Photo: Hartford Wolf Pack
The Washington Capitals AHL affiliate Hershey Bears advanced to the third round of the 2023 Calder Cup playoffs by eliminating the Charlotte Checkers in the Atlantic Division semifinals on Thursday. The Bears now face the Hartford Wolf Pack in a best-of-five Division Finals. The New York Rangers AHL affiliate upset the regular-season Eastern Conference champions Providence Bruins in the other division semi-final.
Washington Capitals first round draft pick Hendrix Lapierre was key in the Bears series victory over the Checkers, centering the Bears third line, which led all Bears lines in scoring.
Total Postseason Points By Line/Pair
Mike Vecchione (1) – Mike Sgarbossa (3) – Ethen Frank (1)
Joe Snively (5) – Connor McMichael (2) – Garrett Pilon (4)
Aliaksei Protas (5) – Hendrix Lapierre (3) – Sam Anas (6)
Beck Malenstyn (2) – Riley Sutter (2) – Mason Morelli (2)
Gabriel Carlsson (1) – Dylan McIlrath (2)
Bobby Nardella (0) – Aaron Ness (0)
Lucas Johansen (2) – Vinny Iorio (2)
“Things are going relatively well so far. We expected a tight series against Charlotte and that’s what happened,” Lapierre told La Droit on Monday. “We got the first two games at home in Carolina, which really helped. We didn’t play well in the third game, and in the fourth either, but we have a really experienced group and we found a way to win game number 4.”
Lapierre expects an even tougher division final, with Hartford arguably the hottest team in the AHL right now.
“At Christmas they were last in our conference, then they came back up and they are on fire now. They had only two losses in their last 10 games of the season, then they smashed Springfield and Providence. It’s probably the hottest club in the league right now, so we’ll have to be ready,” said Lapierre.
The Wolf Pack received four players from the New York Rangers after the parent club was eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs. Forwards Jonny Brodzinski and Jake Leschyshyn and defenseman Libor Hajek all returned for the series-clinching win over Providence. Louis Domingue was also sent down and served as Dylan Garand’s backup. Leschyshyn scored twice and Brodzinski had an assist in the 4-0 victory in game four.
Hartford may be heating up, but Lapierre feels good about the Bears and the play of his line, which includes Sam Anas and Aliaksei Protas.
“Anas was the top scorer in the American League a few years ago, and Protas is a big guy with skills that protects the puck well. We had a good first round together, but we know that we can still take our game up a notch,” said Lapierre.
Lapierre’s rookie season in the AHL has been a real learning experience for him, which is the primary goal for first-year players. He’s had his share of ups and downs, healthy scratches and even a hat trick.
“It’s a much better league than the juniors. Every night is a battle, you have to be at your best even if it’s a Wednesday night against the worst team in the league. It’s a learning league, yes, but there are also a lot of good veterans and it’s much more difficult to collect points. When it doesn’t work offensively, I try to help the team in other ways.”
Lapierre also learned a valuable lesson in controlling his emotions. He received a game misconduct and a one-game suspension for a cross-check in a regular season game against Charlotte.
Hendrix Lapierre, who was leveled with a hit a few minutes earlier, destroys a Checkers player. Unfortunately, it’s a five-minute major and a game misconduct for Lappy. #HBH #ALLCAPS with a huge hit pic.twitter.com/USdOt0lHQG
— Capitals Prospects (@jon_m_sorensen) April 12, 2023
“I’m trying to play hard these days (in the playoffs) while staying legal, but that really wasn’t. I was trying to create a spark and it didn’t work, I saw the number on the back and I didn’t stop…I learned my lesson, I can guarantee it won’t happen to me again,” added Lapierre.
The learning experience came just three days after Lapierre experienced possibly the highlight of his season, recording his first professional hat trick.
Hats off for Hendrix! Hendrix Lapierre completes the hat trick in second period with a nice backhander. First career AHL hat trick.#HBH #ALLCAPS pic.twitter.com/M7E6icfr0S
— Capitals Prospects (@jon_m_sorensen) April 9, 2023
Win or lose, Lapierre is not ready to take stock of his season since it is “far from over”. Nevertheless, he believes he has learned a lot so far.
“I would say that in terms of learning, this is the season where I learned the most. I started really strong, then I had more difficult moments afterwards. Then lately, it looks like there was a switch and it’s going really well. I’m happy, I know what I’m capable of doing on the ice and when it doesn’t work, it frustrates me a bit. But I am well supported, we have a good group of guys, it’s fun.”
Lapierre and the Bears begin their third-round series with the Wolf Pack Thursday night in Hershey. Puck drop is set for 7PM.
By Jon Sorensen
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Go get em Hendrix!
I was more impressed that Lapierre had enough sour to go and clean some guy’s clock who had taken liberties with him (and teammates) earlier in the game
Yes! He was leveled prior to the play. And I would even add that his hit was not terrible. Probably wrong by rule, but he caught some side of the player in the hit.
That third line is getting it done. Second line too.
Hartford will be tough. No question. But you got to beat the best to be the best.
One more year in AHL and Lapierre should be fully cooked. Will he be part of a big trade to beef up capitals top six? That’s another story.
Bertuzzi and Athanasiou are probably going to hit the FA market, either would be a great addition to the top 6 on a 2 or 3 year deal.