HERSHEY, PA. — The Hershey Bears and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms will open the 2017-2018 season in Lehigh Valley Saturday. The two in-state rivals last squared off in a rather contentious five-game opening round series in the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs, which Hershey won three games to two.
The Bears looked rather impressive in their two preseason games against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. On the road in Wilkes-Barre, Hershey emerged with a masterful 5-1 victory. Both Dustin Gazley (2G, 1A) and Mathias Bau (3A) recorded three points in the lopsided game.
However, Saturday’s rematch in Hershey was a bit different. Hershey was whistled for numerous penalties, something Troy Mann most definitely addressed, and fell 3-2 in overtime. Adam Carlson and Parker Milner split time in net for Hershey while the Penguins had one of their regulars, Casey DeSmith, in goal.
The Phantoms dropped both of their preseason matchups with the Charlotte Checkers, a new addition to the Atlantic Division for this season. On Friday night, they fell 8-1 in Allentown. Then Saturday, they fell 5-2.
Forwards – This one is a toss-up. With Chandler Stephenson and Travis Boyd back on Hershey’s line-up, the advantage could lean in Hershey’s favor. Additionally, Dustin Gazley and Mathias Bau turned in impressive preseason performances. But balance could be an issue for the Bears who will need to have four cohesive forward lines. Lehigh Valley has the firepower back in their line-up, but the Phantoms struggled mightily against the Charlotte Checkers in their preseason match-ups.
Defense – Normally three rookies on defense is not a coach’s dream, but in Hershey, Troy Mann and his staff seem to have a knack for making it work. Look no further than two seasons ago when Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos, and Tyler Lewington helped propel the team to the Calder Cup Finals. This season, the Bears have another crop of super-talented rookies in Connor Hobbs, Lucas Johansen, and Kristofers Bindulis. Scoring-wise, Hobbs is the most talented of the three, Johansen and Bindulis have proven they too can add offensive firepower. Charlotte exploited some major weaknesses in the Phantoms, but with additional players arriving from Philadelphia and a week in between, it remains to be seen if Lehigh Valley has done enough to try to turn the tables in their favor.
The Goalies – Expect Parker Milner in net for Hershey and Alex Lyon for Lehigh Valley.
- Milner will get the nod as both Phoenix Copley and Vitek Vanecek are reported to have minor lower body injuries. Milner appeared in five games last year for the Bears, going 3-2. With Phoenix Copley’s arrival, he was sent to South Carolina where he led the Stingrays to the Kelly Cup Finals.
- Lyon was 27-14-5 last season and handled a majority of the workload for the Phantoms. He allowed 124 goals on 1,410 shots. Lyon went 5-6 against the Bears last season including two losses in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Four of the games were tied at the end of regulation with the Phantoms winning the first in OT, the second in a shootout, and Hershey winning the final two in OT.
Special Teams – Hershey’s ability to accumulate up penalty minutes in the preseason is alarming. Expect Hershey’s veterans to step up and help the young guys understand that Mann is not a fan of having guys in the box. Spots on both the PK and PP are up for grabs. How long it takes to get two cohesive units is unknown, but if they get rolling early, this could be a very dangerous team. Chris Bourque’s ability to put the puck in the net on the PP cannot be discounted.
The Prediction – If Hershey can limit the penalties and the young defenders mesh well with the veterans, this one should go to Hershey. But the Bears need to find their footing on the offensive end. With Travis Boyd and Chandler Stephenson back on the roster, it should help, as should Copley’s return to the crease. But, it’s Lehigh Valley’s home opener, and adrenalin and luck always play a role.
By Julie Beidler