Y’know, sometimes I think teams tend to play different when they are missing a star player. I know that seems like an obvious statement and you may be thinking “well of course they play different; they are missing their star player.” Read the rest of this entry »
As far as the long history of the Hershey Bears goes, Bob Woods will always be a “special” guy. After capturing his first Calder Cup with the Bears as a player in 1997, he proceeded to pounce upon his second as an assistant under Bruce Boudreau in 2006, where his duties included running the special teams, and finished off the “triple treat” by notching his third this season as the head coach, putting him in special company.
“They’re all good and nice in their own way. I think the differences are, as a player it’s nice because you’re one of the guys, and as a coach, you’re kind of the leader of the guys.”
Woods, who replaced Boudreau last season after Boudreau received the call to run the Washington Capitals’ bench, was well aware of the scrutiny he would be facing following up Boudreau’s highly successful run at the Hershey helm.
“Those are big shoes to fill, and to be able to show that I could do it on my own, I was pretty proud of that; but I couldn’t have done it without the guidance from Bruce.”
Despite the fact that he was leading a talented club with a heavy veteran presence in his first full season in Chocolatetown, Woods, a native of LeRoy, Saskatchewan, was confident that he could handle the challenge that awaited him.
“This is my fourth championship now, so I think I’ve got a pretty good handle of what it takes to be a champion. I think I’m fair with the guys. As long as you’re talking to them and are fair with them, they’re going to play hard for you.”
Lauded by Boudreau as a big reason why the 2006 Bears ascended to the top, Woods feted his assistant coach, Mark French as a huge factor in the 2009 triumph.
“I’ve got a great assistant in Mark, he was a big bonus for me, and I don’t know what I’d do without him.”
Peering through his crystal ball as he eyed up the 2009 campaign, Woods, who definitely knows a winning squad when he sees it, liked what he saw from the start.
“Before anyone even got here, we saw the potential and knew that we had a team, if all would keep healthy, if we could keep them all together, we knew we had all the makings of a championship team.”
Although the Bears struggled slightly, but eventually mowed down the Manitoba Moose in the finals, Woods said his charges’ chances took a pivotal turn much earlier in their playoff journey.
“I think the turning point was when we beat Wilkes-Barre in game seven. We knew that was good, and that was what we were battling for, as much for the division championship because we knew home ice would be huge. Once we got through that and won that series, even though we knew Providence was going to be tough, we knew we had that chance.”
Heading into the playoffs, with Daren Machesney faltering a bit down the stretch, and Simeon Varlamov securing a spot between the pipes for the Capitals in the NHL playoffs, many thought that Hershey’s goaltending looked to be its most problematic position. However, Woods knew that rookie, Michal Neuvirth, was capable of steadying the ship.
“Once we really got to know Neuvy, I didn’t have any doubt because I just saw he was the type of kid that he is, and nothing really bothers him.
“You think about a kid 20 years old being in an environment like Hershey, where there’s a lot of pressure, and he handled it well, under the circumstances. He showed emotion and the guys were fired up that he was doing what he was doing, and they battled hard for him.”
Now that the 41-year-old Woods has accomplished everything one can accomplish in the AHL, the powers that be in Washington have decided to give him a chance to earn “one for the thumb” as Boudreau’s assistant coach after being named to that position yesterday.
With the Capitals, he will have the opportunity to coach the defenseman, many of whom he helped develop in Hershey.
The Calder Cup Finals match up between the Hershey Bears and Manitoba Moose, which figured to be a dandy of series, considering the fact that the two clubs finished within a point of each other in the regular season, has not disappointed through the first five games.
Arguably, the biggest reason that the series has lived up to expectations is the glittering goaltending exhibition that has been on display, featuring Moose netminder, Cory Schneider, and Hershey backstopper, Michal Neuvirth.
Entering this series, the duo who were not born in the same year but only days apart, possessed identical playoff numbers in games played (16), wins and losses (12-4) and goals against (33), with Schneider showing a slightly lower goals against average (2.00 to 2.03), and Neuvirth nosing out his counterpart in the save percentage category (.929 to .925).
Despite the statistical similarities between Schneider and Neuvirth, the routes that the sure-fire future NHL goaltenders traveled to get this spot on the map have been anything but identical, with Schneider cruising along at a steady speed, but Neuvirth taking the circuitous route.
Schneider, the 23 year-old native of Marblehead, Massachusetts, was drafted in the first round by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2004 NHL Entry draft after he led Team USA Under 18 Selects to the gold medal in the Under 18 World Junior Cup, but before he had played his first game at Boston College.
Obviously, the Vancouver scouts who were instrumental in selecting Schneider had a keen eye in noticing his star potential, as he put up stellar numbers in all three of his seasons guarding the “Eagles’ Nest”.
During his three seasons at B.C., he registered 65 wins and 15 shutouts, including a school record 8 whitewashes in the 05-06 season, when he led the Eagles to the finals of the NCAA tournament, where they ultimately fell in the championship game to the University of Wisconsin Badgers, who featured Hershey forward, Andrew Joudrey, in their lineup.
Turning pro in the 2007-08 season, Schneider’s transition to the pro game went very smoothly, as he eclipsed the 20-win plateau and led the Moose to the Calder Cup playoffs, where he suffered four heartbreaking overtime losses to the Syracuse Crunch in the Moose’s first round ouster.
Refusing to succumb to the sophomore jinx, Schneider was named the recipient of the Aldege “Buzz’ Bastein award this season, and also earned eight games in the NHL with Canucks, thanks to his noble numbers in the AHL.
Neuvirth’s roller coaster ride began when he was selected by the Washington Capitals in the second round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, 11 selections after the Caps chose Simeon Varlamov, who is seemingly the 21 year-old native of the Czech Republic’s biggest obstacle to overcome for a position with Washington in next years’ training camp.
Neuvirth’s travels to the shores of North American started innocently enough in the 2006-07 season when he tallied 26 wins in 41 appearances with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League, leading the Whalers to the OHL championship and earning the F.W. “Dinty” Moore Trophy as the first-year goaltender with the lowest goals against average in the process.
Neuvirth’s second season in the OHL proved to be rather trying, as the young Czech netminder was twice traded and “tended the twine” for three different clubs before a season-ending knee injury in the playoffs ended his season.
In hindsight, it was probably a blessing that Neuvirth endured such an arduous adventure in his sophomore season, as that experience no doubt helped prepare him to ride out the twister of the 2008-09 season.
After failing to make the Capitals out of training camp, Neuvirth plied his trade for one game with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL before being dispatched to Hershey, while the Capitals’ goaltending glut sorted itself out.
With Varlamov already in Hershey and incumbent, Daren Machesney, also returning to Chocolatetown, Neuvirth was relegated to being a practice goalie while the organization searched for a locale in the AHL in which he would be afforded some much needed playing time.
With no suitable facilitator for Neuvirth’s services, the rookie pro was sent back to his native Czech Republic, while his situation was settled. When Neuvirth returned to the United States, he was once again sent to South Carolina of the ECHL where he posted sparkling numbers, despite an unimpressive win-loss record.
Finally, on December 27th Neuvirth earned a belated Christmas present, his 1st AHL start, a 4-1 loss to the Binghamton Senators at Giant Center. After making his AHL debut, Neuvirth went on to make 16 additional starts for the Bears, winning five out of his last six after being handed the ball down the stretch.
Despite the current battle between his team and the Hershey Bears, and more specifically the natural rivalry between netminders, Schneider sees and appreciates the talent at the other end of the ice.
“Some nights, one guy is better than the other, but he (Neuvirth) has been fantastic,” said Schneider, after Game 5 of the Calder Cup finals at Giant Center. “He looks great for a young guy and he shows a lot of poise, and doesn’t seem to get rattled too easily.”
The Hershey Bears, facing an unfamiliar situation in the playoffs at Giant Center, trailing after one period of play, responded in familiar fashion, scoring the last two goals of the game and emerging with a 2-1 win over the Manitoba Moose on Sunday evening to take a 3-1 series lead in the best of seven Calder Cup Finals.
Raymond Sawada gave the Moose a 1-0 lead 11:37 into the first period, rifling a wrist shot past Hershey goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, from between the face-off circles.
Neuvirth’s counterpart, Cory Schneider, who has been outstanding between the pipes for the Moose against the high octane Hershey attack, kept the Bears off the board late in the period, repelling Mathieu Perreault’s backhand attempt from close range to keep it a 1-0 game after twenty minutes of play.
Just as Schneider did late in the first period, Neuvirth nullified high-scoring Moose forward, Michael Grabner’s, backhand attempt in the opening minute of the second period with the visitors in the midst of a power play.
Kyle Wilson willed home the equalizer for the Bears 5:11 into the second period, wristing a shot by the glove hand of Schneider, after the Moose netminder lost his angle and gave Wilson a huge target at which to shoot. Wilson’s goal was his third of the playoffs and his first since the opening game of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton series.
“Gordon made a great play with a little saucer pass to me,” said Wilson, who has never missed a playoff game in his three-year Hershey career. “I had to fight off a couple guys and get myself free to make a good shot. By the time I did that, the goalie had committed down pretty low, so I had to get up and over him.”
Bear’s defenseman John Carlson, who made his debut in Hershey during game one against the Baby Pens and picked up the secondary assist on Wilson’s goal, is enjoying the rollercoaster ride in his rookie season.
“It’s an unbelievable experience and opportunity to be placed in a situation like this. Some guys never get it, and here I am, 19 years old, and having a shot to do it. I couldn’t ask for anything more,” said Carlson, the Washington Capitals’ 1st round selection in the 2008 draft.
Schneider regained his sharpness after the Wilson goal, denying a pair of quality chances by Hershey’s leading point scorer, Keith Aucoin to send the game into the third period, knotted at 1-1.
Early in the third period, Quintin Laing, Hershey’s inspirational leader, delivered a crunching hit on Manitoba’s Dusty Collins, giving his team an emotional lift and seemed to provide a spark in the step of the home team.
“I was a little cautious about throwing my body around in my first game back, but after I took a couple of good hits and handled those and nothing happened to me, I figured if I could take them, I could give them,” said Laing, who will celebrate his 30th birthday on Monday.
With former Capital, Nolan Baumgartner, already in the box serving a penalty for hooking, a sloppy line change cost the Moose another skater, and gave the Bears a 5-on-3 opportunity for 65 seconds.
Thanks to some early communication problems between Keith Aucoin and Staffan Kronwall, Hershey used 63 of those precious seconds before Aucoin atoned for his error in judgment by depositing an errant shot by Alexandre Giroux into the cage.
“I screwed up at the beginning, throwing it down the other end,” said Aucoin. “I got a lucky bounce off the wall there and was able to capitalize. I had a lot of shots high, and I was due for one.”
Despite a Moose power play chance at the end of the game, the Bears held on for the win, with Neuvirth preserving his win by kicking aside Jason Krog’s bid in the closing seconds.
Hershey’s victory moved them within just one win of capturing their 10th Calder Cup Championship, which would be their first on home ice since 1980 when the Bears defeated the New Brunswick Hawks, a team which featured former Bears’ coach, Bruce Boudreau as its leading scorer.
Laing, a nine year veteran in search of his first professional championship, favors Hershey’s position, but views Tuesday’s game with caution.
“It’s a good feeling to be this close, but we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. The clinching game has always been the toughest the last three rounds. We’re expecting a good, hard fight, and the crowd is going to be behind us; hopefully we can feed off of them.”
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.”
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.”
The Providence Bruins and Hershey Bears met at Giant Center for Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night. After feasting on the Penguins in the last round, the Bears found the task of moving up the food chain a bit more challenging, falling 3-2.
Providence drew first blood in the encounter, with both of their special teams units playing a role in the early going.
The Bruins’ penalty killing unit, which entered the game with a perfect record of 15 consecutive successful ventures on foreign ice in the playoffs, was featured first after Kirk MacDonald was whistled off for slashing at 2:19. That group performed flawlessly, making it 16 in a row in the early going, killing off the advantage without allowing a shot on goal.
Up next for the P-Bruins was their power play unit, which had struck for a pair of extra man markers in both of the regular season meetings between the clubs. Just over a minute into the advantage, Jeff Penner tallied at 8:03 to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
Later in the period, while on their second power play venture, the P-Bruins increased their lead to 2-0, when Jordan Knackstedt slid a backhander by sprawling Bears’ goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, at 16:19.
Former Bruin, Keith Aucoin, said that stumbling out of the starting block factored heavily into the Bears suffering the setback.
“We knew they were going to come hard, and we weren’t ready,” said Aucoin. “That’s why we lost the game.”
The Bears, after repelling an early attack in the second period, finally found a way to beat Bruins’ goaltender, Tuukka Rask, when Oskar Osala converted a beautiful cross-ice pass from Aucoin, and cut the Hershey deficit to a single goal.
Matt Marquardt restored the visitors’ two-goal cushion at 8:28, cashing on a rebound of a Zach Hamill shot that Neuvirth stopped, but could not control.
Moments after the line of Chris Bourque, Kyle Wilson, and Andrew Gordon put in an impressive shift, maintaining persistent offensive pressure in the Providence zone, but unable to find the back of net, Osala found the promised land, wristing a shot behind Rask at 14:41 to slice the Bruins’ bulge to a single goal for the second time in the game.
The Bears had several chances later in the game, particularly in the last minute of play; however, Rask was equal to the task, denying linemates Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux with quality saves, to preserve the Providence lead and assure his team the win.
“I think we came out a little flat, and they came out stronger than us, and the 2-0 lead was hard to come back from,” said Giroux.
If Hershey hopes to even the series tomorrow night, they will need to find a way to focus for a full 60 minutes.
“I could find any excuses, but it’s not going to find any solutions,” Giroux said. “It’s behind us now, and we’ve got to focus on tomorrow night.”
(33) Percentage of Hershey’s shots that the trio of Graham Mink, Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux propelled at the Penguins’ goaltenders in the WBS series.
(23) Number of Hershey players who have registered at least one point in the playoffs.
(17) Number of periods that the Bears have not allowed a goal by their opponents.
(16) Number of Bears that have registered at least one goal in this post-season.
(13) Number of Bears who have donned the sweater of the Chocolate and White for all 11 playoff contests.
(9) Number of Hershey multi-point games by everyone who has appeared in the playoffs, excluding Giroux and Aucoin.
(8) Combined number of multi-point games registered by Aucoin and Giroux (4 each)…Games that the Bears have scored the first goal of the game… Number of different players who have scored Hershey’s last eight goals at Giant Center.
(7) Number of different Bears who have tallied the eight game winning goals…Number of times that Michal Neuvirth has been named a star of the game….Number of Bears who have scored their 1st AHL playoff goals.
(6) Number of different Bears who have tallied the six game winning goals at Giant Center.
(+6) Andrew Joudrey’s team leading +/- number. Tyler Sloan and Steve Pinizzotto are each +5.
(3) Number of Hershey game-winning goals that have been struck in the 1st period in their last three triumphs.
(2) Number of Hershey fights in the post-season (Greg Amadio-Paul Bissonnette and Oskar Osala-Patrick Maroon).
(0) Number of first period goals that the Bears have allowed at Giant Center.
On the 21st anniversary of the day the 1987-88 Hershey Bears captured their 12th straight playoff victory, earning the franchise’s 7th Calder Cup, the 2008-09 version of the club took a big step towards earning Calder Cup number ten, defeating the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 3-0 in game 7 of their East Division Final series at Giant Center, and advancing to the East Conference Finals.
Goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, who yielded 12 goals to the Penguins during the Bears’ three losses at the Wachovia Arena, said his confidence never wavered during his three tough outings.
“I knew I could play better,” said Neuvirth. “I was missing bad bounces for us, and I just hoped I could get back to lucky bounces, and things worked out for us.”
Neuvurth, who gave a lot of credit to his defense, was perfect for the second consecutive game, stopping all 24 shots he faced, including quality chances by Dustin Jeffrey and Chris Minard, midway through the second period.
Only 50 seconds after the opening faceoff, Hershey’s Alexandre Giroux, who often found himself the recipient of a Keith Aucoin pass on his way to a 60-goal regular season, played the playmaker role to perfection, putting a picture perfect pass on the tape of his linemate to give the Bears an early 1-0 lead.
“I think I gave him a lot of empty nets this year, so he owed me at least one,” joked Aucoin. “He made a great pass. He could have shot it, but he made a great pass and I had an easy job to just put it on the net.”
The Penguins enjoyed their only two power plays, 39 seconds of which was a 5-on-3 advantage, late in the second period, and carrying over into the early moments of the third. However, Hershey’s penalty killing unit, led by Andrew Joudrey, helped to extinguish the threat of the baby Pens’ firepower.
Joudrey, who also won a NCAA championship at the University of Wisconsin, compared the experience to his first Game 7 playoff action.
“There are a lot of similarities there,” said Joudrey, Hershey’s plus/minus leader in the playoffs. “It’s one of those things where you, in both instances, you throw away anything that has happened in other parts of the series, and it’s one game, winner take all. There are definitely a lot of parallels.”
The Bears power play, which had failed on three previous occasions in the game, was given a fourth opportunity when Reid Cashman was whistled off for hooking at 4:35 of the second period.
Just 19 seconds into the ensuing power play, Chris Bourque struck for his 2nd goal of the playoffs, giving Hershey a 2-0 lead.
Cashman also figured into Hershey’s 3rd goal when he shattered his stick while attempting a slapshot, leading to an odd-man rush. Steve Pinizzotto, a pest in the Penguins’ side throughout this series, used linemate, Darren Reid as a decoy, and bounced a shot of Jon D’Aversa and between the pads of netminder, Adam Berkhoel at 10:49.
“It bounced on something, and it was just good luck, and it came at the right time,” said Pinizzotto. “That was a nail in their coffin.”
In defeat, Penguins’ head coach, Todd Reirden, admitted there were several factors that contributed to his team’s demise.
“Their goalie played outstanding. I thought he was much better here than he was on the road,” said Reirden. “We had to win our three home games, and we invested a lot of energy in terms of our effort level and stuff like that. Playing 3-in-3 with that type of urgency is tough, so we were still fighting back from that.”
He continued, “It’s a tough opponent over there, and I feel these are the two best teams in the league, and it’s unfortunate we have to knock each other off. Credit to the way they go about their business; a great job by their coaching staff, and their players.”
Tags: Adam Berkhoel, Alexandre Giroux, Andrew Joudrey, Chris Bourque, Chris Minard, Darren Reid, Dustin Jeffrey, Hershey Bears, Jon D'Aversa, Keith Aucoin, Michal Neuvirth, Steve Pinizzotto, Todd Reirden
The Hershey Bears, facing a must-win situation on Sunday evening at Giant Center, responded magnificently to the challenge when they shut out the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, 3-0.
The whitewash was the Penguins first game without scoring a goal since their contest with the Albany River Rats on March 21, 2008.
Bears’ goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, who politely declined to comment after the game, citing illness as the reason, let his actions do the talking during the game, stopping all 30 shots fired in his direction, including a pair of dandies in the middle portion of the second period from Nick Johnson and Bill Thomas.
After an initial early feeling-out sequence that featured plenty of action, but no finishing, Andrew Gordon gave the Bears a 1-0 lead at 11:35 of the opening period. Gordon, with his linemate, Chris Bourque, created congestion in the crease area, and patiently waited for Pens’ netminder, Adam Berkhoel, to commit before depositing a wrist shot behind him.
“The defenseman that was originally on me went down and forced Wilson, and Bourque was sort of tied up in front,” said Gordon, whose goal was his third of the playoffs. “I knew if I could get to that far post, Bourque had net side on him, so he was blocking him out a little bit. When I got the puck from Wilson, I just kept thinking, ‘I’ve got to get this up top’.”
Early in the second period, Darren Reid, used primarily in a defensive role by Woods in the regular season, eluded the grasp of former Bears’ defenseman, Deryk Engelland, then used a sweet backahand-to-forehand move to best Berkhoel at 22 seconds.
The line of Darren Reid, Andrew Joudrey, and Steve Pinizzotto played a pivotal role in getting the Bears off to a good start in each of the three periods. Hershey head coach, Bob Woods, who, thanks to getting the last line change due to being on home ice, expertly exercised his power to put specific personnel on the ice, explained that the matchup was exactly what he had intended.
“They were playing against the guys we had them scheduled to play against,” said Woods. “Whoever they started, we knew who we were starting, and that’s who it worked out with. Those three are probably good guys to start your period. They’re going to be energy, they’re going to get pucks deep, they’re going to cycle, they’re going to bang, and usually good things happen from that; it’s contagious.”
Referee, Frederic L’Ecuyer, who did not call any penalties in the first period, whistled the Pens’ Nick Johnson off the ice at 2:09, giving the Bears the first power play of the game. With Johnson in the “joint” doing his time, Alexandre Giroux beat Berkhoel with a wraparound power play goal at 3:11 to give the Bears a 3-0 lead.
“I didn’t think about the goalie or anything,” Giroux said. “I was going to stop at the blue line and wait for the guys because we were on the power play, and try to set up. I saw the defenseman (Engelland) step out on me, so I had a lot of speed and decided to keep going. I saw a little opening and I put it in.”
Giroux’s goal stood as the last goal of the game, with Gordon garnering his first career game-winning goal. The 23-year-old Gordon, who has quietly assumed an unofficial leadership role, was humbled when asked if he envisioned himself in that position.
“I’m sort of caught somewhere between a young guy and an older guy. I’m only a 2nd year pro, so guys like Perreault and Bouchard and Carlson, who are a little younger than me, can feel a little more comfortable talking to me rather than an older veteran like Mink, who plays a different style. I’ll assess that role if that’s what I’m being given. It’s great if I can play a leadership role on a team as special as this.”