because the goalie was on our strong side,” said Beagle. “Perre made a great play because the goalie thought he was coming around the net with it. I had the whole short side open.”

Beagle’s goal celebration was unceremoniously halted when he received a cross check to the upper body from Syracuse defenseman, Nick Holden.
“I put my hands up to celebrate and exposed my ribs, and I got a cross check right to the ribs,” said Beagle, who sported an ice pack on his ribs after the game. “Right away, I cramped up and couldn’t breathe. I came in here and iced it and they did a couple quick things to me and loosened up my ribs so I was able to go back out and play.”

With a delayed penalty being signaled by referee Nygel Pelletier against the Crunch, Bears’ defenseman, Zach Miskovic’s, seeing-eye shot from the point eluded Lalande at 11:06, ending the second period scoring and Lalande’s night. Lalande departed the contest allowing five goals on 23 shots faced, and was replaced by Dan Taylor.

Karl Alzner netted the lone goal of the third period, cashing in on a 5-on-3 power play opportunity for his 3rd goal of the season which capped off the scoring.
After the record-breaking win, Helmer reflected on his team’s amazing accomplishments this season, but assured that his team has its eye on the ultimate prize.

“When you look at it, it’s really impressive. I’m pretty proud of the guys in our dressing room, from the new guys that came in to everyone that’s played this year. It hasn’t sunk in, and probably won’t sink in for a while. It’s my 17th year pro and this is probably one of the best teams I’ve ever played on. We’re definitely focused on one thing, and that’s winning the championship.”

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