Being placed on fourth-line duty often doesn’t sit well with some players. Minutes become tight, and are counted down faster than international calling card minutes that you bought because you don’t have a U.S. cell phone turned on in Canada.
But Ryan Stoa made the best of his spot on fourth line wing on Friday night. He, along with Matt Pope and Mattias Sjogren (who played his first game since 1/13 vs. Connecticut) earned some significant minutes in the game’s early going. Stoa then got some power play time on the second unit, and made the most of his chances. The Minnesota native scored two first-period power play markers to pace the BEARS offense in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs. Hamilton native Peter LeBlanc and former Bulldogs blueliner Garrett Stafford both set up the twin tallies by Stoa.
In my humble opinion – take it for what it’s worth, if you weren’t watching the game – this was, and should have been, a 4-1 or 5-1 HERSHEY victory. You’ll eventually see the highlights in the AHL Live archives of an adventurous game, to say the least, for Bulldogs backstop Robert Mayer. Coming off of back-to-back wins, and with newcomer Dustin Tokarski not ready to be inserted for his Hamilton debut, Bulldogs coach Sylvain Lefebvre opted to run with Mayer. For the first 45 minutes of this game, Mayer fought the puck, gave up rebounds, turned the puck over three times that gave the BEARS scoring chances, and had the post hit behind him three times – twice while nonchalantly waving at long shots.
Giving credit where it is due, however, Mayer made what I felt was the save of the night in the second period, when he turned aside a wide-open Ryan Potulny with a lunging blocker save. He stopped 11 other shots sent by the BEARS in a second-period barrage, stopped the five shots the BEARS fired in overtime, and forced Garrett Mitchell to lose control of the puck in the deciding fifth round of the shootout.
I said three times in the game that the 2-1 lead wasn’t going to be enough to pick up two points. You had to have gotten that feeling if you tuned in tonight. Mayer was getting lucky – and the BEARS were doing everything but scoring.
Terry Koharski, who officiated the first meeting between the two teams on December 8, did a great job of letting the boys play in a game that became more physical as it went on. But, as it turned out, despite only having a combined five power plays in the contest, special teams was again key. The BEARS (Stoa, anyway) capitalized on both of their chances against the league’s best home penatly-killing unit. Hamilton had allowed just six power play goals all season at Copps Coliseum. The top home unit, which is also the league’s worst on the road (check out theahl.com if you don’t believe me on that one), had a completely negative turn of fortune tonight. But Louis Leblanc’s goal at 6:30 of the third also came on a power play, and allowed the Bulldogs to get to the shootout and win the game.
I thought Garrett Stafford and Cameron Schilling were excellent on defense together tonight – possibly Stafford’s best game of the season – something he deserves for the tough times he’s had lately, especially on home ice.
A few numbers to ponder:
2: The number of shots goaltender Philipp Grubauer took off the face mask on Friday. Not only did Evan Barlow catch him at morning skate accidentally, but so did one of the Bulldogs in the first period tonight. The number is also, roughly, Grubauer’s goals-against average (2.01) after nine appearances, and the number of back-to-back games with a BEARS player scoring two goals.
3: The number of LeBlanc’s on the roster tonight (HERSHEY’s Peter, Hamilton forward Louis, Hamilton head trainer Luc).
3 1/2: The number of buses of Booster Club members who made the trip to cheer on the BEARS.
12: The number of games in between points for Garrett Stafford. His last point, before tonight’s two, came on December 15 vs. Worcester.
29: The number of one-goal games played by the BEARS this season – 2nd in the AHL only to Houston’s 30.
35: The number of tickets taken up by Peter LeBlanc’s family and friends.
53: The percentage of BEARS games that have gone beyond regulation since the New Year (nine out of 17 total). Four of the past five games have required more than 60 minutes.
58 1/2: The number of months since the BEARS last defeated Hamilton in the regular season (Chris Bourque scored four goals in the BEARS’ 5-2 win at GIANT Center on March 29, 2008).
Game recap is here. With faceoff at 3:00 PM Saturday against the Toronto Marlies, there is no morning skate nor meeting. I will have the preview posted upon our arrival at 1:00 PM.