Photo: Charlotte Checkers
After closing out their regular season with a 6-4 victory over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on April 15, the Hershey Bears will commence with their quest for a 12th Calder Cup championship in the Atlantic Division semifinals on April 28. The opponent: the Charlotte Checkers, who eliminated the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in three games in the opening round.
The chocolate and white will begin their best-of-five series on the road for the first two games. The final three matchups will be back at the Giant Center. The Bears had the choice between hosting the first two games or the last three games and opted for the latter.
Game 1: Friday, April 28, Hershey @ Charlotte – 7 p.m.
Game 2: Saturday, April 29, Hershey @ Charlotte – 6 p.m.
Game 3: Wednesday, May 3, Charlotte @ Hershey – 7 p.m.
Game 4: Thursday, May 4, Charlotte @ Hershey – 7 p.m.*
Game 5: Sunday, May 7, Charlotte @ Hershey – 5 p.m.*
* If necessary.
The Checkers have proven to be a nemesis for Hershey since their inception in 2009. The Bears have yet to defeat Charlotte in a playoff series, dropping both previous post-season matchups.
In 2011, the Checkers ended the chocolate and white’s two-year reign by toppling the Bears in six games in the first round. Then, Charlotte swept the Bears in the second round en route to their Calder Cup championship in 2019.
This season, the two sides met eight times. Hershey posted a 3-3-1-1 record against their division rivals. At the Giant Center, the Bears went 2-2. The chocolate and white went 1-1-1-1 at the Bojangles Arena in Charlotte.
The first two meetings happened the second week of the season in October in North Carolina. Playing without center Mike Sgarbossa, who remained home awaiting the birth of his child, Hershey dropped both contests. On October 21, the Bears raced out to a 3-0 lead. The Checkers stormed back, scoring four times in the third period to prevail 5-4. A day later, Hunter Shepard stopped 31 shots to help get the chocolate and white to overtime. The single point would be all the Bears would earn, as Zac Dalpe tallied in the extra session to give Charlotte a 3-2 overtime win.
Hershey captured their first win of the season series at home on December 6. The Bears scored three even strength goals in the second period, including two just 18 seconds apart to put the home side up 3-0. Defenseman Bobby Nardella potted the third goal and that tally proved to be the game-winner after the Checkers found the back of the net twice in the third. A Mike Vecchione empty net goal sealed a 4-2 Hershey triumph. Netminder Zach Fucale made 34 saves in the victory.
Charlotte exacted a measure of revenge on January 7 by defeating the Bears at the Giant Center. The two teams exchanged first period markers. Cameron Morrison put the visitors ahead with a power play goal and then Riley Nash added an empty netter for a 3-1 win for the Checkers.
The Bears split a pair in Charlotte in February. The chocolate and white held a slim 2-1 advantage after two on February 18. The two sides exchanged goals on two occasions in the third frame until Hershey closed the game out with empty net goals from Vecchione and McMichael to prevail 4-2.
On the next night, the power play failed the Bears. With a 2-1 lead in the third period, Hershey had two lengthy five-on-three power plays. The unit was unable to convert on either two-man advantage. This failure to capitalize cost the chocolate and white as Henry Bowlby tallied with 2:48 remaining to force overtime. The game ended in a shootout. After McMichael and Nash were successful on their attempts, Dalpe potted the winner and the Checkers had a 3-2 shootout win.
The final two regular season matchups came at the end of the season in Hershey. On April 8, it was the Hendrix Lapierre show. The rookie center netted the first three goals for the Bears, two on the power play. Each goal put the chocolate and white ahead and Hershey led 3-2 after 40 minutes. Sgarbossa and Shane Gersich increased the advantage in the final stanza and the Bears were victorious 5-2.
The last contest was a contentious one on April 11. The game was tied at two in the latter stages of the third period when Lapierre was assessed a five-minute major for boarding Logan Hutzko. Hershey was doing a good job killing off the major when things broke down. McMichael was hooked near the Hershey bench, but the infraction went uncalled. The bench and McMichael especially were unhappy with the lack of a call and let referee Rob Hennessy know about it. Hennessy whistled McMichael for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, gifting the Checkers a two-man advantage. This proved to be too much for the Bears to overcome and Charlotte scored on the five-on-three and then again to gain a 4-2 edge. The chocolate and white got one back, but could not equalize with the goalie pulled and fell 4-3.
Season Series Leaders
Points: Mike Vecchione – 9 Riley Nash – 11
Goals: Hendrix Lapierre – 5 Riley Nash – 4
Assists: Morelli, Vecchione, McMichael – 5 Riley Nash – 7
Wins: Zach Fucale – 3 Mack Guzda – 3
The Hershey roster is pretty well set. The reinforcements from Washington all came down prior to the end of the season, as Aliaksei Protas, Joe Snively and Beck Malenstyn all played in the regular season finale. The Bears also have forwards Bogdan Trineyev, Alexander Suzdalev and Ludwig Persson and defenseman Dru Krebs available after the foursome joined the chocolate and white late in the season after signing pro contracts. Additionally, goalie Garin Bjorklund was assigned to the team to serve as the third goalie.
The biggest health question is center Mike Sgarbossa. The veteran missed the final three games of the season with an upper body injury. Sgarbossa was said to be a possibility for the finale, but was held out. The first game with Charlotte will be 13 days after the last regular season game which means Sgarbossa should be good to go.
The Checkers have dealt with some roster turnover. Logan Hutsko has not played since being boarded by Hendrix Lapierre on April 11. He missed all three games of Charlotte’s opening round series with Lehigh Valley. Goalie Alex Lyon, forward Zac Dalpe and defenseman Lucas Carlsson are all currently with the Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Panthers are down three games to one to the Boston Bruins. If Florida is eliminated, those players will return to the Checkers.
Keys to the Series
Special teams are always important in a playoff series. The Hershey power play has been an issue for much of the season. The unit has had problems generating shots with the extra man and often plays too deliberately. There have been times when the power play scores multiple goals in a game, but it also goes through long stretches of futility. In the season series with Charlotte, the Bears were 8 for 32 with the man advantage. The chocolate and white will likely need some production from their power play unit in order to be successful in the series.
The penalty kill will also be an important factor. In their first round series with Lehigh Valley, the Checkers were humming on the power play. Charlotte tallied at least once in all three games, converting at a rate of 36.4%. The unit was also 4 of 7 on the power play during the final two games of the regular season series. The Hershey penalty kill was improved down the stretch and will need to come up big in the series. Of course, the best way to slow down the Checkers’ power play is to play disciplined and stay out of the penalty box.
Another key for the chocolate and white is to play 60 minutes. The Bears sometimes have a period where they are completely dominated. Hershey cannot afford to have a period where they get outscored by three of four goals. There will be stretches where Charlotte controls the play, but the chocolate and white have to limit the period of domination. The Hershey fourth line could be important in this area. The line has done a good job of providing energy and bringing a physical element to the game. A strong, physical shift can turn the momentum in a period or game.
Goaltending is a major factor in any series. If a team does not get good goaltending, they do not usually win that series. Both teams have strong tandems. Hunter Shepard outplayed Zach Fucale this season, but Fucale enjoyed more success against Charlotte, recording all three of Hershey’s wins in the season series. Shepard did not play poorly, but got little help. It would not be a surprise to see both goalies play in the series. The Checkers also possess quality between the pipes. Mack Guzda bested the Bears three times this season and the chocolate and white only beat Guzda once. Alex Lyon could return for the series if Florida is eliminated in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Lyon beat Hershey twice this season, but the Bears also secured two wins against the netminder.
Hershey also needs to control Charlotte’s speed and limit the number of odd-man-rushes they surrender. The Checkers possess several fast skaters and are good on the rush. Giving Charlotte a lot of opportunities on rushes would not bode well for the Bears. The chocolate and white have to play a structured defensive game and not take any unnecessary chances. Make good decisions, stay positionally sound and do not force passes.
By Eric Lord
Bear Hughes was back on the ice as the Stingrays won 4-0. Clay was in net and saved all 27 shots. SOG first period were the reverse of Saturday with the Rays recording 13 shots and the Everblades only 3. Rays had a total of 29 shots.
First Rays goal was a PP one on their second shot. Has assisted on the next, a 5on5, and Bear assisted on the third, another PP. Rays also made an empty netter.
The ECHL suspended Josh Wilkins for one game as a result of his major penalty and game misconduct for slashing in game 1. So Wilkins missed this game. Maybe that is why Bear Hughes was back in.
Bear had 1 assist and 3 SOG (and 2 PIM), Has had 1 assist and 2 sog (and 2 PIM), Maass and Kim had no SOG.
The Stingrays team this year was very heavily rookie loaded, and this might have hurt them in Game 1. Everblades had a lot of players new to the Blades but not to the ECHL.
The 1st period was almost identical to Saturday’s game except the teams were reversed. 3 goals scored, 2 on PP, and SOGs 13 to 3. After that it was not a pretty game to watch. 9 penalties for the Blades and 7 for the Ray’s. Congrats to SC to get the series even at 1-1. Obviously Clay looked better in goal than Wall in game 1.
I think Clay will be in net for game 3 but to me it was more the improvement of the skaters in front of him than his performance over Tyler’s.
I dislike nasty games and both of these have been nasty. Rays have 55 PIM so far and Blades 64. And that is only those called. Many went uncalled. I like to watch hockey, not Friday Night Fights, so I didn’t enjoy watching either of these. Undisciplined play shows no talent. The best retribution is to score a goal, not to get kicked out for fighting. Am waiting to see what actions the ECHL might take today.
The game today is generally much more fluid and skilled. I like some nasty and snarl, but not if it makes the game super choppy. I like fast and physical but its only fast if you are passing the puck.
These weren’t fluid. I like smart physicality, not thuggism. To me, physicality is like punctuation. Needed, but not. when. it. interferes. instead. of. highlighting. the. hockey. action.
I see what you did there. Same page. And of course i didn’t see the game more just commenting on the style. It why i hate watching the last two minutes of an NBA game. Boring.
I didn’t realize Bears had a choice of how the home games were payed out. A good strategy if you win one in Charlotte. If not I think it’s somewhat precarious
Yes. It has to do with distance. The AHL has a distance rule that if teams are over a certain number miles apart, I think it is 300, they have to play a series in a certain way. It is why Charlotte had all 3 games at home against Lehigh Valley in the first round. In a five game series, the higher seed chooses if they want the first two or the last three at home. In a 7-game series, it really isn’t as big of a factor as it is just a 2-3-2 setup.
Nice tidbit Eric. 👊
Let’s go Bears!
Jon, during the Rays-Blades game the Rays announcer (Cody) mentioned that the Blades players had a wide variety of contracts, not just Blades/Checkers/Panthers. Where can I find contract info? CapFriendly doesn’t have it, Puckpedia appears to be way outdated, others I have looked at give me teams played for but not who owns the contract.
Good luck. Let me know if you find anything, as I have searched. Stats and contract info gets less available the further down the hockey food chain you go, in my opinion.