Additionally, it was announced that both Garrett Mitchell and Jakub Vrana were progressing quicker than anticipated, with Ness being photographed on the ice Thursday. Jakub Vrana also returned to skating. (Carrick was re-assigned to Hershey on Tuesday, December 22nd).
But Friday and Saturday were stolen by the Grinch or Lehigh Valley and Toronto. The Bears lost at Lehigh Valley 6-4 Friday night marking the first time they had given up 6 goals in regulation since the November 13 loss at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
In an eerie coincidence, the Bears also lost the Saturday game at home that weekend and did so December 19th in a 6-2 loss to Eastern Conference leading Toronto, but just like that weekend, the Bears bounced back on Sunday with a 5-4 victory at home over the Syracuse Crunch.
Following Saturday’s loss, Defenseman Aaron Ness said that the Bears would “come back with a good response game.” Early on though, it did not look as though his teammates were going to make good on that promise. Syracuse scored three times in the first period after a series of penalties on the Bears in the first half of the period.
The first call came when a linesman incorrectly thought that the Bears had too many men on the ice, a call that Troy Mann was still disputing in the postgame press conference. While Brown was serving that penalty, Ness got tagged for a delay of game, which Mann also disputed post-game, saying the officiating crew sent the wrong Bear to the box.
With a 5-on-3 advantage, the Crunch drew first blood in more ways than one. It was later stated that starting goalie Justin Peters sustained a lower-body injury on the play, but remained in net until the Crunch scored another two goals when Liam O’Brien, who had returned from a one-game suspension drew a major and game misconduct for a check from behind.
Peters then skated to the bench, and went down the tunnel with that undisclosed lower-body injury. Ellis, who had started against Toronto but was pulled in favor of Peters, came into the game and only allowed one goal the rest of the way to pick up the win after his teammates staged one of the most improbable comebacks in recent history.
Ryan Stanton and Chandler Stephenson got the Bears on the board in the second period as the Bears sent 21 shots to the goal in the period. Then in the third, Sean Collins and Christian Djoos would score, with the latter tying the game at 4 after a Toronto goal early in the third.
With the Bears going on the PowerPlay at the end of the third period, many expected the game to go Hershey’s way in regulation, but it took 25 seconds into an even-strength overtime for Collins to net his second of the night sending the Bears into the holiday break on a positive note, momentarily easing the sting of two 6-goal losses.
The first of those two losses came Friday night at Lehigh Valley where the Bears were outshot 36-25 by the Phantoms. Justin Peters absorbed the loss on a night where the Bears held an early 3-1 lead behind goals from Paul Carey, Carter Camper, and Chris Bourque before allowing five straight. The Bears got a late-game goal from Travis Boyd to pull within two, but the damage had already been done.
Liam O’Brien was sent to the locker room early in the second after a check to the head which led to a fight between O’Brien and Sam Morin of Lehigh Valley. The Bears would learn later that O’Brien would be suspended for Saturday night’s contest against Toronto, leading to Mann’s decision to go with 7 d-men. (Update: Caps prospect Liam O’Brien suspended 3 games by AHL for a check from behind – announced 12/23.)
With the league leaders on Giant Center ice, Ness scored his first goal of the year to give the Bears a 1-0 lead in the first period. But Toronto came roaring back, scoring four straight goals, leading to an early exit for Dan Ellis.
Also making an early exit from the ice were Erik Burgdoerfer and Tyler Lewington. Both defensemen were tagged with misconducts, which left the Bears short-handed, especially after a sandwich hit on Chris Bourque had the fan-favorite heading to the locker room with an upper-body injury.
Bourque, Burgdoerfer, who sustained an injury in warm-ups in Lehigh Valley, Vrana, and Mitchell all were injury scratches Sunday. Mann was not sure if there would be any recalls from South Carolina, especially with the status of Peters unknown post-game. He stated that the Bears would have a morning skate Saturday and that would determine some. Peters was planning to remain in Hershey and would be evaluated through the week. If he is not able to go, fans could get their first look at Vitek Vanecek, who the organization had hoped to allow to remain in the ECHL this season. Also available to the Bears is Mark Dekanich who is currently under contract with Hershey according to Eliteprospects.com. As of Wednesday morning, there was no word on any more possible sanctions to Liam O’Brien as a result of his misconduct penalty in Sunday’s game.
The Bears will continue a very busy December and their 7-game home stand with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Saturday, Binghamton Sunday, Syracuse Tuesday, and Lehigh Valley Thursday, in a New Year’s Eve 5:00 matinée.