Vanecek Vital to Hershey’s Run

Vitek watermarkedIf the Hershey Bears are going to win an unprecedented 12th Calder Cup, they just might be doing so on the shoulders of the 2009-2010 Jack A. Butterfield Trophy winner and a rookie netminder, and that’s no cause for alarm anywhere in the organization whatsoever.

Rookie Vitek Vanecek entered Game 4 with 41 seconds to play in the second period when Pheonix Copley fell to the ice awkwardly. The goaltender immediately tossed his blocker and removed his facemask, pounding his fist on the ice in pain and frustration. Providence used that opportunity to score a goal that would stand, giving them the 2-1 lead.

Vanecek, who recorded his 5th shutout of the season on April 15 at Giant Center against the Providence Bruins, would shut them down the remainder of the way, but Hershey was unable to score to tie the game. Say what you will about that April 15th performance. Yes, the P-Bruins sat some of their better players since the game was only determining 3rd vs. 4th place in the Atlantic Division. The Bears sat some of their players as well and in the AHL scoring can come from just about anyone, so that shutout was EARNED!

With Copley out for Game 5, Vanecek got the start and, while it wasn’t a shutout, the 29-save performance was enough to give Hershey a 3-2 OT victory. The Bears are returning to Giant Center needing just one more win to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against either the Syracuse Crunch or the Toronto Marlies. And while Vanecek was working hard to lock down his net, his counterpart, Zane McIntyre, faced just 17 shots. The first of the three goals he allowed was scored by Chris Bourque, the 2009-2010 Butterfield Trophy winner. He then added an assist on Madison Bowey’s OT game winning goal putting him atop the AHL’s all-time playoff assist leader board.

Bourque’s numbers in the regular season dropped off from last year, but that’s really more of a testament to the other players on the team than anything derogatory towards him. In all, 33 players or former players scored at least a point during the regular season with four of them over 50 points. Christian Thomas was one point away from being the 5th.

It shouldn’t really shock anyone in the hockey world to see Bourque’s name atop the team’s scoring so far this post-season. He’s leading the way with five goals which is second in the league. His total of eight points has him 8th in scoring and he has Christian Djoos and Stanislav Galiev just one point behind him.

C Bourque

So the balanced scoring, even with the low shot total, along with confidence in the back-up, rookie goaltender has led to no panic in the Hershey locker room. Let’s face it, this team has faced adversity and injuries all season without anxiety, so why should the playoffs be different?

Updates on Copley (lower body injury) aren’t likely before tomorrow night’s Game 6 at Giant Center. Jakub Vrana (upper body injury) could return tomorrow night, but Colby Williams (upper body) was ruled out for this series by Mann earlier.

By Julie Beidler

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