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Calder Cup Finals vs. Manitoba Game 5


Over 10,000 fans filled the Giant Center Tuesday night with the intent of cheering the Hershey Bears to their 10th Calder Cup title, which would have been the first on home ice since 1980. However, the Manitoba Moose put a kink in those plans when they bested the Bears, 3-2 in Game 5 of the series, sending the series back to Manitoba.

Manitoba Moose goaltender, Corey Schneider, with his team registering only four shots in the period, the first not coming until twelve minutes into the stanza, showed why he was the recipient of this year’s Baz Bastein Award, which is symbolic of the best goaltender in the AHL during the regular season by stopping all 12 shots he faced.

While his team seemingly had to be frustrated with the mystery of Schneider, Bears’ forward, Graham Mink, said that was not the case when the question was posed to him.

“No, not at all. We’ve had better periods than that and not scored,” said Mink. “We certainly had a lot of pressure, and you have to take your hat off to Schneider. He played an unbelievable game tonight and kept them in the game until they got their two goals there real quick in the second.”

Schneider, who finished the game with 31 saves, was named the star of the game for keeping his team in the game, especially during the early stages, said that surviving the first 20 minutes unscathed was a vital component to his team’s success.

“I think that was the key to the game. We knew they were going to come out real hard and try to bury us in the first period,” Schneider said. “For me, I knew I had to be sharp in the first period and give my team a chance to get our legs under us and get over the crowd and their energy.”

After the Moose weathered the first period storm, the second period was all theirs, at least in the goal scoring department, as they netted the only goals of period, markers 1:07 apart, off the blades of Michael Grabner and Cody Hodgson, to take a 2-0 lead into the second intermission.

Mink was a man on a mission in the third period, depositing Alexandre Bolduc into the Hershey bench with a thunderous check, and then depositing the puck behind Schneider to cut Manitoba’s lead in half.

“Our team has been a pretty good third period team, and we wanted to come out hard and stay physical,” said Mink. “Aucoin made a great play to get me the puck there and I had the empty net when Schneider went down.”

Mink’s goal stood as the only one of the period until Jason Krog’s empty netter at 18:39, which proved to be the game-winning goal after John Carlson scored with just 31 seconds left in regulation.

After the game, Mink, while disappointed that the Bears were not able to claim the Cup on home ice, chose not to dwell on the negative aspects of the setback.

“I just wanted to win so bad, and I want to win so bad every night. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen tonight. We’re just going to have to use that in a positive way on Friday.”

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Calder Cup Finals vs. Manitoba Game 3


Although Hershey goaltender, Michal Neuvirth’s, stellar performance with 28 saves that earned him a shutout and bragging rights as the number one star of the game, the gritty stylings of Steve Pinizzotto figured just as prominently in the Bears’ 3-0 win over the Manitoba Moose on Saturday at Giant Center.

Pinizzotto, Hershey’s fourth line punisher who has befuddled each of the Bears’ opponents in the playoffs with his bone bruising style, was on top of his game early in the first period, with his workmanlike methods proving instrumental in drawing the first penalty of the game, a slashing infraction on Manitoba’s Shaun Heshka at 6:14.

“For him to be effective, he’s got to be that type of player,” said the Bears’ head coach, Bob Woods, of Pinizzotto, who has answered the challenge since their mid-March conference. “We don’t need him yapping and stuff like that. We need him out there being physical, and when you play that way, you get a lot off people’s attention. You get guys a little bit concerned every time you touch the puck, and when he’s on the ice, you’ve got to keep your head up.”

Hershey wasted little time on the power play that resulted from Pinizzotto’s labor, when Graham Mink struck 8 seconds into the advantage. Mink’s goal was his 6th of the playoffs, and 4th game-winner.

“I just wanted to get to the front of the net, and Kronwall made a great play coming down the wall and throwing it up front,” said Mink. “I got my stick on it, and it bounced in over the goalie’s leg pad. We wanted to get the first goal, and I was fortunate enough to be there.”

Staffan Kronwall and Chris Bourque picked up the helpers on the Mink marker. Bourque’s assist, his 15th of the post-season, temporarily put him in a first place tie for the league lead in that category with his teammate, Keith Aucoin.

Hershey’s power play perfection continued, and Aucoin regained his assist lead midway through the second period when he assisted on Alexandre Giroux’s league-leading 14th goal of the playoffs at 9:38, giving the Bears a 2-0 lead. Giroux’s goal was also his 9th power play goal of the postseason.

“It was a kind of a 3-on-1 and I doubted whether to take the shot. I was thinking of passing back to Mink, but while I was in my motion, I just decided to let it go,” said Giroux, explaining his change-of-pace shot. “It was not my hardest shot, but sometimes you just have to place it and it goes in.”

Neuvirth, who did not see his first shot of the game until more than six minutes had elapsed, displayed some of his best handiwork when he made a pair of glittering glove saves later in the game on Jason Jaffray, who scored a hat trick at the rookie’s expense in game two in Manitoba.

“The first saves are always huge, and I want to make the saves as early as I can,” said Neuvirth. “It’s always tough for a goalie to have to stand there for like six minutes.”

An empty net goal by the recently returning Quintin Laing sealed the Moose’s fate for the evening, giving the Bears the 2-1 lead in the Calder Cup Finals.

Neuvirth, who earned his sixth number one star of the game, and fourth shutout victory, drew high praise from veteran forward Mink, who also had a firsthand look when Frederic Cassivi backstopped the Bears to the 2006 Calder Cup Championship.

“Nothing rattles him, nothing phases him. He’s given us a chance to win every game. That’s all you can ask out of a goalie, especially one as young as he is. He’s got a promising future.”

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East Conference Finals vs. Providence Game 4


The Hershey Bears moved one step closer to their third appearance in the Calder Cup finals in the last four years, when they dug themselves out of a two-goal hole at Dunkin Donuts Center, and glazed the Providence Bruins in overtime, 3-2.

The Bruins jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, with goals from Peter Schaefer and Jeff Penner.

Hershey’s captain, Bryan Helmer, who started his team’s comeback from a 2-0 deficit on the road in game two of the Philadelphia series, once again duplicated that feat by scoring his 3rd goal of the playoffs at 7:31 of the second period.

Keith Aucoin, the former Bruin, tied the game at two at 13:12 with his 3rd goal of the postseason.

Aucoin’s goal was the last one of regulation, and the game continued into an overtime period, Hershey’s second of the playoffs.

The hero of the day turned out to be Graham Mink, who tallied at 15:10 of overtime, his 5th marker in 15 playoff contests, and his 3rd game-winner.

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A Candid Conversation with Graham Mink


When Graham Mink left Hershey in 2007 after contributing mightily to the Hershey Bears success in attaining the Calder Cup, he most likely did not think he would be in Hershey racing for the Cup again just three seasons later. However, as fate would have it, Worcester’s playoff woes–failing to qualify last season, and being ousted in the first round the year before–turned out to be Hershey’s gain, and was a major element in Mink’s decision to return to the Washington Capitals organization.

“I wanted to have a chance to win in the playoffs, so that was a major factor in my decision and we’ve made a pretty good run here so far,” said Mink, by phone from Providence on Saturday. “I have a lot of friends in Hershey and Washington, so coming back was pretty much a no-brainer. After speaking with them, and them being interested, I didn’t really care to look anywhere else.”

Returning himself to the familiar surroundings under the Capitals’ radar proved beneficial to Mink, allowing him to see some NHL action, after two years of no call-ups to the San Jose Sharks. The call from our nation’s capital from Mink’s former coach in Hershey, Bruce Boudreau, caught the eight year pro mildly off guard.

“I was a little surprised, I was playing pretty well at the time and I had played for Bruce when I was here three years ago. Getting an opportunity to play in the NHL is a function of luck as much as it is of playing well and deserving to be there,“ said Mink, who was never drafted following the culmination of his three- year college career at the University of Vermont. “You need to have that opportunity, whether it be through injuries or suspensions or what have you. When things like that happen it gives somebody in the AHL an opportunity, and unfortunately for me, nothing like that happened when I was in Worcester for two years. I had a couple good years in Worcester. The Sharks are a first-class organization.”

Mink, one of Hershey’s current alternate captains, and a leader on the 2006 Calder Cup team, while admitting that every team is different, surprisingly thinks that this year’s contenders may have a slight edge over the ‘06 squad.

“I notice similarities in the character level of the guys. I think we’re a lot different team than we were three years ago,” said Mink, who had previously served as captain for both the Portland Pirates and the Worcester Sharks. “I think the team this year is a lot deeper. We’ve got four plus lines of forwards, and three plus lines of D that are capable of doing the job. I think three years ago, we had some players step up and play very well in the playoffs. The character level between the two teams is similar; the never give up, never-say-die attitude is there.”

An unrestricted free agent after the termination of this season, Mink, while admitting he has put a little thought into his future beyond this season, says he totally focused on the task at hand.

“Certainly once the playoffs are over here, I’m going to talk with Washington and Hershey and see what their thoughts are,” said Mink, who turned 30 on May 21st. “I’d love to come back, but that’s the stuff you have an agent for and you worry about right now. The major goal is to win the championship, and that makes everybody’s life a lot easier in the summertime.”

Hopefully, life will be easy and the champagne will be flowing all summer long in Chocolatetown.

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Eastern Conference Finals vs. Providence Game 2


On November 5, 1938, in the Hersheypark Arena, the Hershey Bears recorded their first franchise win, defeating the Providence Reds. On Sunday night at Giant Center, the Bears registered their first playoff victory over the Providence Bruins by the same score, 2-1, tying the series at one.

In the first period, the teams combined for only 11 shots on goal, which was one less than Providence’s first period total from game one, with Hershey’s first shot coming from Keith Aucoin on the power play at 16:08.

The stanza also featured one significant shot of a different nature: Graham Mink’s body shot, which was originally intended to level Providence’s Zach Hamill, instead felled Hershey captain, Bryan Helmer, who absorbed the brunt of the blow. The grizzled Helmer, a veteran of 10 AHL playoff seasons, although momentarily downed by the hit, did not miss his next shift.

“We were fighting along the boards, and I really don’t know what happened. I had my head down. I thought he (Hamill) hit me. That’s just the way Graham is; he plays hard, and stuff like that happens,” chuckled Helmer, with Mink chiming in a joking apology in the background.

Unlike game one, game two’s first period played out more like a typical opening period of a playoff series.

“Nobody was tearing it up in the first period there. Everybody was kind of sitting back and not a lot of energy out of either team, and just kind of playing it safe,” said Bears’ head coach, Bob Woods. “I think everybody’s scared to make a make a mistake because we knew that first goal was going to be big, especially with the way both goaltenders were playing.”

Hershey turned up the heat in the second period, firing 21 shots at Bruins’ goaltender, Tuukka Rask, but failed to rattle Rask’s cage.

Michal Neuvirth, Hershey’s number one netminder, as not to be outdone by his counterpart, made late saves in each of the first two periods to keep Providence off the scoreboard, denying Brad Marchand on a 2-on-1 in the first period and putting the brakes on Jeff Penner’s shorthanded bid in the second period.

An unlikely candidate finally broke the deadlock at 3:21 of the third period. Bears’ forward Andrew Joudrey skillfully redirected Tyler Sloan’s point blast behind Rask to give him team a 1-0 lead.

“It was Oskar getting down on the forecheck quick, and getting the puck through their defenseman,” said Joudrey, of his first career playoff goal. “I saw that and kind of backed off and became the high slot guy. They collapsed and Oskar found Sloan and it worked out.”
Just 2:40 seconds after Joudrey’s goal, Alexandre Giroux banked a power play shot off of former Bear, defenseman, Johnny Boychuk, to give the Bears a 2-0 lead.

“It was definitely a pass and not a shot. I think it hit his (Boychuk’s) skates, or the goalie’s pads, and it went five-hole,” said Giroux, who is now tied for the league lead in playoff power play goals with five.

Brad Marchand’s power play goal, with Rask on the bench for an extra attacker with just over 30 seconds left to play, broke Neuvirth’s bid for his 4th playoff shutout.

Neuvirth, who has played every minute of Hershey’s 13 playoff games, said he’s still raring to go, despite his heavy workload.

“Everybody’s tired. It’s a long season, but I’m feeling good, and we’re going to get a day off tomorrow,” said Neuvirth.

After evening the series with Sunday’s victory, things are looking up for the Bears as they take to the road for the next three games.

“If you go down 2-0 and go back to their barn for three, it would be really tough,” said Helmer. “We got the win tonight, and we’re looking forward to going there.”

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Bears vs. Pens East Division Finals Game 2


The Hershey Bears subscribed to Yogi Berra’s philosophy of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” when facing the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in game two of the East Division Finals at Giant Center on Sunday evening, by continuing to display balanced scoring and solid goaltending.

The Bears made their mark on the scoreboard first when Oskar Osala, stationed high in the slot between the hash marks, uncorked a shot that eluded Pens’ goaltender, John Curry, low to the glove side, to give the Bears a 1-0 lead. Osala‘s goal was the product of only the second shot of the game for Hershey.

Hershey rookie defenseman, John Carlson, who made his professional debut in Saturday’s game, netted his 1st career goal at 13:54, stretching Hershey’s lead to 2-0.

Carlson, arriving late on the scene in an odd-man foray into Penguins’ territory, lofted a rebound over a sprawling Curry, after he had made a spectacular save on Francois Bouchard on the original shot.

“I just saw it was a 3-on-2, so I just decided to jump in and be the third guy and just got lucky with the puck sitting there in the crease and I banged it in,” said Carlson.

Carlson was just as adept in his zone during his impressive inaugural weekend in the AHL, partnered with Greg Amadio tonight after skating alongside Arsene on Saturday.

“I think they are pretty similar in style because they both like to talk a lot, and that helps me a lot,” Carlson said. “It was another great game by my partner, and it always helps when your partner is playing good.”

The Bears made it 3-0 in the latter stages of the period when Graham Mink, after receiving a pretty pass from Matthieu Perreault from behind the net, quickly unleashed a shot that buzzed by the beleaguered Curry at 17:51.

After Hershey showed it’s offensive prowess in the first period, the club put on a stellar defensive performance in the second stanza, particularly on the penalty kill which faced down a major challenge early in the period, when Mink and Steve Pinizzotto were sent to the penalty box within a span of 28 seconds, giving the visitors a two-man advantage for ninety-two seconds.

The Penguins’ power play, which struck for a pair of goals in the series opener and was ranked first in the league in the post-season entering the contest, was held in check during the sequence, and did not register a single shot on goal.

“We know how potent their offense is, especially when they have a manpower advantage,” said veteran defenseman, Dean Arsene. “It’s just a lot of hard work, and we got some good bounces in our favor. Neuvy came up with some good saves.”

The Bears’ penalty kill has undergone a transformation from worst in the league in the regular season to first in the loop in the playoffs.

“I think it’s a little more attention to detail,” said Arsene, explaining the turnaround. “Overall, I think we were just thinking a little too much instead of just going and pressuring. Anytime you can pressure people, you may not cause a turnover on the first guy, but if they keep moving it, eventually they may turn it over or give us a chance to clear it.”

The Penguins, unable to penetrate the armor of Bears’ goalie, Michal Neuvirth, until 18:04 of the third period, showed obvious frustration when taking some questionable shots at Hershey players, including Jeff Taffe’s assault on Graham Mink late in the third period.

The Bears, however, held the lead and their composure, coming up with the win, 3-1, and a 2-0 lead in the series.

“I think that’s just part of the playoffs, getting physical,” said Mink. “I knew we had a penalty there, so there wasn’t any point in me doing anything about it. You’re going to give them your best shot, and they’re going to give you theirs. That just comes with the territory. You just need to keep your head and not retaliate, because it‘s not going to help your team.”

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Calder Cup Semis vs. Philly, Game 4


The Hershey Bears completed their sweep of the Philadelphia Phantoms in the Eastern Division Semifinals on Friday night at Giant Center, beating their rivals, 1-0.

Though there were no goals scored in the first 20 minutes of action, the Bears thoroughly dominated the Phantoms in the shot category, as well as territorially, with a shot differential of 11-4, and only the outstanding goaltending of Philly’s Jean-Sebastien Aubin kept the home team off the board.

“You have to give Hershey credit,” said Aubin. “They played a lot different than the last few games we played them in the regular season.”

Early in the second period, Graham Mink, who was denied by Aubin on more than one occasion in the first period, tallied on the Bears’ 6th power play of the contest, giving the Bears what would eventually prove to be the only strike of the evening.

“You just try to get chances, and you never know which one is going to go in,” Mink said of his continued efforts. “Giroux made a great play coming around behind the net and I hit it hard, and it went in the net.”

Only 38 seconds after Mink’s goal, while Hershey was on yet another power play, Phantoms’ Jonathan Matsumoto was awarded a penalty shot after his shorthanded breakaway attempt was illegally interrupted by Chris Bourque. Matsumoto, who, in the regular season, had previously scored a penalty shot goal against Bears’ netminder, Simeon Varlamov, had this bid negated by goaltender, Michal Neuvirth.

Hershey’s penalty kill, outstanding and literally perfect throughout this series, proved to be an essential ingredient in their recipe for success in this series, stopping all 22 attempts, including a pair of 2-man disadvantages in the series-clinching victory.

“Everyone on the PK has realized that special teams is going to win your series,” said Beagle. “It’s a lot more important in the playoffs, and we found a way to get the job done. It was like scoring a big goal. The crowd was roaring and they got the team fired up; all the boys on the bench were yelling, and there was an incredible electricity.”

Hershey coach, Bob Woods, who has sipped champagne from the Calder Cup, both as a player and as an assistant coach, smiled while reflecting on his team’s hard fought victory.

“I told the guys after the game that that’s just a taste; as we keep going here, there’s going to be more fans in here and it’s only going to get better.”

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Bears Return Phantoms’ Favor


Facing the same team, the Philadelphia Phantoms, in the same venue that they suffered one of their most heartbreaking losses on home ice five years ago to the day, the Hershey Bears exacted a little morsel of revenge, clawing out a 3-2 win over the Phantoms at Giant Center.

Hershey goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, coming off a disappointing effort the previous night in Philadelphia, was often times spectacular while picking up his 9th win of the season, stopping 29 shots that included four breakaway type launches.

Bolstered by the return of Greg Amadio and Graham Mink to their lineup, the Bears were a busy bunch in the opening moments of game, firing shots from all angles at Phantoms goaltender, Jean-Sebastien Aubin, yet failing to find a way to beat the veteran netminder through the first 13 minutes of play.

Kyle Wilson, who had not found the back of the net at Giant Center since February 11th, finally found a hole in Aubin’s armor, wristing home his 27th goal of the season at 13:25, with the Bears in the midst of their third power play of the stanza.

“The d-man gave me a little room on the wall, and I walked out,” said Wilson. “The other d-man had to cover Bouchard. I took a shot and the goalie didn’t see it because Gordon was there putting up a solid screen.”

Wilson dented the twine again early in the second period, converting from close range to give the Bears a 2-0 lead. Francois Bouchard, who was denied earlier in the shift from close range by Aubin, picked up the only official helper on the tally; however, referee, Kyle Rehman, earned a “phantom” assist, getting in the way of an attempted clearing attempt by the Phantoms.

“Not much I had to do, but find a good spot for him. He (Bouchard) put it right on my tape, and I just tapped it home,” Wilson said.

Coincidental penalties, just 10 seconds after the goal, to Hershey’s defensemen, Dean Arsene and Staffan Kromwall, set the stage for Philly’s first goal of the evening, a 5-on-3 power play strike from Luca Sbisa, which was his first goal of the season.

Sbisa’s goal was the last goal of the second period, and Wilson was denied his hat trick at seven minutes after being sprung by a long outlet pass by Amadio, who returned after a 17 game absence.

“I don’t think it was overly tough to stay positive (while not playing), but definitely it was a mental battle to keep pushing myself to be in tip top shape when I came back,” said Amadio.

Shortly after Neuvirth denied Patrick Maroon’s point blank attempt, Kronwall scored the eventual game-winner at 14:49, making the score 3-1.

“Joudrey won the draw clean,” said Kronwall, whose goal was his 2nd in a Bears’ uniform. “I saw the other guy was kind of cheating on me, and I cut across and somehow it made it through.”

With the Phantoms on the power play, and Aubin on the bench in favor of an extra attacker, Maroon cut Hershey’s lead to 3-2, banking a shot off of Hershey defenseman, Karl Alzner, at 18:34.

Philly failed to get the equalizer in the final seconds of play, despite some intense moments which included Amadio defending the Bears’ den without his stick by gloving the puck out of harm’s way.

“I had no stick and I saw the puck,” said Amadio. “It was just a reaction that I dove and hit it with my hand, and thank God it went into the corner.”

With their win, the Bears clinched the AHL’s Eastern Division Championship; yet, Kronwall still sees room for improvement in his team’s play.

“I’m not very happy with the way we played. You’ve got to give them credit, but I don’t think we played at all the way we should be playing right now going into the playoffs.”

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Bears Bite Tigers


Theoretically, it was the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, who were idle last night in Hershey awaiting tonight’s game, that should have came out in the opening period on the attack; however, it was the Hershey Bears who dominated their own den, reeling off three unanswered first period goals on their way to a convincing 7-2 win at Giant Center.

In the high scoring contest, with five different Bears lighting the lamp, Alexandre Giroux’s record-tying and record-breaking goals outshone them all.  In just 62 games, Giroux became the first player in the 71 years of Hershey Bears hockey to score more than 53 goals in a single season.  The previous record was set during the 1982-83 season by Tony Cassolato in 75 games.

“It was amazing,” said Giroux of his accomplishment. “To be honest, I was hoping to get it tonight or as soon as possible. I was very emotional to be able to get it done; I was pretty proud it.”

Keith Aucoin, returning to Chocolatetown after suiting up for the Washington Capitals last night, started the Bears’ first period barrage, beating Bridgeport goaltender, Nathan Lawson, at 7:24, after one-timing a pass from Tyler Sloan, with the teams skating at four a side.

“I wanted him (Sloan) to give me the puck in the neutral zone, but he kept it. I didn’t expect him to make that pass, be he got it through. I shot it as quick as I could and it went in,” said Aucoin.

Aucoin was at his play-making best just a minute after his goal, finding Chris Bourque at Lawson’s doorstep for an easy tap-in goal, with Hershey enjoying a 4-on-3 power play.

“He (Bourque) always jokes that I don’t pass it to him enough,” said Aucoin, while taking some good-natured ribbing from Bourque, who joked that the AHL’s leading scorer collected three phantom assists during the match.  “I’m glad he was able to handle it.”

Aucoin finished his three-point period by beating Lawson for his 25th goal of the season at 18:20, after going circle-to-circle with some assistance from teammate, Graham Mink.

“I was looking for Giroux first and I couldn’t get it to him because the one defenseman took him. Then other guy tried to block my shot and I was able to get around him. I saw a little leeway over his glove and I was able to find it,” said Aucoin.

At 3:58 of the second period, Mink tallied his career-high 32nd goal of the season, putting his team on top, 4-0, after a beautiful pass from Sami Lepisto, with the Bears’ goaltender, Simeon Varlamov, picking up the secondary assist.

Bridgeport’s Trevor Smith and Andrew MacDonald sandwiched power play goals around Giroux’s historical goals, making it a 6-2 game after two periods.

With Peter Mannino replacing Lawson in goal to start the third period, Andrew Gordon needed less than a minute into the third period to score his 21st goal of the season, which would be the final goal of the contest.

Giroux and Aucoin, who obviously have chemistry on the ice, complimented each other’s amazing abilities after the record-breaking evening.

“As far as getting me the puck he’s pretty amazing,” said Giroux of Aucoin. “I think we complete each other pretty well. I try to find the open spot on the ice so that he can see me, and we can get it done. Without him, I don’t think I could have gotten it done.”

“He not only scores from anywhere, but he’s also one of the more skilled guys in the league, and can create his own chances,” said Aucoin about linemate, Giroux. “I’ve played with some pretty good players, but he’s by far the top goal scorer that I’ve ever played with.”

Notes:

Hershey has now won five straight games.

Bears meet the WBS Penguins tomorrow at home to finish off the weekend.

Mink, who fought Michael Haley late in the 2nd period, did not return for the 3rd period.

Hershey marked their 101st point this evening, the 3rd time they have done so in their four-year affiliation with the Washington Capitals organization.

 

 

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