Sean Collins and Carter Camper battle at the crease of Jason LaBarbera in Friday night’s win at Lehigh Valley. Photo courtesy JustSports Photography.
Greetings from the GC!
Well, the Hershey Bears are winners of two straight on the road and have produced points in four consecutive games (3-0-0-1) thanks to a big 4-2 win at PPL center last night.
This team is getting contributions from throughout the lineup, and is coming together at a really nice time. The defensemen are playing more physical and are shooting the puck more, finding lanes to get those shots through; the third and fourth lines are seeing their ice time increase as they are deployed after a goal for; goaltending is no issue; puck support has come a long way; players are responding when challenged by the coaches; and team defense is becoming more and more evident throughout games rather than in spurts.
Take last night for example. Dan Ellis, although seeing only 22 shots (team defense – check) was stellar. His best save came on a breakaway that was barely a shorthanded chance as Hershey saw a power play expiring, but is glove came out and robbed Kevin Goumas’ opportunity (goaltending – check).
Nathan Walker has goals in back-to-back games and is feeling his confidence soar after every shift. He scored the go-ahead goal and immediately took the ensuing center-ice faceoff (third & fourth lines shifts increasing – check).
Ryan Stanton is making plays in all ends of the ice. He placed a big hit (defensemen playing more physically – check) on forward Aaron Palushaj – who scored the game’s opening goal – and forced the puck to Connor Carrick, who in turn sprung Walker for that goal. He later stopped a rim-around clearing bid by the Phantoms and in a second swift motion fired a shot toward the net (defensemen shooting more – check) that Carter Camper tipped home for the eventual game-winner.
The Gazley-Walker-Barber and O’Brien-Sill-Mitchell lines were really good last night at cycling the puck offensively, but also protected the puck well in defensive zone coverage. One of these forwards was always there to help out their defense when Lehigh Valley ramped up their forecheck (puck support – check) and the players also made that first pass with a good decision.
Camper and Sean Collins were two forwards that Troy Mann challenged to produce. You don’t need to vocalize that much at all with these two players. Camper was money last night, getting to the slot area as well as using his vision to create scoring chances. Collins, as good as he is along the boards, was even better in the same areas that Camper was going to. His stick work was perfect, forcing a turnover right in front of the Phantoms’ net that Camper grabbed and fed to Stan Galiev for that classic blast of a slapper (players responding – check).
All in all, as I said earlier, that was a total team effort victory. Here are the goal calls from the radio broadcast:
Tonight, the Bears are back home to reacquaint themselves with the St. John’s IceCaps. Last Saturday, the visitors were leading the North Division and played an opening half that mirrored last season’s Calder Cup champion Manchester Monarchs. There was not much room on the ice at all; the IceCaps came at the Bears and dictated the pace; and they deflated the bench demeanor, much to the dislike of coach Mann, when they grabbed 1-0 and 2-0 leads. The response that the Bears brought, however, was nothing short of incredible – and it might explain where the IceCaps are right now as this rematch looms at 7:00 PM.
At the time of this writing, St. John’s is still in Wilkes-Barre Township. The team had their skate at 11:15 AM at Mohegan Sun Arena and will bus here for a 4:45 PM arrival, rather than traveling to Hershey after last night’s game up I-81. It was not a good stay in northeastern PA for the IceCaps as the club lost games of 5-2 on Wednesday and 4-1 last night.
When the IceCaps arrive, they will be here to finish up 11 days away from Newfoundland and Labrador. (The San Antonio Rampage, who vacate the AT&T Center mid-season for much longer periods of time due to their annual “Rodeo Road Trip”, probably scoff at 11 days.) But that’s a long time to be on the road. Think of packing a bag for that long. By the way, the IceCaps haven’t left Pennsylvania. The trip began one week ago Wednesday, a game in which the team lost 5-1 at Lehigh Valley. They responded with a 3-2 win last Friday at PPL Center and came to GIANT Center with all the momentum.
Fast forward to last Saturday’s second period.
The Bears scored four unanswered goals to win 4-2. Then the IceCaps allowed nine more over their last two games, and helped the Penguins to wins number seven and eight in a row.
And now they are here. Is this one of those proverbial “trap games”, in which the winning team might feel too good about itself? Probably not. But it is one that Mann says will allow the Bears to come out firing this time and catch the IceCaps down from these last two contests.
A former Capitals/Bears signing is back with St. John’s as well. Goaltender Eddie Pasquale has recovered from multiple surgeries that kept him out of action all last season, and was summoned from the ECHL’s Brampton Beast this week. The “original IceCap” has appeared in the last two games, but started and lost last night’s 4-1 decision. Zach Fucale, the talented rookie who looked good last Saturday, was chased on Wednesday. Dustin Tokarski was recalled by Montreal to make room for Pasquale. Head coach Sylvain Lefebvre has some decision to make in choosing his netminder carefully – one that will face a Hershey squad that has scored four goals in each of its last four games, and one that has struck for nine third-period goals in those four games.
Justin Peters will start for the Bears, that’s for certain, continuing the goaltender rotation for another week. The only downfall to that, for me, is that neither Peters nor Ellis could run away with the team (or eventual league) lead in wins. (I just love to get our players nominated for league honors, and that one statistically will be really tough if this continues.) Both have three entering tonight and have done a tremendous job in backstopping the Bears over the last several games.
Click here for tonight’s game notes.
Connor Carrick will be Frank’s on-ice interview guest during pre-game warmups. You can catch the broadcast beginning at 6:20 on WQIC-FM 100.1, WTKT-AM 1460, WOYK-AM 1350, via iHeartRadio (Fox Sports 1460), online at FoxSports1460.com or AHL Live. If you are at the game, listen live on your radio at 88.9 FM.
Face-off is at 7:00. Here’s hoping for a big finish to a great week so far.