The phenomenon of athletes under pressure, often in the waning moments of a game, to summon strength, concentration and whatever it takes to succeed and change the outcome of the game. That’s what clutch is in sports. Rookie center Connor McMichael has fit that description this season for the Hershey Bears.
McMichael’s clutch play was on full display against the Binghamton Devils this past Sunday, The Bears were peppering Binghamton goalie Evan Cormier, registering over forty shots on goal. Yet Hershey found themselves down, 2-1, late in the third period.
The Bears pulled their goalie and seemingly tied the game with 1:13 left in regulation. However, the goal was correctly waived off because Joe Snively knocked the puck in with a high stick.
At this point, it would have been easy for Hershey to think that it just wasn’t their game. That was not the case. McMichael was there to pick up his team.
Garrett Pilon took the puck strong to the net. Cormier made a pad save, but the puck squirted out in front of the net. McMichael found the loose biscuit and lifted it high into the net to even the score at two with 54 seconds remaining.
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With time running out in overtime, McMichael tallied once again. After making a save, Bears’ goalie Zach Fucale elected to keep the play going and sent a pass up to McMichael. The Ajax, Ontario native sped into the offensive end and took a shot that was stopped by the right pad of Cormier. The rebound ricocheted right out to Bears forward Garrett Pilon, who quickly slid a pass to McMichael in the center of the ice. McMichael wristed his shot past Cormier as time expired to give the Bears a thrilling 3-2 victory.
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The overtime winner against Binghamton was McMichael’s latest game-winning goal. He netted the first game-winner of the season for Hershey in their second game with his third-period power play marker being the difference in a 2-1 road win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
McMichael also victimized the Penguins for another winning goal on February 20. He stole the puck at the blue line of the defensive zone. The Washington Capitals’ 2019 first round pick then came in on a breakaway. McMichael roofed his shot to the glove side of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goalie Max Lagace. The goal, McMichael’s second of the game, gave the Bears a 2-1 lead in the second period.
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He would seal the win and his first professional hat trick with an empty net goal.
On the season, McMichael leads Hershey in goals with six and game-winning goals with three. Half of McMichael’s goals have been game-deciders. His three game-winning goals ties him for the most in the American Hockey League. The 20-year-old has what Hershey head coach Spencer Carbery calls the “clutch gene.”
In his post-game press conference following McMichael’s latest game-winner, Carbery said, “He’s just right place, right time, big moments, Connor McMichael.” He added, “When it continues to happen for a certain player, it’s for a reason. You can tell he has that clutch gene in him. When the game’s on the line, he wants to be out there. He believes he is going to get the job done or he’s going to score the big goal or make the big play. That’s a special quality.”
A player has to be on the ice in pressure situations to be clutch. That is position that McMichael has always been put in. “Growing up, I’ve always been a guy coaches put me out there trying to tie a game,” McMichael said post-game following is overtime winner against Binghamton. “Any time you can do that for a team, it feels amazing.”
McMichael is still being put on the ice at the end of games in pressure situations and the Bears are reaping the benefits of his “clutch gene.” He has tallied the game-winner in every game he has scored a goal in and also has an assist on another Hershey game-winning goal.
The Bears have nine game-winning goals this season and McMichael has been involved in four of them. Right place, right time, big moments, Connor McMichael. Or more accurately, Clutch McMichael.
By Eric Lord