The Hershey Bears returned to Winnipeg Friday night for the first time since last June, when they knocked off the Manitoba Moose in game 6 to win the Calder Cup AHL Championship, with a 10 game winning streak on the line. Well, it took 7 rounds in the shootout but the Chocolate & White prevailed with a 2-1 exciting victory to make it 11 straight. Hershey goes for a club record 12 wins in a row on Saturday night against the same Moose team.
The first period started with both teams feeling each other out and it wasn’t until about 7 minutes into this one that the first shot on net occurred. For the next several minutes the Bears would dominate and Canucks hot goalie prospect, Cory Schneider, made some very good saves on Keith Aucoin and Chris Bourque. It wasn’t until the Moose received a late power play that they got something going. Braden Holtby made solid glove saves on Michael Grabner from the top of the left circle and then a deflected point blast by former Montreal d-man, Mathieu Schneider, to keep this one scoreless after the opening stanza. Shots were 8-6 in favor of Hershey after one period.
The second period started with a bang for the Bears as Keith Aucion did a super job of tipping the puck to Alexandre Giroux on the left wing at the offensive blue line and #12 then slid the puck directly across the slot to Andrew Gordon, who quickly buried it by Schneider top shelf just 13 seconds in. The teams would trade chances with both goalies making good saves but the Moose would finally get on the board when Bryan Helmer badly misplayed the puck and former Cap Matt Pettinger jumped on it in the neutral zone. Pettinger would go in alone on Holtby and beat him five hole to tie things up. Shorlty thereafter defenseman Karl Alzner, who was just sent back to the Bears after 14 games with the Caps, sprung Mathieu Perreault in on a semi-breakaway but Schneider denied him. However, the zebras awarded Perreault with a penalty shot in what looked to me like a two minute minor. The 2006 6th round draft pick of the Capitals would make a nice move to the backhand but he didn’t get the puck up and Schneider flashed the left pad to stop him. After two periods the Bears had a slight 22-20 shots advantage.
Period three saw more back and forth action with the Moose getting the only power play of the final stanza when Holtby shot the puck over the glass. But the Bears penalty killing unit was solid and the game remained tied. In the final five minutes Hershey had some good chances but Schneider, who had a stint in the NHL in 2008-09 when Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo was injured, stopped Giroux in close and then defenseman Patrick McNeill from the point. At the game’s end, Gordon almost won it for Hershey but a Moose defenseman batted his shot, that appeared to be heading in, to the corner with his glove.
In overtime, the action went 4 on 4 and it was exciting end to end hockey. The best chance went to Greg Amadio who found himself all alone with Schneider but he could not beat him and off to the shootout this one went. Kyle Wilson, Giroux, and Francois Bouchard scored for the Bears on their first 5 attempts while the Moose answered with 3 of their own. Marty Murray of Manitoba actually had a chance to win it in the bottom of the 5th and he tried a backhand move that had beaten Holtby a couple of times before but #1 made a sparkling glove save. John “Game Over” Carlson then missed and Holtby got even with Pettinger stopping him to keep it going. Then Gordon, who had the only Bears goal in in regulation, went top shelf to put the pressure on Manitoba. When Matt Pope went in and was stopped by Holtby, Bears announcer John Walton let loose with his signature “Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening Manitoba!” and the winning streak is still alive.
Here are some thoughts and analysis on this one:
Holtby (30 saves) was the game’s #1 star and he played well against a veteran Moose team. The Caps 2008 4th round pick in the NHL draft was very positionally sound, controlled his rebounds, and was only beaten on breakaways. He gave up the regulation goal to Pettinger and then the first two shootout tallies via similar backhand moves but credit the younsgter for adjusting and stopping that move later in the shootout when the game was on the line. GM George McPhee has to be proud of the way this young goalie is developing.
The Alzner-Carlson defensive pair was simply dominant. When they were on the ice the Caps Bears seemed to control the puck the whole time much like the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings used to do. Manitoba has a veteran team with former NHLers in Pettinger, Mike Keane, and Marty Murray so it is not like they were facing a bunch of young guys they have already dominated in junior hockey. I have a hard time not seeing this pairing in the NHL next season for Washington.
Blue liner Schneider, who was waived by the Canucks on December 29th and will turn 40 this June, seemed like he was on the ice all night. They don’t keep ice times in the AHL but he had to play at least 30 minutes in regulation alone. I guess the Canucks don’t have much in the AHL they are trying to develop because the 1993 Stanley Cup winner with the Habs ate up a lot of playing time that could have gone to potential d-man prospects. Defenseman Evan Oberg is on recall to Vancouver with Kevin Bieska out three months due to severed ankle tendons.
Goalie Schneider (33 saves) was the game’s second star and he will turn 24 in March. He would likely be in the NHL if not for Luongo. I have seen him play Hershey three times now and he has been really good in every game. I can’t help but think some other NHL team would want him to be their starter because he looks better to me than some guys I’ve seen on other clubs.
Up front for Hershey, I saw what I expected, alot of jump from Chris Bourque, but he did make a bad giveaway in front of his own net, some good grinding by Steve Pinizzotto, energy and scoring chances from Aucion and Gordon, good hands and passing by the slower Giroux, and a nice skating game from Perreault, although Mathieu did not play as well as I had hoped he would. Noone stood out but when you score only one goal that is to be expected.