Hershey Bears vs. Rochester Americans – Eastern Conference Finals Series Preview

Photo: Hartford Wolf Pack

Despite not generating much offensively, the Hershey Bears once again rode the strong goaltending of Hunter Shepard to prevail 3-1 in game three to sweep the Hartford Wolf Pack in the Atlantic Division Finals. The Bears now advance to face the Rochester Americans in the Eastern Conference Finals, one step away from playing for the Calder Cup. The Americans completed their own sweep in the North Division Finals, besting the Toronto Marlies in three straight games.

The appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals is the first since 2016 for the chocolate and white. The Bears topped the Toronto Marlies in five games to reach the Calder Cup Finals, where they would be swept by the Lake Erie Monsters. Rochester last reached the conference finals in 2004 and lost to eventual Calder Cup Champion Milwaukee in five games.

Series Schedule

Game 1: Tuesday, May 23, Rochester @ Hershey – 7 p.m.

  Game 2: Thursday, May 25, Rochester @ Hershey – 7 p.m.

       Game 3: Saturday, May 27, Hershey @ Rochester – 7:05 p.m.

      Game 4: Monday, May 29, Hershey @ Rochester – 6:05 p.m.

        Game 5: Wednesday, May 31, Rochester @ Hershey – 7 p.m. *

    Game 6: Friday, June 2, Hershey @ Rochester – 7:05 p.m. *

Game 7: Monday, June 5, Rochester @ Hershey – 7 p.m. *

* If Necessary

Playoff History

Hershey and Rochester are the two oldest franchises in the American Hockey League (AHL) and the Eastern Conference Finals will mark the eighth playoff meeting between the two teams. The previous seven have not gone well for the chocolate and white, with The Americans emerging victorious in six of the seven previous meetings.

The franchises first met in the 1965 Calder Cup Finals. The Bears fell twice in Rochester to start the series, won game three in the Hersheypark Arena before dropping games four and five to lose the series four games to one.

In 1968, the teams would square off again in a strange format that saw the number one seed in the East (Hershey) play the number one seed in the West (Rochester) in the first round of the playoffs. The Americans won the first three games of the series and the Bears avoided the sweep with a game four triumph, but would be eliminated in game five.

Nineteen years would pass before the two franchises met again in the 1987 postseason. The result was the same for the chocolate and white. Hershey managed only a win in game three at home and lost the Southern Division Semifinals series in five games.

A year later, the Bears and Americans met again in the Southern Division Semifinals. Once again, Rochester would come out on top. Hershey won games four and five after losing the opening three games of the series, but the Americans ended the season for the Bears in game six.

The lone series triumph for Hershey came in the 1994 Southern Division Semifinals. Denis Metlyuk scored the game winner in games two and three (overtime tally in game two) and Mike McHugh finished off the sweep with an overtime marker in game four to finally give the Bears a victory over Rochester in the playoffs.

The last time the franchises met in the playoffs was in the 2000 Western Conference Finals. Hershey lost four straight, as the Americans advanced to the Calder Cup Finals.

How They Got Here


After sitting out the first round with a bye, the Americans promptly lost the first two games to the Syracuse Crunch in the North Division Semifinals. In game one, a Philippe Myers overtime goal gave the Crunch a 3-2 win and Syracuse then blanked the Americans 3-0 in game two.  With five minutes to go in game three, Rochester was tied with Syracuse. The Americans took advantage of undisciplined penalties by the Crunch and scored on both ends of a five-on-three power play. Rochester scored five goals in the last 4:39 of the third period to keep their season alive with a 8-4 victory. The Americans followed that win with a 4-0 blanking of Syracuse in game four to set up the decisive game five. In the win-or-go-home game five, Rochester raced out to a 4-1 lead, only to see the Crunch rally to force overtime. Defenseman Lawrence Pilut delivered the series winner with 8:25 left in the extra session.

The North Division Finals with the Toronto Marlies was less dramatic for the Americans. The Marlies scored first in game one, but Rochester netted the next four tallies (three on special teams) and survived two third period Toronto goals to take the opening contest 4-3. That would be the closest game of the series. The Americans offense torched the Marlies in the next two games with a dominant power play and cruised to 7-4 and 8-4 victories to capture the North Division crown and move onto the conference finals.


Following a first round bye, the Bears began their playoff run against the Charlotte Checkers in the Atlantic Division Semifinals. The chocolate and white leapt out to a 4-0 lead in game one in Charlotte and skated to a 5-2 triumph. Hunter Shepard helped Hershey overcome a slow start in game two and the Bears tallied five times in the final two periods to prevail win 5-1 and head home up two games to none. In game three, Hershey registered just four first period shots, but still managed to score first in the second. However, two breakaway goals in the second period put the Checkers in front and then the Bears’ power play failed on multiple third period chances. Charlotte fought off elimination with a 2-1 triumph. Game four did not start well for Hershey. The offense was in hibernation with a mere two shots on net in the opening frame. The Checkers jumped out to a 2-0 advantage in the opening period and had the chocolate and white on their heels. Then, Beck Malenstyn delivered a big hit that broke a pane of glass behind the goal. The break in action stunted the momentum of Charlotte. The Bears awoke in the second and potted two goals in the middle stanza to tie the game at two. Aliaksei Protas tallied twice in a minute and 58 second span in the third frame to give Hershey a lead. Two empty net goals sealed the series, as the Bears prevailed 6-2.

Moving onto the Atlantic Division Finals against the Hartford Wolf Pack, Hershey came out flying in the first period of game one at home. The chocolate and white outshot the Wolf Pack. However, the Bears could not solve Dylan Garand and Hartford converted on a power play to hold a 1-0 advantage after 20 minutes. The Wolf Pack pushed their edge to 2-0 on an early second period power play goal by Jonny Brodzinski. Heading into the third period down by two, Hershey cut their deficit in half on a Logan Day power play 2:52 into the third. With Shepard heading to the bench, Connor McMichael redirected a Jake Massie shot to tie the game at two with 2:09 remaining in regulation. The game headed to overtime. In the extra session, Henrik Borgstrom (playing for the first time in these playoffs) snapped a shot over the blocker of Garand to provide the Bears with a 3-2 overtime win.

Game two did not require a rally from the chocolate and white. Mason Morelli put Hershey ahead with a power play goal at the 3:12 mark of the first period. Will Cuylle equalized on the man advantage later in the period, but Beck Malenstyn restored the lead for the Bears with a tally one minute and 12 seconds later. The chocolate and white received goals from Mike Vecchione and Hendrix Lapierre to up their advantage to 4-1. Adam Clendening netted for Hartford late, but Hershey captured game two by a score of 4-2.

On the road for game three, the Bears were dominated by the Wolf Pack in the first period. Hartford outshot the chocolate and white 13 to 4. Shepard kept his team in the game, only surrendering a goal to Turner Elson with two minutes and 20 seconds left in the opening stanza. The second period began much like the first for Hershey, as the offense still struggled to generate shots. With four minutes and 55 seconds still on the clock in the second, the chocolate and white found an equalizer. Borgstrom was hooked in his own zone and chipped the puck to Vecchione in front of the Hartford bench. A delayed penalty was being called on Tanner Fritz, but Vecchione hit Vincent Iorio streaking into the offensive zone. Iorio moved into the right circle and wristed a shot over Louis Domingue’s blocker to make it a 1-1 contest.

Hershey had a chance to take the lead 3:28 into the third period when Sam Anas was awarded a penalty shot after being hooked on a breakaway. Anas was denied by a glove save by Dominigue. Less than a minute after Anas’ penalty shot bid, the Bears did jump in ahead. The sides were playing four-on-four after a Cuylle hooking penalty canceled out Malenstyn’s hooking infraction. Vecchione picked Ty Emberson’s pocket in the right corner and sent a feed to Lucas Johansen at the inside of the left circle. Johansen wristed his shot over the glove of Domingue to give Hershey a 2-1 edge. At the 7:25 mark of the third, Pilon fired home a rebound from a McMichael shot to extend the lead to 3-1. Shepard would not allow the Wolf Pack to get back into the game and the Bears advanced with a 3-1 victory.

Team Playoff Leaders

                         Hershey                                                     Rochester

Points:                         Protas/Anas/Snively – 7                               Mason Jobst – 11

Goals:                          Protas/Morelli/McMichael – 3                    Jiri Kulich – 6

Assists:                         Joe Snively – 6                                               Mason Jobst – 9

Wins:                            Hunter Shepard – 6                                      Malcolm Subban – 6

Season Series

Rochester and Hershey played twice in the regular season. The two games took place within a week of each other in March. The two sides split the two matchups, each side prevailing at home.

The Bears hosted the Americans on Saturday, March 18. Rochester opened the scoring in the first period on a Michael Mersch goal, but Connor McMichael answered with a marker of his own 28 seconds later. In the second period, Ethen Frank netted a power play goal and that would be the end of the scoring. Hunter Shepard made 22 saves and Hershey won 2-1.

On Friday, March 24, the two sides squared off again in Rochester. The Bears scored the first three goals of the game and led 3-0 early in the second period. The Americans stormed back with three, second period tallies to tie the game. After a scoreless third frame and overtime, the game was to be decided in a shootout. The chocolate and white failed to convert in the shootout. Mason Jobst and Aleksander Kisakov each cashed in on their attempts and Rochester emerged with a 4-3 victory.

Season Series Leaders

 Hershey                                                                     Rochester

Points: Sgarbossa/Snively/McMichael/Frank – 2                 Brett Murray/Mason Jobst – 3

Goals: Connor McMichael – 2                                                    Brett Murray – 2

Assists: Sgarbossa/Snively – 2                                                    Mason Jobst – 3

Wins:  Hunter Shepard – 1                                                           Malcolm Subban – 1

Roster News

The Americans lost their second leading scorer from the regular season on April 5. Center Brandon Biro reaggravated a lower body injury and later underwent season ending surgery. Biro compiled 51 points in 49 games for Rochester this season. He potted 16 goals and dished out 35 assists (tied for second on the team).

Biro is not the only injury that the Americans have been dealing with. Right wing Linus Weissbach was injured in game one against Toronto and missed the final two games of the North Division Finals. Weissback has been skating and could return during the series with Hershey. He posted five points in six playoff games prior to his injury.

The Bears have been without a pair of players because of injuries. Defenseman Aaron Ness suffered what looked like a shoulder injury in game three against Charlotte in the first round and has not played since. His status is uncertain.

Regular season leading scorer Mike Sgarbossa was out for the entire Hartford series. The pivot missed the last three games of the regular season, but returned for the first round against Charlotte. Sgarbossa did not look like himself in the opening round and his availability is up in the air.

Series Outlook/Keys

The biggest key for the Bears in the Eastern Conference Finals is discipline. The chocolate and white need to stay out of the penalty box. The Rochester power play has been downright lethal. The Americans were seven for 11 on the power play in their series with Toronto and have scored a power play marker in each of their last six games, all victories. Jiri Kulich has been the key to the power play success. Rochester failed to score on the power play in their losses in games one and two to Syracuse. Kulich missed both of those games with an injury. Since the rookie returned in game three, the power play has scored 12 times with the man-advantage. Kulich has been responsible for four of those tallies.

The Americans have struggled some on the penalty kill with a 67.9% kill percentage. That is the lowest percentage of the remaining teams in the Calder Cup playoffs. The Hershey power play has scuffled a bit, converting five of 26 opportunities. The Bears need to take advantage of Rochester’s weak penalty kill and make their power play a weapon.

Both teams have been receiving offensive production from multiple players. The Americans and Hershey have both had 19 different players record a point. Rochester has 17 different players with a goal, the Bears have 16. The Rochester top line of Mason Jobst, Brett Murray and Michael Mersch has combined for 10 goals and 28 points in the playoffs. Kulich is on a six-game goal scoring streak and his linemate Lukas Rousek has seven assists and nine points thus far. Defenseman Lawrence Pilut and Ethan Prow have amassed eight and seven points respectfully. As for the Bears, the middle two lines have paced the offense. The Hershey third line of Hendrix Lapierre, Aliaksei Protas and Sam Anas lead the way with a combined 18 points. The second line consisting of Connor McMichael, Joe Snively and Garrett Pilon has totaled 17 points.

One player the Bears need more from is Ethen Frank. The team’s leading goal scorer in the regular season has yet to find the back of the net in the postseason. He has managed just two assists so far and the chocolate and white will need more from the rookie if Hershey is to advance.

The difference makers in the series could prove to be the fourth line of the Bears, “the Bone Crushers.” Whenever the trio of Riley Sutter, Beck Malenstyn and Mason Morelli is on the ice, the physicality picks up. The line consistently dishes out bone jarring hits. The unit is dependable on both ends of the ice and has increased their offensive output in the playoffs.

By Eric Lord

Related Reading:

Ethen Frank Scores 27th Goal Of The Season – Most Goals By A Bears Rookie Since 1990-91 Season, As Bears Down Americans, 2-1
Kody Clark and Garrett Pilon Score In Bears 7-3 Loss To Americans

About Eric Lord

Eric has been a Hershey Bears fan since attending his 1st game at age 8. He has been a season-ticket holder since the 2009-10 season and has been writing about Hershey Bears hockey since 2012. His favorite Bears memory is the team's 1996-97 run to the Calder Cup Championship where Hershey was 5-0 when facing elimination. Eric graduated from Fordham University in 2000 with a bachelors in communication and from Iona College in 2005 with a Masters in Journalism. He is also a photographer and serves as an assistant soccer coach for the Pottsville Area High School girls soccer team.
This entry was posted in News and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Hershey Bears vs. Rochester Americans – Eastern Conference Finals Series Preview

  1. GRin430 says:

    Another difference maker could be goaltending and defense. The Bears have given up 12 goals in 7 playoff games, the Amerks 26 goals in 8 — almost double the average per game. The stats from the regular season also indicate that the Amerks score more than Hershey but give up a LOT more goals. Rochester scored 19 more times than the Bears in the regular season but gave up 49 more, and the Amerks’ were only +3 for the year vs. Hershey’s +33.

    Having watched zero AHL North games this year, I don’t know if that’s just a difference in style of play, or in the overall balance of the teams in that division vs. the Atlantic. The North gave up more goals than the Atlantic as a whole this year (about a quarter of a goal more per game), and their goal differentials were much worse than the Atlantic’s (largest positive margin in the North was just 14). In fact the North had an overall small negative goal differential, indicating that the division was not that strong as a whole. The Atlantic goal differential was slightly positive, possibly indicating that it was a stronger division. This could mean that the defensive play and goalies in the Atlantic are just better, or that the teams overall were better. Or not. We’ll find out…

  2. Anonymous says:

    I think this series looks better on paper than the previous series against Hartford, but I thought Bears would be really tested against the Wolf Pack. That wasn’t the case, so I have no idea what to expect in this one.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      With ya. I also thought last series would be more closely contested, but the Wolf Pack looked to be out of gas. That will happen this time of year, survival of the fittest.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Bears in 6!

  4. Prevent Defense says:

    Great article Eric Lord!
    There’s more solid-food hockey analysis in your one article than any six put together from the mainstream media “NHL Press” crowd

    Go Bears! Make GM Mac take notice of your abilities!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Bears in 5!

  6. Hutch says:

    Amerks in 4!!!!!!

  7. Jon Sorensen says:

  8. Jon Sorensen says:

  9. Jon Sorensen says:

  10. Anonymous says:

    how do i watch

Leave a Reply