After being eliminated just six games into the postseason on Easter Sunday, as expected the Hershey Bears are off to a roaring start. Saturday night the Bears returned to Chocolate Town for their home opener against the Norfolk Admirals. In a night celebrating Giant Center’s tenth season, Michel Ouellet scored for the Ads 66 seconds into OT to hand the Bears their first defeat of the season.
Going into Saturday’s duel with Norfolk, the Bears entered 3-0 outscoring the opposition 13-9. In their 13 tallies, nine different players have scored. Among those nine different players, six did not play for the Chocolate and White in the 2010-11 campaign. In his return to Hershey after playing in Europe last season, Chris Bourque lead the team with seven points in just three games entering play.
After an even start to Saturday’s matinée, the Bears would soon build pressure and numerous chances in the offensive end. After a Keith Aucoin breakaway in which he failed to capitalize on, it drew the Bears’ first power play of the game. Only eight seconds into the man-advantage, Graham Mink would score for Hershey off a centering feed from Aucoin. The Bears’ first goal of the season at Giant Center came at the 6:42 mark.
Hershey would continue their offensive onslaught, as they began to pull away in the shot column. However, it took just one rush for Norfolk with 6:39 remaining to tie the game at one goal a side. Radko Gudas would throw a rebound that found its way past Holtby and underneath the crossbar. Gudas’ first goal of the young season came on Norfolk’s fourth shot of the game.
With momentum then on their side, they would capitalize again with only 1:22 left in the stanza off a Hershey defensive miscue. Christian Hanson found himself tangled up with his own backstop, enabling Gudas to again find a loose puck on the door step of the net. After slipping it past Holtby, the fans began to hit the concessions thinking the period was over.
The Bears’ first line of Mink, Aucoin and Bourque was able to set up a late offensive forecheck in the Norfolk end of the ice. With 13.8 left in the period, Sean Collins would bomb a slap shot on net that appeared to be tipped by Graham Mink on route to the cage. The puck glanced by Jaroslav Jasnus to tie the game just prior of intermission. Collins was credited with his first goal of the season.
Similar to the first, the Bears started the middle period with a high level intensity. In the first six minutes, they were outshooting Norfolk 7-1. On the very next shot for Hershey, Chris Bourque hit pay dirt for his fourth goal of the season. In the offensive zone he was left unmarked by the Admirals’ defense, leading to Bourque wristing a shot glove-side past Janus.
Throughout the game, the Norfolk Admirals were set up in a 1-3-1 formation similar to their parent club, Tampa Bay Lightning. Towards the middle minutes of the stanza, however, the Admirals’ began to struggle containing the Bears defensively. At the 11:04 mark of the second, Mattias Sjorgren sent a beautiful behind the back feed to Matthew Ford. Ford would beat Janus to the short side giving the Bears a two goal lead to work with for the first time all game.
Once again, the Chocolate and White were unable to hang on to the lead. Cory Conacher and Carter Ashton would both tally only 28 seconds apart in the dyeing few minutes of the period. After 40 minutes, both teams would head into the dressing room dead locked at 4-4. Hershey would have a 26-18 shot advantage, as they fired 15 on net in the middle period.
After a slug fest for both teams in the first 40 minutes, surprisingly neither team game out in the opening six minutes of the third with any energy. Both teams for the first time were extremely slopping in connecting tape-to-tape, crisp passes. For the most part, it was the Bears inability to make any break out passes from their defensive end to the neutral zone that lead to them getting only two shots on net in the first eight minutes of the third stanza.
8:59 into the third, a sloppy mistake lead to a Norfolk 5-4 advantage. Patrick Wellar, who at the time was the Bears’ last defender, misplayed the puck right to Cory Conacher. Conacher walked in on all alone and wristed a shot glove high past Holtby for his second of the night.
Hershey, however, similar to the Norfolk Admirals all game long would respond. On the power play, Jacob Micflikier would jam in a puck in close past Janus. After the goal, it became clear the two teams had bad blood fo each other as the physical, chippy play after whistles began to pick up.
The Bears’ power play was given an opportunity late in the third period to climb back into the game. Jaroslav Janus would be penalized for clearly pushing his net off intentionally with Hershey heavily pressuring. The two-handed push by Janus would give the Chocolate and White a man-advantage they would tally on just 37 seconds later.
Jacob Micflikier right on the door step of the goal would jam a loose puck through the culpable Janus to knot the game at 5-5.
It would force overtime giving each team a small sigh a relief that they have both earned at least one point.
In overtime, Michel Ouellete, the former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin, would be the hero, sending a nearly sold out Hershey crowd home quiet. A quick, sharp angle shot off another rush would prove to be the decisive blow to Hershey in sudden death.
Although it was the Hershey Bears’ first lost of the season, Keith Aucoin recorded his 500 AHL assist in his luxurious career. Also, it’s worth noting through the first four games of the new campaign, the Bears’ power play has shown signs of excellence being 6-for-23, among the best in the AHL.
The Hershey Bears return to the ice on Friday, October 21. They visit the Capital District of New York and take on the Albany Devils.
Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m.