Greetings from the bus, where the gang is resting and getting ready for the last visit of the regular season to Allentown. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms and their PPL Center faithful are preparing to welcome the Bears, who are looking to get back on track after a pair of weekend setbacks against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Neither in-state rival has been a walkover this season for Hershey – and that shouldn’t surprise anyone. No matter how strong of a lineup that either team might field, the clubs in the opposing uniforms have played the Bears very well. And just how well has Lehigh Valley played? The Bears need to win the last two games of the regular-season series just to earn a split.
Funny thing is, the Bears have just two regulation losses against the Phantoms – but Lehigh Valley officially is 6-4-0-0 against the Bears. The first sentence sounds and looks better.
Our old friends haven’t been faring too well lately, entering tonight’s game having dropped seven in a row. Taking this game for granted would be a big mistake, though. The Phantoms have a winning record against just three teams. Two of them are the second-place Bears and third-place Providence Bruins. Frustrating for the two teams battling for playoff positioning, and enjoyable for the team looking to play the spoiler role.
Here is my video posted earlier today, “Roaring on the Road”, which outlines the last few meetings between the rivals and the week that lies ahead for the Bears:
A lot has been made today about the recall of goaltender Mark Dekanich from the South Carolina Stingrays. Many people have been deciphering head coach Troy Mann’s Sunday evening press conference in their own ways. Mann said that Dan Ellis has been dealing with ever-lengthening recovery times from dehydration (and I touched on that with him today, which you can hear during tonight’s pre-game show), so Dekanich was summoned to have that extra body around.
For the record, Ellis is fine. He is getting the start tonight for Hershey against the Phantoms, and has not lost in regulation against them (2-0-3). Justin Peters will serve as backup. Dekanich practiced with the Bears at morning skate today, and went to join those not making this trip for a post-practice workout. He is thoroughly thrilled to be here, and in the few minutes I had to chat with him, brought me up to speed on how well the Stingrays have been playing. The modest backstop is a big reason for that excellent play. He said that Vitek Vanecek has progressed so well with his English that he is “joking around with the boys and even chirps in English”.
Mann and I talked about the goaltending plan for the week ahead as well, which you can also catch on tonight’s pre-game show.
The other portion of tonight’s game that bears watching (no pun intended) is the AHL debut of defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler. Donning Connor Carrick’s old number 25, Siegenthaler has earned the right to play tonight per Mann, who also felt that “changes needed to be made” after last weekend’s set of games against the Penguins.
I watched him at practice yesterday and he is just as advertised. He is a big guy (6-3, 220) who can skate very well for his size. Mann said that he uses his stick very well and obviously will only need to adjust to the smaller ice surfaces here compared to the Swiss-A league from which he came.
The only negative that I could find regarding Siegenthaler? I have to write his name down next to Erik Burgdoerfer, as the two will play as the third defense pair.
Lehigh Valley has Mark Alt and Sam Morin. Hershey has Jonas Siegenthaler and Erik Burgdoerfer.
In the immortal words of former head coach Bruce Boudreau (and I’ll never forget this one when a colleague of mine once asked him how to pronounce a few of his players):
“Ah, heck… they’re all Smith!”
Game notes are all set right here. Radio pre-game hits the air at 6:25. Matt Trust and I will talk to you soon.