Saturday, October 27, 2012

Holtby's Heavenly Return Helps Bears Down Devils

By: John Sparenberg

In the early going of this season, the Hershey Bears have found themselves in the uncustomary position of looking up at the rest of the American Hockey League’s East Division and showed only one win on the winning side of the ledger entering Saturday night’s tilt at Giant Center; However, bolstered by the return of goaltender Braden Holtby and with a solid contribution from defenseman Tomas Kundratek at both ends of the ice, they escaped their meeting with the Albany Devils with a 3-0 victory.

The Bears were on their heels defensively in the opening moments of the contest, but Holtby was on top of his game from the outset and showed no signs of his two weeks of inactivity between the pipes. Holtby made a big save on Adam Henrique, a 16 goal-getter last year with in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils during the visitors’ first power play of the evening.

Late in the first frame, with the clubs still locked in a scoreless duel, Hamill’s backhander at 17:10 gave the Bears a 1-0 lead. Hamill’s goal was his first in the Chocolate and White and was assisted by Kundratek and Ryan Stoa, who fed Hamill in the spot with a pretty backhand dish. Stoa was stymied by Albany netminder Keith Kinkaid a short time later when the Devils keeper kicked out his bid with a quality stop from just atop the crease.

Early in the second stanza, Holtby was stellar, quickly flexing his left pad in razor-like fashion to deny a point-blank chance by Albany’s David “Don’t call me Mark” Wohlberg. Seconds later, Wohlberg, obviously still in full frustration mode, slashed Hamill and then absorbed a couple of stiff jabs in the subsequent scrum that ensued, but when the dust had settled, he was the only player sent to the “sin bin” by referee Darcy Burchell.

“That was a big chance for them and for a goalie; that’s where you’ve got to come up with a save. I thought I played it patiently. I’ll have to look at it on video and find out if I was cheating or not, but it worked out well and I made the save. Luck was on our side tonight,” said Holtby.

Less than thirty seconds into Wohlberg’s sentence, the Bears, feeding off the “Good Vibrations” from Holtby’s big save, padded their one-goal cushion when Jeff Taffe, with a helping hand from Kundratek, sizzled a one-time slapshot by Kinkaid to give the Bears a 2-0 lead. Taffe’s goal went to video review, but Burchell eventually ruled on the Bears’ behalf.

“It was one of those shots where you’ve obviously got to elevate it because the goalie is going to slide over. But at the same time it’s one of those shots where if you get it on net, you’ve got a pretty good chance of scoring. Most of the guys on the team thought it went in, but it was just a matter of going through the review process,” said Taffe.

The Bears then went on to earn the games next three power plays, but did not score on any of them including a lengthy five-on-three advantage, and nearly squandered a shorthanded goal to Albany’s Jacob Josefson, but Holtby, aided largely by Kundratek who raced back to catch Josefson, the Bears avoided the crisis and maintained their two-goal lead in the process.

“Those types of play are always tough. If he gets that last half-step at the end, he can go right around me, but Kundy did a great job of holding him, and I was able to cut down the angle and force him into shooting,” said Holtby.

In the third period, the Bears sputtered again from the opening puck drop, and with Albany enjoying a 5-1 shot advantage through 4:38 of action, the Bears bench brain trust elected to utilize their timeout.

“We seemed to be stalled in our end and had to take a timeout. I think a lot of it started with not winning the draw and possessing the puck. It’s something that we’ve got to get out of the gate a little bit better; fortunately tonight it didn’t hurt, but we’ve got to better in that area,” said Hershey co-coach, Mark French.

Last weekend, the Bears wasted a pair of three-goal leads in their home opener against the Rochester Americans when they fell in a disappointing 8-7 loss; However, Taffe said that game is now a distant memory, although he conceded that the club held onto the memory for a bit after the stinging setback.

“When you lose big leads like that you can think about it for a day or two, but you’ve got to put it out of your head. Last week, we’ve kind of put that out of our minds. It was the first (three-in-three) weekend and obviously, you can’t play run and gun hockey like that, especially after last night getting down early. We just wanted to get a lead tonight. We know we are a different team when we do.”

The timeout strategy worked as the Bears allowed only seven more shots the rest of the way, with most of those coming in the final moments, and Kundratek added an empty-net goal at 17:53 to put the game out of reach for the visitors.


Holtby’s shutout was his 12th as a Bear and fell just short of his shutout best performance (38 saves at Wilkes/Barre Scranton on October 9, 2009).

Holtby was seeing only his second game action of the young season after starting and being injured in the Bears’ season opening loss in Syracuse (28 saves, 4 goals against).

T.J. Syner was recalled prior to the game from the Bears’ ECHL affiliate, the Reading Royals, before the game to take Sjogren’s spot in the lineup, while goaltender Philipp Grubauer was heading the other way on the Pennsylvania turnpike with Holtby’s return.

The Bears and Devils, who will meet a total of four times this season, don’t square off again until a December 29th meeting at Giant Center.

Ryan Potulny and Mattias Sjogren (injured in Friday night’s loss at Connecticut) were the injury scratches for the Bears, while Patrick McNeill (veteran), Julien Brouillette, Jonathon Kalinski, and Matt Clackson were the healthy scratches.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Bears Drop Home Opener 10.20.12

Saturday night was a historical night at Giant Center as the Hershey Bears and Rochester Americans, the American Hockey League’s eldest clubs, faced off to kick off the home portion of the Bears’ 75th season, and it was a historical name from the Bears’ past that turned a joyful beginning into a dismal 8-7 defeat.

Veteran Jeff Taffe gave the Bears a 1-0 lead by converting a nifty backhand pass from Garrett Mitchell at 7:57. Defenseman Cameron Schilling, who scored the game-winning goal on Friday night in Binghamton, picked up the secondary assist on the tally, which was his first professional assist.

“I saw Taffe, and he’s a guy that can finish. I knew if I put it in his wheelhouse, he would capitalize on the chance,” said Mitchell.

After the Amerks tied the game, Mitchell turned from playmaker into goal scorer and gave the Bears a 2-1 lead at 17:24 when he masterfully deflected Garrett Stafford’s salvo from the point past Rochester netminder David Leggio.

“I saw the puck coming through the bodies,” Mitchell explained. “I touched it, but it was pretty wide and I didn’t know it would come back on the net. It took a good bounce off the post, and I guess it found a way to go in.”

Despite the large size disadvantage that Mitchell (5’10” and 188 lbs.) faced against towering former Bear Joe Finley (6’8” and 249 lbs.), he made himself a thorn in the side of Finley for an entire shift in the first period by laying a couple of solid body belts on the blue-liner and credited that with playing a big role in his opening period performance where collected a multi-point effort, something he accomplished only twice last season.

“That’s kind of my role to create space and energy and finish my checks, and that’s what finishing your checks does. It puts you on the right side of the puck and when you do that good things happen.”

Mitchell's battle with Finley continued into the second period when Finley plastered him from behind, earning a minor penalty for boarding in the process. Finley's actions brought an immediate reaction from Patrick Wellar, a super-heavyweight of his own (6’3” and 231 lbs.). Wellar and Finley's fistic encounter saw Finley drop Wellar with a heavy blow and in a bout that started after the Wellar-Finley duel. Matt MacKenzie and Mitchell also dropped the mitts, with Mitchell earning a unanimous decision in that encounter.

Late in the first frame, referee David Banfield whistled Rochester defenseman off the ice on a cross-checking infraction, and the Bears capitalized on the game’s first manpower advantage. The unit, comprised of forwards Jon DiSalvatore, Ryan Stoa, and Taffe, along with rearguards Stafford and Tomas Kundratek, kept the puck in the Amerks zone for the entirety of the advantage. Kundratek ultimately put the puck behind David Leggio at 19:06 to give the Bears a 3-1 lead.

Early in the second, with the Bears already in the midst of their second power play, Brennan was once again banished to the penalty box by Banfield, which gave the home club a five-on-three advantage. They did not squander the opportunity and once again captured lightning in a bottle when DiSalvatore generated the goal that illuminated the red light behind Leggio at 1:56 to give the Bears a three goal cushion at 4-1.

Less than four minutes after the Bears took a 5-2 lead on Ryan Stoa’s power play goal, the Amerks started their comeback on a goal by Luke Adam, and then historical name from the past, Foligno, as in Marcus Foligno, son of former Bears’ coach Mile Foligno, who guided the club in their inaugural game at Giant Center on October 19, 2002 when they also squared of against the Amerks, took center stage.

Foligno, who scored 13 points in 14 games last season with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres in the show, scored his 4th goal of the season at 13:09, 35 seconds after Adam’s tally, and then finished off the stanza by assisting on Brennan’s power play goal at 17:42.

In the third period with the scored tied at 6, Foligno capped off a four point performance (2+2) when he gave the visitors a lead they would not relinquish by sliding a backhander under the glove of Bears’ netminder Dany Sabourin at 11:07.

Hershey/Rochester Series Notes:

Tonight’s meeting was the 445th between the eldest clubs in the AHL, and with the loss, the Bears now sport a record of 206-186-53 in those outings.

Tonight’s meeting was the 8th time in their history that the Bears have opened their season at home against the Amerks, and the teams are tied at four in those games and also squared away at two in the four battles staged at Giant Center.

While most Bears fans are fully aware that Cail MacLean scored the first goal in the October 19, 2002 contest and thus tallied the first goal in the history of The “GC”, it’s not as commonly known that Eric Bertrand (SHG) struck for the game-winning goal in that contest.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Crunch Clip Bears in Opener

By: John Sparenberg
The Hershey Bears kicked off their historic 75 anniversary season on the road on Saturday night in Syracuse against the Crunch and fell to their hosts, 4-3. 
After falling behind by a pair of goals early in the second period, the Bears tied the game at two later in the frame when Garrett Mitchell (SHG) and Barry Almeida rang up goals against ‘Cuse’s keeper of the crease, Riki Helenius.
However, the home club regained a lead they would never relinquish before the culmination of the stanza when Cory Conacher last year’s AHL Rookie of the Year with the Norfolk Admirals beat Bears netminder Braden Holtby at 18:44 with a turn-around wrist shot that emanated from between the faceoff circles. Conacher, who is also the league’s reigning MVP after his sparkling thirty-nine goal rookie campaign, incurred six of those markers at the expense of the Bears. 
In the final frame, the Crunch extended their lead to 4-2 when Brett Connolly capitalized on a 5-on-3 power play advantage at 5:02.  Just over eight minutes after Connolly’s caper, the Bears’ Jon DiSalvatore responded with his club’s first power play potting of the season. Despite getting another power play only seconds after DiSalvatore dented the twine, the Bears were unable to get the equalizing goal behind Helenius, who collected 23 saves to capture the win.
Hershey scratched defensemen Kevin Marshall, Julien Brouillette, and Patrick Wellar and forwards Zach Hamill, Matt Pope, and Matt Clackson.
The Bears continue their season-opening road swing on Friday night against the Binghamton Senators before opening the home portion of their season on Saturday night against the Rochester Americans at Giant Center and finish up the weekend on Sunday afternoon in the same venue against the