The last game before the holiday break is nearly upon us and the Bears are looking to close things out on a strong note. It certainly has been a (surprisingly) difficult two nights, as the Chocolate and White allowed six goals in back-to-back games. The surprising part came on Friday night, as the injury-riddled Lehigh Valley Phantoms somehow found another way to get past the Bears. Not so surprising was how good the Toronto Marlies are. The Bears really played the Marlies well for the first half of the contest last night, but – as head coach Troy Mann alluded to in this morning’s interview – the goal that Toronto scored just 29 seconds into the second period was followed by a flat ten minutes of hockey that put the Marlies firmly in control.
Speaking of injury-riddled, enter the Syracuse Crunch. Due to a plethora of recalls – including one that just came down as I’m writing this – the top developmental affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning will make their first visit of the season to Chocolatetown with the bare minimum roster – two goaltenders and 18 skaters, nine of which are defensemen. There were 10 forwards until it was announced at 11:45 AM that center Tanner Richard was recalled by Tampa Bay.
Remember that quote I wrote on Friday?
“It doesn’t matter who you play. It’s how you play.”
The Syracuse Crunch have won their last eight games against the Bears – eight – a stretch that spans parts of two full seasons. The Bears’ last win did come at GIANT Center, a 3-2 victory on January 25, 2014 – and the Den will be the host location of the next two games in the season series, tonight and nine nights from now.
In the last five Syracuse victories, Andrei Vasilevskiy was the goaltender. He is a perfect 5-0-0 against Hershey, but played on Friday in a 4-0 win over Binghamton and last night in a 3-0 loss against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, both in Syracuse. Nothing says a goalie can’t play a three-in-three and he was on the ice this morning at GIANT Center, taking shots from assistant coach Trent Cull while being recorded. Adam Wilcox is the other Crunch netminder on the roster, a college teammate of Travis Boyd at the University of Minnesota who has gone 2-3-3 in eight appearances this AHL season.
A few personnel notes from last night’s game on the Hershey side. We will have an update on Chris Bourque’s availability in tonight’s pre-game show on radio. Mann said that if Bourque is rested tonight it will be a huge factor in getting him back as quickly as possible, and will also be a chance for other players to step up their games in his absence. More on that later.
Defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer figures to rest up tonight as well, after absorbing a shot during Friday night’s warmup skate in Lehigh Valley. Mann is a big advocate of Burgdoerfer and how could you not be? He has probably been the Bears’ steadiest blueliner since getting a permanent role on this team.
As for the pre-game pomp and circumstance, I love this night every year. Four historic Hershey Bears fixtures will enter the Hockey Club’s Hall of Fame in a ceremony that, each of the past three years, has been emceed by the legendary voice of the NHL, Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick. Roger DeJordy, Howie Yanosik and Larry “The Rock” Zeidel will go in as players, and William “Scotty” Alexander will go in under the general category.
I would expect the face-off to take place at around 5:15 PM. Be in your seats if at all possible by 4:50 to catch this wonderful presentation.
One-day Hersheypark passes and commemorative Hall of Fame wrapped chocolate bars will be distributed to all fans in attendance. The Bears are wearing the AHL 80th anniversary jerseys, which will be auctioned off live following the game.
Here is a link to the game notes for tonight’s game, which is just about sold out. I’m looking forward to a crowd of nearly 11,000… let’s get behind the boys tonight!