In their illustrious seventy-four year history in the American Hockey League, the Hershey Bears have won over 2,500 regular season games. However, it’s a pretty safe bet that not many of those triumphs were attained largely as a result of a seemingly insignificant faceoff in the neutral zone, particularly when the draw occurred in that zone at the faceoff dot that was furthest away from the net that the Bears were attacking.
Sunday night at Giant Center brought those exact circumstances as the Bears rode the momentum from that rare goal to a 7-0 drubbing of the Syracuse Crunch and handed the visitors their first regulation setback of the season, which gave the Bears their first home victory of the young season.
Prior to the game-changing strike, even while building a 1-0 first period lead on Dmitry Orlov’s first goal of the season, the Bears appeared a bit tentative on the attack, which is not surprising considering how they played in a 3-1 loss to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins the previous night in Hershey.
“I thought we came out a little, not hesitant I would say, but a little tentative knowing that the way we played last night wasn’t the way we wanted to play,” said Jacob Micflikier. “We knew we had to step up and make a big statement tonight, but you never expect to blow out a team like that in this league. When you look at the final score, it’s not really indicative of the way the game was.”
But late in the period with thirteen seconds remaining in the frame, Bears’ fans had little idea that the next ten seconds would be eventful. With an impending neutral zone draw, Hershey coach Mark French elected to make a late line change and took of the line centered by Keith Aucoin, in favor of the line centered by Cody Eakin.
Eakin and AHL veteran Nathan Smith dueled on the faceoff, and the immediate result was a stalemate with the puck lying in the faceoff dot. At that point, Smith swept the puck back into his own zone and seemingly made the safe play, but the puck ended up along the wall in his own zone on the stick of defenseman Mat Clark. Clark, a 6’3” 200-plus pound defenseman, was pressured by the 5’8” 180-pound Micflikier, with the ultimate result being Micflikier’s third goal of the season with 3.1 seconds remaining in the stanza.
“We were going to try and create a play of the faceoff. Obviously it wasn’t the one that unfolded, but one where I was going to get the puck and go in on a rush,” explained Micflikier. “Their D got the puck but didn’t have real good control, so I just went in hard on the forecheck trying to separate him and the puck. He got rid of it quick and (Boyd) Kane made a great play to throw it on the net and right to a place where I could post up."
The Bears then reeled off four power play goals in the remaining forty minutes of action, with Micflikier collecting a helper on one of those tallies. With their power play success on the evening (4-for-6), the Bears find themselves in the upper echelon of the league in that category.
“You hope to be pretty successful out there. We’ve had a bunch of games where we’ve gone 4-for 5 or something like that, which causes the numbers to get a little skewed, but we’ve also had nights where we didn’t produce. It’s early in the year and things tend to even out, but it’s good for everybody on that unit to get some confidence by having the success we’ve had,” Micflikier said.
Notes- In last year’s six-game series between the Crunch and the Bears, the visiting team won all six contests.
The Crunch entered the game with an unblemished record in regulation (3-0-1-1).
Before the game, the Bears reassigned goaltender Philipp Grubauer to the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL. Grubauer, a nineteen-year-old rookie from Germany, has yet to see action in the crease for the Bears this season.
The Bears scratched defenseman Danny Richmond and Brett Flemming and forwards Joel Rechlicz, Graham Mink, Ryan Potulny and Kyle Greentree.
Dany Sabourin collected the shut-out by stopping all 36 Syracuse salvos. This was Sabourin’s third shutout as a Bear, his first at Giant Center and incidentally, his second against Syracuse.