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.