By: Cassie Burgess for HersheyBears.com
Tonight in Worcester, Massachusetts, the Hershey Bears will face off in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. After concluding the season with a 5-1 victory over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on April 18th, the Bears have found themselves in a post-season battle of land and sea as they face-off against the seventh-seeded Worcester Sharks in round one. The Bears battled the Sharks four times (2-1-0-1) during the 2014-15 regular season.
Since claiming the East Division title and nabbing the second seed in the Eastern Conference with a final record of 46-22-5-3, the Bears will have to maintain a heavy forecheck and continue to block shots against a young, offensive team in the Sharks.
Although the Bears have not had a playoff game since losing to the Providence Bruins in the first round on May 8, 2013, the Sharks have not found themselves in a post-season matchup in four years. Additionally, this series against Hershey will be just the fourth Calder Cup playoff appearance for Worcester.
Concluding the regular season at 41-29-4-2, Worcester has found the majority of its firepower this year in its rookie players. Center Evan Trupp and forward Ryan Carpenter have combined for 74 points this year as four of the top 12 Sharks’ scorers are rookies this season.
With Tim Kennedy, Chris Conner and Casey Wellman peaking at 50+ points and each sitting at Hershey’s top three point rankings, the trio has had their own individual accomplishments this season. Conner tied his AHL single-season career high in goals with 19, while Wellman surpassed his career stats all-around with 25 goals and 29 assists for 54 points.
With goaltender Philipp Grubauer still on recall to the Washington Capitals, Pheonix Copley will sit between the pipes for Hershey in his first AHL post-season game after capping his rookie year with a record of 17-4-3, a goals-against-average of 2.17 and a save percentage of .925 in 26 games played. Copley’s lone appearance against the Sharks this year was a 5-4 loss on November 1st.
Worcester’s rookie goaltender Aaron Dell (2.06 GAA, .927 SV%) split the two games he tended net in versus Hershey, earning a loss on November 22nd but winning on April 1st. Troy Grosenick (2.63 GAA, .906 SV%) also split his record against the Bears losing the March 18th matchup while victorious in his appearance on November 1st. J.P. Anderson (2.17 GAA, .900 SV%) has yet to face the Chocolate and White.
There is a lot to look forward to in this matchup as both teams have notable strength and talent on their rosters. Because neither team has historically dominated the other, this round will ultimately come down to drive and who wants it more; making it a series with endless possibilities.
With that said, I have no doubt this post season is going to be one to remember.