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  • Bears Trip Toronto 3.25.09

    Following the same successful formula they utilized during the latter stages of their recent road trip, the Hershey Bears came from behind once again to defeat the Toronto Marlies on Wednesday night at Giant Center, 4-3.

    Matthieu Perreault’s double minor penalty for high-sticking Toronto’s Alex Berry at 1:49 gave the Marlies the first crack of the night on the power play.

    Hershey’s penalty killing unit, ranked last in the AHL entering the game, successfully killed off the first part of the Perreault sentence and more than half of the second before Toronto’s Andre Deveaux found daylight low to the stick side of Hershey goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, at 5:20, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead.

    Early in the second period, Steve Pinizzotto’s thunderous check on Toronto’s Jiri Tlusty at 1:20 drew a pool of blood from the head area of Tlusty, and also drew the attention of the Marlie’s Bates Battaglia, a former Washington Capital, who immediately sought retribution on Pinizzotto.

    Although Battaglia clearly initiated the battle, referee, Chris Cozzan, apparently saw otherwise, choosing to hand out matching fighting penalties to the combatants. Tlusty did not return to the game.

    Ryan Hamilton’s holding penalty in the Hershey defensive zone on Hershey’s captain, Bryan Helmer, led to the Bears finally getting on the board at 3:32, when Alexandre Giroux struck for his 51st goal of the season, and 20th strike on the power play.

    With Dean Arsene out of position while trying to exact revenge on Alex Foster, who had nailed Kyle Wilson with a stiff check seconds earlier, the Marlies quickly regained the lead at 4:41 when Todd Perry beat Neuvirth.

    Keith Aucoin’s turnover in the Hershey defensive zone, led to Chris Bourque’s holding penalty, and ultimately to Deveaux’s second power play marker of the affair at 9:36, giving the Marlies a 3-1 lead.

    Aucoin atoned for his defensive faux pas, beating Marlies’ netminder, Justin Pogge, with a wrist shot from the top of the right circle at 13:22, to cut his team’s deficit to a single goal.

    “I tried to get off as quick as I could.  I don’t think he (Pogge) saw it right away.  I think his defenseman screened him and he saw it at the last second, but it was too late,” said Aucoin.

    Immediately after Aucoin’s goal, Kip Brennan, appearing in his first game at Giant Center since February 7th, shook things up a bit when he and former Norfolk Admiral, Jay Rosehill squared off.  Brennan’s narrow victory in the tussle seemed to inspire his teammates to score 46 seconds later, tying the game at three.

    Pogge contributed to his own demise by turning the puck over to the Bears’ Jay Beagle deep in Toronto’s zone.  Beagle backhanded a no-look pass to Andrew Joudrey, who quickly shoveled the puck into the vacated cage at 14:11.

    “Actually, I just saw the puck go by me, and I saw the goalie was still kind of in the corner,” said Beagle.  “I was going to shoot it and at the last minute, I heard Joudrey yell my name and I dished it to him and he put it home.”

    The teams went into the second intermission deadlocked at three, thanks largely to quality saves late in the period by Pogge (on Giroux), and Neuvirth (on Deveaux).

    In the third period, there were not a lot of quality scoring chances for either side, and in fact, it was a low probability shot by Oskar Osala that sealed the deal for Hershey.  Osala, after gaining the Toronto zone, unleashed a wicked wrister that sailed by the glove hand of Pogge at 8:15.

    Osala, when asked if he was surprised that puck found its target, joked that this goal was not unlike many of his previous 22 tallies.

     “You always ask me that after I score,” Osala laughed. “I was surprised this time because I was thinking about it, and I kind of knew I was going to shoot back to the far side. Usually, when you have time to think, it doesn’t work, but I think my wrist shot is harder than my slapshot.  Coach always bugs me about that; he always tells me not to take slapshots, but to take wrist shots.”

    The Bears, steeped in talent this season, proved that they don’t have to always play a full 60 minutes to come out on top as long as they rev it up when their backs are against the wall.

    “We didn’t play that good the first period, and Neuvirth made some good saves for us.  We came out the second period and played a good 40 minutes to end the game, and that penalty kill at the end was huge.” 


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    Hershey Rules by Downing Monarchs

    The Hershey Bears finished up their three game road swing in royal fashion on Sunday, surviving a nine round shootout to outlast the Manchester Monarchs, 3-2, at Verizon Wireless Arena.

    Hershey net minder, Michal Neuvirth, was outstanding while collecting his 5th win of the season and 1st away from the friendly confines of Giant Center, stopping 47-of-49 Manchester shots. The 49 shots against represented a season high for the Chocolate and White.

    Graham Mink, scoring his league leading 10th first goal of the game, tallied on the power play just 51 seconds into the game to stake Hershey to an early 1-0 lead. Mink’s goal, with Manchester goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, as the victim, was his 31st of the season, tying his career high set in 2006-07 with the Worcester Sharks.

    Manchester tied the game late in the first period when Trevor Lewis beat Neuvirth on the power play at 18:11.

    The Monarchs managed the only goal of the second period, another late period strike, with veteran Marty Murray doing the damage at 19:30. Murray, after a beautiful fake by Tom Preissing froze the Hershey defense, gently guided the biscuit into then yawning cage.

    Alexandre Giroux, on the power play, tied the game at 3:58 of the period with his historic 50th goal of the season. Giroux, who reached the 50-goal plateau for the first time in his pro career, became only the 5th player in the 71 year history of Hershey hockey to hit the half-century mark.

    In the first three rounds of the shootout, neither Neuvirth or Bernier fared well, with each goalie stopping just one of three attempts. However, in rounds four through eight, Bernier and Neuvirth successfully faced down the challenge of each shooter, setting the stage for the ninth inning heroics of Keith Aucoin, who bested Bernier in the top of the frame. Neuvirth jammed the efforts of Manchester’s Justin Azevedo, Manchester’s last hope to seal the deal for Hershey.

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    Ferocious Bears Plank Pirates

    The Hershey Bears, buoyed by three unanswered third period goals, stunned the Portland Pirates with a 5-4 comeback win at the Cumberland County Civic Center on Saturday night.

    Hershey’s all-rookie line of Oskar Osala, Matthieu Perreault, and Francois Bouchard, which enjoyed considerable success earlier in the season but had recently been broken up, combined for the first goal of the game at 2:15 of the first period, with Osala finding the back of the net.

    The homestanding Pirates took control of the game after Osala’s goal, receiving single tallies from Mark Mancari, Marek Zagrapan, and Marc-Andre Gragnani to take a 3-1 lead into the first intermission.

    Early in the second period, Portland continued to pounce on the wounded Bears and goaltender, Daren Machesney, when Felix Schultz scored at 3:42 to give the Pirates a 4-1 lead.

    Kyle Wilson, appearing in his 182nd consecutive game, started the Hershey comeback late in the second period when he netted his 25th goal of the season at 16:25 to make it a 4-2 game.

    Mancari’s elbow infraction in the last minute of the second period gave Hershey a chance to cut further into the Portland lead before the second intermission. The Bears, although unable to register the man-up goal during the remainder of the second stanza, quickly capitalized on the remainder of the Mancari penalty when Alexandre Giroux lit the lamp 36 seconds into the third period.

    With just under two minutes left in regulation, Giroux once again beat Portland net minder, Jhonas Enroth, earning his 49th strike of the season and tying the game at four at 18:33. Giroux’s “two-tally” period was the 6th time in the 2008-09 campaign that the AHL’s leading goal scorer has accomplished that feat.

    Staffan Kronwall capped the Bears’ comeback at 19:21, beating his fellow countryman, Enroth, with a point blast that was assisted by Giroux and Graham Mink, a former Pirate.

    Notes- Machesney, who did not allow a goal over the final 36:18 of the game, earned his 19th win of the year, surpassing Simeon Varlamov for the team lead in that category…Former Bear, Mathieu Darche, assisted on the Gragnani goal…Keith Aucoin, the AHL’s leading point producer, was held scoreless for the second straight game…Hershey finishes off their three game road swing on Sunday afternoon in Manchester.

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    Caps Recap 12/15/08

    The Washington Capitals had a great week last week; let’s get to some recapping!


    First off, they went 3-0 this week against their three Northeastern Division opponents. One of those three was the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins.  The Capitals also started to get healthy as they welcomed back four of their starters in Alex Semin, Tom Poti, Mike Green, and Sergei Federov.


    The Caps extended their point lead in the Southeastern Division to 8 points with 39. Florida and Carolina are the closest division rivals with 31 points apiece.


    The Caps also showed their depth doesn’t just extend to Hershey; it goes all the way into their administrative offices.


    Vs. Boston 12/10/08 – The Boston Bruins skated into Verizon Center carrying the most impressive record in the Eastern Conference. The Caps meanwhile came limping in with a mind-boggling 10-players on the injured list. That number dropped to eight just before game-time as Alex Semin and Tom Poti were both cleared to return from their injuries. The difference was night and day.


    Alex Who? – Alexandre Giroux! In only his second NHL game, Alex not only notched his first NHL goal, but it was the GWG (game-winning-goal). With Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin also tallying on the score-sheet, that leaves three guys named Alex for teams to worry about when they play the Caps. How would you pluralize “Alex”? Alexes? Alexen?


    Believe me now? – I’ve always been a fan of Brent Johnson; largely because he and I share the same last name. I have a custom-made jersey from back when they wore the black home jerseys. Johnson earned his third straight win while facing one of the highest scoring teams in the league by stopping 33-of-34 shots against him. By the end of the night Johnson had stopped and 79 of 83 shots, and had a .952 save percentage and a 1.33 Goals Against Average in his last three games.


    Vs. Ottawa 12/12/08 – The Ottawa Senators came into Verizon Center dead last in the Northeastern Division. As the first of two back-to-back games, this had all the makings of a “trap game” as the Capitals had to fly immediately to Montreal after the game. While the Caps were able to welcome back Mike Green and Sergei Federov, they lost Jose Theodore that morning during practice.


    The Caps went to Plan B and called on Michael Neuvirth, but he was too far away to make it in time for game time.


    The Caps went to Plan C and called on Simeon Varlamov, but even he wasn’t going to be able to make it in time for the start of the game.


    Brent Johnson had taken some nasty hits in his matchup versus Boston, so putting him in there with no one to back him up was more than just a risky proposition; the Caps needed a new plan.


    Plan 9 from Outer Space – web producer Brett “Stretch” Leonhardt probably didn’t expect his NHL debut to ever come knocking on his door. A goalie in college, Brett now spent his days amassing video content for the Washington Capitals official website. At 6’7″, Brett is hard to miss in the locker-room, so when George McPhee came looking, I’m sure he was easy to find.


    The Greatest Player to Never Play – Brett had stepped in and fielded a few shots with the Caps during practice before, but I’m sure he never thought he’d see the day when he’d skate out onto the Ice during an actual NHL game. Even though no one was unhappy with Brent Johnson’s performance, I think secretly, everyone wanted to see the 26 year-old from Neumann College get at least a few minutes of game time.


    At least Brett got a standing ovation from the crowd at Verizon, and his 15-minutes in the spotlight.


    My bad – I have to apologize to Brent Johnson the next time I see him. The Caps had built a 5-0 lead and had only five minutes left in regulation. In my excitement I said to my wife “Now all Johnny needs is the shut-out.”


    Yeah, I know. With 2:23 left in regulation the Senators finally scored. I jinxed him. Johnny had identical stats on this game as he did versus Boston, stopping 33-of-34 shots. This gave him his fourth consecutive win and brought his four game totals to 112 of 117 shots stopped, for a 0.957 save percentage, and a 1.25 GAA. Johnny was given the first star of the night.


    @ Montreal 12/13/08 – I must confess that I wasn’t able to watch this game due to family obligations. I kept up with it by regularly checking my phone for updates. I got word that Varlamov was going to get the start in net, and was a little disappointed that I wasn’t going to get to see his NHL debut.


    Varlamov was the first NHL Player I had ever interviewed, when I met him at the Rookie Game versus Philadelphia. In my first ever report for THN I talked about how good he looked out on the ice, so it was nice to see that my early judgment call was vindicated as Varlamov stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced to help the Caps win a close one versus Montreal by a score of 2-1.


    Varlamov’s NHL debut got him a win, and the game’s first star honor.


    Coming Up – The Caps have three games this week, starting tomorrow night in New York on the nationally televised Versus Network when they face the 10-18-2 Islanders. Thursday they come back home to face the 16-7-6 Flyers, and then Saturday they’re off to St. Louis (that’s Saint Lewis, not San Lew-EE as some players like to be called) where they’ll face the 12-14-3 Blues in a rare one o’clock game (noon, local time).


    The Caps now have more potential injury woes as Tyler Sloan, Sergei Federov and Nicklas Backstrom are all listed as “status pending” by the Capitals as of this morning. The Caps will be looking to extend their three game winning streak, but losing Nicklas Backstrom will make that a considerable challenge.


    I guess we’ll see come Tuesday!

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