On Superbowl Sunday in the NFL, rivalries are usually either made or renewed. Several hours before kick off between the New York Giants and New England Patriots, the puck dropped between the Hershey Bears and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Entering Sunday, both were the top two teams in the East Division with the Pens holding a five point lead over the Bears.
Hershey looked to snap a nine-game losing streak against the Penguins on Giant Center ice. The last time the Bears defeated Wilkes-Barre on home ice was on March 27, 2010, in a 4-2 win. In an early 2 p.m. game on Sunday, the Bears and Pens went right down to the wire and faced each other in the shootout for the third time this season. Hershey elected to shoot last, as Ryan Potulny scored for the Chocolate and White in the bottom of the fourth round to propel Hershey to their first home win over Wilkes-Barre in their last 10 tries.
The W-B Pens led the AHL with 11 shorthanded goals prior to the game, and quickly into the opening frame tacked on their 12th of the campaign. On the man-advantage, Chris Bourque coughed up the puck at the center-point, right to Pens’ forward Brandon DeFazio. He walked in on Holtby all alone and blasted a slap-shot to the top-shelf, beating the 22-year-old netminder to open the scoring at 3:43.
However within the next three minutes, the Bears quickly tallied twice to take a 2-1 lead. At the 4:57 mark, Sean Collins fired a one-timer from the point off a feed from Garrett Mitchell. The shot beat Scott Munroe as Collins scored his second goal of the season in his 37th game played.
Just 72 seconds later, in a game full of bounces, the Hershey Bears finally received a flash of luck. A pass across the ice in the offensive zone from Boyd Kane was deflected right onto the stick of Chris Bourque, throwing Munroe completely out of position. With the back-stop on his back side, Bourque lifted a shot into a wide open net to give the Bears a lead against the first-place Penguins.
The W-B led in shots after one period, 9-8 and en route they were able to tie the game before the first stanza expired. At the end of every hockey game, the most important question is how many rather than how the goals occured. With 7:14 remaining in the first, Wilkes-Barre’s leading scorer Bryan Lerg hit pay-dirt and tallied his 21st of the season.
With his team fore-checking hard, Lerg sent a shot on net that took a unique bounce off Holtby. The puck deflected up in the air off Holtby’s equipment, landed on its edge and rolled across the goal line before he was aware of where the puck was. It’s safe to say both teams traded garbage goals as the game was tied going into the second period.
Into the middle frame, Wilkes-Barre was given a 5-on-3 power-play chance for 1:40. At the last possible second, Geoff Walker cashed in on the man-advantage, beating Holtby on the glove side with a snap shot on an offensive zone rush. The tally at the 10:16 mark was the lone strike in the middle period, as both teams entered the final period of regulation with the Penguins on top, 3-2.
Down by one going into the final frame against the Baby Pens, the Bears were in search of that one person to step up and make a clutch play to tie the game late. Hershey Bears’ newcomer Mike Carman, playing in just his second game in a Bears’ uniform turned out to be that guy, as at the 7:20 mark he fired a quick shot from between the face-off circles to stun Munroe and send the 10,000-plus Hershey crowd into a frenzy.
With the game tied, both teams were forced to decide the outcome of the game in a five round skills competition. The Bears entered the duel winners of their last three shootouts. In all three, they shot in the bottom half of each round.
Geoff Walker scored for the Penguins in the top of the third round to give his team a 1-0 lead in the shootout. However, the next two shooters from Hershey, Cody Eakin and Ryan Potulny both fooled Scott Munroe to force the Penguins into a position where they had to score in the fifth round to extend the hockey game.
Ben Street failed to score on Braden Holtby, leading the Hershey Bears over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to a 4-3 victory.
The Hershey Bears return to the ice on Friday, February 9. They visit the Syracuse Crunch in a match-up set for 7:30 p.m. The Bears are currently four points behind Wilkes-Barre and hold soul possession of second place in the East Division.