Saturday, October 8, 2011

Bears Spoils Party, Best B-Sens in Season Opener

It started as a night of celebration for the Binghamton Senators who commemorated their capturing of last season’s Calder Cup, but the Hershey Bears, perhaps feeling a bit “shorthanded” without the hardware in hand from the previous two seasons, scored a pair of shorthanded goals and escaped the Broome County Veterans Memorial Coliseum with a narrow 3-2 victory on Friday night.

The Bears, who were forced to cool their heels for fifteen minutes before the puck officially dropped at 7:20 instead of the scheduled 7:05 start, stormed out of the gate with head coach Mark French’s starting forward line of Kyle Greentree, Matt Ford, and Mattias Sjogren putting a couple of shots on Binghamton backstoppper Robin Lehner before eventually drawing an early power play.

“We talked about keeping our focus, but I attribute it to the veterans in our room who are able to handle things like that, where as a younger team in that kind of situation might cause some distractions,” said French.

“That’s what you want them to do. If you get the honor of being the first line on the ice, especially with a team like ours when we can roll four lines, they need to do that and they did, drawing the penalty and giving us momentum right away.”

After squandering the initial power play as well as a subsequent advantage, the game remained scoreless when the B-Sens went on their first power play at 6:57; however, only 23 seconds into the power play, Hershey newcomer Christian Hanson corralled a loose puck at center ice and then beat Lehner by lofting a shot over his glove hand.

With just over seven minutes remaining in the opening frame, the Bears held a 10-1 shot advantage and their starting goaltender Braden Holtby had about as major of a work load as the Maytag repairman. But that situation changed rather suddenly as the B-Sens found an offensive groove and peppered Holtby with some quality chances, one off of the stick of Jim O’Brien that Holtby halted by making a splendid sprawling save, and another by Pat Cannone that Holtby brilliantly thwarted with a well placed poke check.

“The two preseason games that I played, I had the same situation, but I was able to get a few shots in at the end that got me moving and into it,” said Holtby. “Those are saves that I should make; there were a few more that I made that were things that I was working on, so I was actually more proud of them. I saw the puck well tonight and the forwards and defenseman did a great job all night of fronting everyone and clearing things out in front of the net.”

Also, in the latter stages of the first frame, French did some line juggling by mixing and matching combinations, a scenario that was necessitated by all of the special teams’ play in the opening period.

“We had the power plays early and then some penalty kills, and one thing we wanted to do tonight was to get everybody involved and not have guys sitting. So it was out of necessity rather than trying to get guys going and changing things up. We’re still trying to find chemistry, and those types of situations sometimes allow you to find some natural fits,” said French.

In the second stanza, special teams were in the spotlight again when Chris Bourque scored a shorthanded goal by combining with fellow New England native Keith Aucoin on the strike, and with Binghamton answering Bourque’s tally with a power play goal.

In the latter stages of the stanza, the Bears regained their two-goal cushion when defenseman Patrick Wellar wandered down from his point position to penetrate the Senators’ defense and then deftly deposited a shot by Lerner at 13:46.

“We were told to be really aggressive tonight so I pinched in and was able to keep the play alive,” said Wellar, who scored three goals last season. “As soon as Greentree got the puck, I knew he was going to shoot it. I knew we had numbers so I went to the net. I got kind of lucky because the goalie was already moving and I was able to make a quick move and throw it on net.”

Before the buzzer sounded to signify the end of the second period, Wellar was again in the spotlight. This time, he was in the defensive zone, and due to Holtby being caught wandering behind the net, Wellar got to try out his best goaltender impersonation by stopping a shot that was ticketed for the back of the net.

“Things happen so fast in this small rink; the puck popped loose and we had a little miscommunication,” Wellar said. “Actually, I didn’t see it, but I felt it hit my skate. Sometimes you get lucky and you get to cover up for a miscue, but those are rare.”

The Senators looked to have cut the Bears bulge on a power play in the early stages of the third period during a goalmouth scramble, but after some initial confusion, the officials conferred with the goal judge and an apparent Senators goal was nullified.

“I’m not sure,” said Holtby when asked what happened on the play. “The puck went behind the net and I slid back and he shot it. It went past my first pad, but hit the end of my other pad. I don’t know if I slid into the net with it or not, but I didn’t think there was any evidence that it went in.”

The Senators eventually got their second goal at 16:03 of the third period when veteran Mark Parrish potted a goal from between the circles after receiving a perfect setup from Corey Locke, but Holtby and the Bears held on for the victory.

Notes- The Bears scratched defenseman Danny Richmond and Zach Miskovic and forwards Francois Bouchard and Andrew Carroll.

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