It’s a difficult decision deciding on the biggest story in Hershey these days.
- The Bears have won their last 6 games.
- They have scored points in their last 12 games.
- Hershey exploded for 17 goals in three games this weekend.
- Riley Barber, coming off a hat trick last weekend, scores a pair of goals on his birthday in a 6-point weekend.
- Fellow rookie Travis Boyd nets his first professional hat trick Saturday.
- The Bears are now 2nd in the Atlantic Division.
- They won their 6th straight game on Super Bowl Sunday.
- 9, count them – 9, Bears recorded multi-point weekends
Whichever story is the biggest cannot diminish what the Bears have accomplished and sends a very scary message to the rest of the league – this team is coming into their own with a (nearly) full lineup for the first time this season.
With Chandler Stephenson and Jakub Vrana back from injury and the addition of Scott Gomez in January, the evolution of Troy Mann’s hockey club into the legitimate threat Mann and his staff knew they could be is apparent.
And they are making it difficult to name only three stars.
Friday night in Binghamton, ten different players made their way to the score sheet with goals from Riley Barber, Jakub Vrana, Sean Collins, Carter Camper, Scott Gomez, and Chandler Stephenson all netting goals in the second period leading to a goaltending change for the Senators in the third period.
Barber’s goal was assisted by linemates Nathan Walker and Gomez. That line has produced three goals on the weekend and had caught Mann’s attention.
“Gomez is obviously such a great playmaker and you can see with his vision,” Mann said explaining why the coaching staff put speedsters Barber and Walker onto the line with the veteran.
Barber’s assessment is slightly different, but the end result is the same. He said, “I think as a line, me and Walker have a lot of speed and get in and create turnovers and he kind of slows the game down and makes plays that only Scott Gomez can make, so it’s a lot of fun.”
And it’s not just Gomez’s line that is cashing in on the fun either.
Vrana, who along with Bourque turned in a team-best seven-point weekend, scored his first goal of the weekend 1:20 later. After a nearly six-minute scoring lull, Hershey netted four goals in 5:02.
First was Collins at 10:01 with Travis Boyd and Chris Bourque getting assists. Then Camper’s, assisted by Vrana and Gazley, came at 12:30. Gomez got his second of the season with assists to Barber and Walker, and Stephenson then scored an unassisted, shorthanded goal at 15:03 to finish off the scoring for Hershey.
The Bears then cruised home to a 6-2 victory as Binghamton was able to get two goals on Ellis in the third.
With that victory in hand, the Bears returned home to Giant Center Saturday to host Lehigh Valley and Travis Boyd became the second Hershey rookie in a week’s time to score his first professional hat trick with a command performance.
Boyd opened the scoring on the Power Play when Vrana passed the puck to Bourque who faked a shot and slid a pass over to Boyd who beat LaBarbera for a 1-0 lead.
Bourque then scored a goal of his own after Joey Leech passed the puck to Stephenson for the 2-on-1.
Travis Boyd made it 3-0 Hershey with his second Power Play goal of the evening and Vrana added a goal through lots of traffic before the Phantoms got on the board.
Boyd’s third goal, and the final goal of the game, came at 16:48 in the second when he tipped in a shot from Erik Burgdoerfer for the 5-1 victory.
With 11 goals and two wins already on the weekend, Hershey hosted Binghamton in the only game on Super Bowl Sunday. And it just so happened that Barber and Walker were celebrating their 22nd birthdays.
So in a weekend of story lines, another victory took shape as both birthday boys scored goals en route to a 6-1 victory that saw the Bears score on 4 of 11 Power Play opportunities, including two goals in 5-on-3 situations.
The night started with Lepine and Liam O’Brien dropping the gloves on the opening faceoff. The penalties, which were assessed at 0:02, did not go into the record books though as the fastest penalty ever was a second faster. Those two penalties were the first of 20 penalties on the evening amounting to 52 minutes of lost ice time between the two teams.
It didn’t take long for the first goal either. Joey Leech sent the puck to Vrana who skated down the right side and sent a backhander past O’Connor at 3:36 for the 1-0 lead.
After Binghamton evened the game on a late Power Play goal, Hershey went on a scoring spree, netting four straight PP goals after a meltdown of sorts by Binghamton that set up two 5-on-3 goals that stretched into the third period.
First Christian Djoos scored on the man-advantage when Stephenson sent a pass through the goal crease from behind the goal line.
Less than seven minutes later, Barber tipped in shot from Bourque to make it 3-1 Hershey. He got his second of the period on a 5-on-3 when O’Connor could not control the rebound on a shot from Bourque.
By this time, the penalty box for Binghamton was looking more like the bench as as many as four Senators were serving time for infractions. Mann said, “ I thought there was a little bit of stupidity there in the second period. They lead the league in penalty minutes and you can’t be undisciplined like that
and win hockey games.”
Mann made sure he told his troops not to lose their composure as well, and the Bears heeded their coach’s advice and once again made Binghamton pay.
Gomez passed the puck to Bourque at the point, and the left-wing sent it back for a Gomez one-timer that beat O’Connor for the 5-1 Hershey lead.
The final goal of the evening was Walker’s. Gomez passed the puck to the speedy left-wing whose shot initially appeared to be stopped, but trickled by O’Connor for the eventual 6-1 victory.
Gomez got helpers for both birthday Bears with the other assist on Walker’s going to Barber.
After the game, Barber spoke about playing with Gomez and his 21st and 22nd birthdays.
“I grew up watching him (Gomez) so it’s awesome to be able to play with him and just capitalizing on some chances,” said Barber who was then asked if this was his most memorable birthday.
“It’s up there for sure. I got to celebrate my birthday last year playing outdoors at Soldier Field, so that’s up there, but this is memorable too for sure,” he said.
And this on the heels of his first professional hat trick last Saturday just goes to show that it is a pretty memorable time right now in Hershey.
For the weekend, the Power Play was 6 for 15 while the Penalty Kill went 10 for 11.
Wednesday the Bears will host Bridgeport in a game that was originally to be played January 24. They will then head to Providence Friday and Springfield Saturday.
Weekly Prospect and Two-Way Contract Players Report
Dan Ellis – 2-0 – 42 saves on 45 shots
Justin Peters – 1-0 – 26 saves on 27 shots
Dustin Gazley – day-to-day (lower body) Feb. 5, 2016
Tyler Lewington – Week-to-week
Weekly Stars Report (opponent)
1. Vrana (Fri.), Boyd (LV), Barber (Sun.)
2. Camper (Fri.), Vrana (LV), Vrana (Sun.)
3. Ellis (Fri.), Bourque (LV), Bourque (Sun.)
Bears in the Top 20
Bourque – 1st in points (51), 2nd in goals (21),
2nd in assists (30), 7th in PP Assists
Carrick – 12th in +/-
Ness – 15th in +/-
Walker – 19th in +/-
Boyd – 4th in Rookie scoring (33 points)
Barber – 6th in Rookie scoring (31 points)
Ellis – 11th GAA (2.45), 9th in wins (16), 11th in shutouts (3), 12th in minutes (1516)
Peters – 19th in minutes (1403), 20th in saves (628)
Both Burgdoerfer and Gazley are AHL-only contract players. Scott Gomez was signed to a PTO on January 15.
By Julie Beidler