*NEW – NoVa Caps Three Stars of the Week – This week’s spotlight in Hershey is shining brightest on a first-time NHL goal scorer, a player returning to the ice after missing 35 games due to injury, and a steady-as-he-goes forward who has perhaps been a bit underrated (no AHL All-Star nod) all season and just keeps getting it done.
First Star – Zach Sanford – 2G,0A (1 game)
How do you cap a night in which you score your first NHL goal? Head to the airport with your teammates who are heading somewhere nice and warm for the bye week and – get on a plane to Bridgeport? Such is the life of this week’s Number 1 star, Zach Sanford.
With the Capitals on the bye week and Sanford in the lineup for their final game before break, rumor had it that Sanford would return to Hershey so that he could continue to play hockey. Perhaps only Sanford could have dreamed up the 24 hours that followed the start of the game Saturday night in Washington through the end of the Bridgeport game Sunday.
After delighting the Verizon Center crowd and his teammates by notching his first career NHL goal, Sanford jetted off to Bridgeport and rejoined the Bears just before their Saturday afternoon game in snowy Connecticut. Game and travel weary? Not Sanford – he scored a pair of goals for the Bears, who came up just short against the Sound Tigers.
After the game, Sanford was scheduled to hop back on a flight to Washington to pick up his car and drive back to Hershey for a week of practices with the Bears.
Second Star – Riley Barber – 3 G,0A in 2 games
Equally impressive was the return of Riley Barber who had missed 35 games this season due to an injury. Barber made his return Saturday night at Giant Center, nearly scoring within the first few minutes of the game.
While that shot, which was reviewed, did not cross the goalline, Barber did get an empty-netter late in the game. He raced down the ice to beat an icing call, collected the puck behind the net, and wrapped the puck around the goalpost much to the delight of the sellout crowd at Giant Center.
On Sunday he looked just as impressive, notching a pair of power play goals in Bridgeport. Like Sanford, he came up just short of a hat trick, recording just his 6th and 7th goals of the season, but he’s rapidly making up for lost time.
On the ice with O’Brien and Boyd, Barber made his presence felt as he was on the giving end of quite a few checks, and why not when Liam O’Brien just happens to be a linemate and would certainly step in if anyone took undue offense?
With fellow forwards Nathan Walker and Dustin Gazley still out due to injury, Barber’s return seemed to provide some spark this weekend.
Third Star – Paul Carey – 2 goals, 1 assist
Paul Carey, who had one of the longest point-scoring streaks in Bears history (and the longest so far this season in the AHL with 22 points in 19 consecutive games), doesn’t always attract the attention that others do, but he certainly can get things done on the offensive end. He’s a familiar face in Washington, having been recalled by the Capitals this season as well. Yet when it came time for the AHL All-Star teams to be announced, Carey’s name was not on it for the Atlantic Division. Full disclosure – the Atlantic Division is stacked with talented players on some very tough teams.
This weekend, Carey was, well, Carey. He is the only one of this week’s stars to play in all three games, so is the only one with points against the Atlantic Division leader, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
In Friday’s game, Carey opened the scoring with his 15th goal of the season on the power play. While it wasn’t enough to help his team to victory (the Bears eventually lost in OT), having Carey on the ice with goal scorers Chris Bourque and Christian Thomas on the man-advantage has certainly helped Carey offensively this season.
Saturday night, Carey was the recipient of some terrific passing from linemates Brad Malone and Stan Galiev. The three worked deep in the zone and were able log the game-winning goal late in the second period. Carey secured a point in all three games this week with the addition of an assist on Barber’s first goal in Bridgeport Sunday.
With Hershey on the road for three straight, all-important Atlantic Division games this weekend, hopefully Hershey’s brightest shine even more as the Bears sit in 5th place, one spot outside of the playoffs.
By Julie Beidler