Sometimes when you’ve been playing at such a high level of intensity for so long, you’re bound for a letdown. Unfortunately for the Hershey Bears, after a stellar stretch in March that propelled them back into a playoff position, the three losses this weekend have left them back in the dreaded 5th position in the Atlantic Division.
By virtue of the league’s playoff system, the team with the league’s 9th best record in arguably the most balanced division is in serious jeopardy of missing out on the postseason unless there is a small miracle. Hershey needs to win all five remaining games and get a bit of help to extend their season past April 15 thanks to losses at Hartford Friday, at home against Bridgeport Saturday, and at home against Lehigh Valley Sunday.
Friday’s trip to Hartford might not have posed a problem except that it was compounded by a return trip from St. John’s Monday, a day off Tuesday and the fact that Hartford is a totally different team since the trade deadline brought some quality players to town. Additionally, Hershey was without captain Garrett Mitchell who stayed behind to welcome the newest member of his family, his second daughter.
Hartford scored a goal in each quarter, including a power play/empty net goal in the third for the 3-0 victory Friday night. Hershey was unable to solve Magnus Hellberg even when the goaltender got out of position on several occasions. Meanwhile, Pheonix Copley allowed 2 goals on 26 shots in the losing effort for the Bears.
Needing to rebound, things went from bad to worse Saturday night for Hershey. Bridgeport jumped out to a 3-0 lead through the first and half of the second periods before Travis Boyd finally got Hershey on the board with a power play goal that was assisted by Chris Bourque and Christian Djoos.
The Sound Tigers then added another tally before Ryan Bourque scored his fourth of the season off of assists from Zach Sill and Mitchell. Eamon McAdam was solid in net for Bridgeport, but Copley was lifted in favor of Vitek Vanecek late in the second quarter. Vanecek stopped all nine shots he faced the remainder of the way.
With Lehigh Valley in town and Vanecek fresh off 21:07 of shut-out minutes, Mann opted to go back to Copley Sunday, but the results did not change as Lehigh Valley defeated the Bears 4-2 behind a hat trick from former Bear, Chris Conner.
Nathan Walker, who had moved to center out of necessity for several games, moved back to his natural position on the wing and scored Hershey’s first goal of the evening. He almost had a second as Hampus Gustafsson unleashed a shot from just inside the zone that bounced off of Walker’s stick and into the net, but the officiating crew deemed that Walker’s stick was above the height of the goal. In his post-game press conference, Mann said that even if he’d have used a challenge, it would not have changed the outcome of the call due to the officials simply watching a replay that would not have given a better view.
Had that counted, it would have tied the game as Jakub Vrana scored his 16th of the season just 1:50 after Walker’s goal that counted. But Hershey was unable to pull out a victory or force overtime and fell even further back of now 4th place Bridgeport in the standings.
The Bears travel to Lehigh Valley tonight before heading to Rochester Friday and Toronto Saturday. Their final two games will be the following Friday at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and then at home next Saturday against Providence.
*NEW – NovaCap Three Stars of the Week – Check back later this week for an article on
- Travis Boyd, 1G, 1A
- Vitek Vanecek – 9 saves on 9 shots in 21:07 Saturday
- Nathan Walker – 1G
|#||Name||Games played||Goals||Assists||+/-||Shots||Pen Min.|
Vitek Vanecek 0-0 – 9 saves on 9 shots in relief on Saturday
Pheonix Copley – 2-0 – 55 saves on 59 shots
THREE STARS of the GAME (opponent)
- R. Bourque (Bridgeport)
Domenic Monardo (upper body)
Aaron Ness (lower body)
DEL – Domenic Monardo – Returned on loan to South Carolina – April 3
ADD – Beck Malenstyn – Signed to ATO (2016 Capitals 5th Round Draft Pick) – April 4
DEL – Kris Bindulis – Released from ATO – April 4
Hershey’s Magic Number now sits at 14 with 5 games remaining
Springfield and Hartford are both eliminated
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has clinched a playoff berth
By Julie Beidler
— Beids (@juliebeidler) April 2, 2017