Years ago on this date it was a Hershey tradition to drop the curtain on the first half of the season, by battling the old Philadelphia Phantoms at home. Since the extinction of the Phantoms, the Hershey Bears looked to continue the tradition this New Years Eve against the Syracuse Crunch.
With the Winter holidays slipping by us moment by moment, the Bears enjoyed a win on Thursday night over the the first place Penguins. That game for Hershey was quite the special event, as they got to skate on the ice of the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh and beat their rivals from Wilkes-Barre, 1-0. Keith Aucoin returned from the Capitals to score the Bears’ lone goal, in front of Braden Holtby’s 25 save shutout effort.
Coming into New Years Eve, the Syracuse Crunch were on the outside looking in. With a much-needed off day on Thursday for the Crunch, they held the seventh spot in the East Division with a record of 11-18-1-3.
The puck dropped on the opening stanza, and did not start the way the Bears intended. On a race for the puck in the Hershey defensive end, John Mitchell beat defenseman Brian Fahey to the puck, and slid it past Dany Sabourin. The shot low to the ice, only 3:11 into the game broke the double zeros on the scoreboard, and gave Syracuse a 1-0 lead.
The period resumed into the middle minutes with Hershey slowly gaining momentum and chances. After a failed power play attempt for the Bears, Trevor Smith broke into the offensive end and fired a shot wide. However, the rebound came right back to his stick and caught the Hershey netminder off guard. Smith’s eighth goal of the season doubled the Syracuse lead to 2-0.
As Hershey continued to mount their opportunities in front of Timo Pielmeier, the main concern for the Bears was winning the big face off in the early going, leading to more opportunities.
With Hershey on a power play late in the period, great perimeter passing by Andrew Gordon and Kyle Greentree lead to a Kyle Greentree power play goal. As soon as the period reached its five minute mark, Greentree’s goal on a top shelf shot cut the Syracuse lead in half.
Greentree’s tally would take the game into the first intermission. Hershey was able to set up their offensive forecheck several times in the first period, but they got into a bad habit of forcing the puck into the middle of the ice. At least five times during the period, the Bears turned the puck over trying to force it in deep.
Despite the Crunch being outshot 12-8, they lead in the goal department on winning battles to the loose pucks. Syracuse fired all their shots directly on Sabourin, with no shots on rebounds in front of the net.
The Bears started the second period that was much similar to their play in the first: a slow start. Nineteen seconds into the period, Steve Pinizzotto was sent to the box for a slash on a one on one battle. 1:02 later Syracuse capitalized on the power play.
The Crunch offense swarmed around Sabourin like a pack of bumble bees and tipped a loose puck home to make it 3-1 as Josh Green got the final touch on the goal. The middle minutes of the period ran by eventless, as both teams were about equal in the scoring chance department.
The clock began to tick down with the Bears down by two goals. They had many great opportunities in front of Pielmeier to try and climb back into the game. The Syracuse netminder held his ground, as Hershey grew frustrated.
With just over two minutes remaining in the middle period, Dan Sexto scored for Syracuse on a stuff attempt, past Sabourin. The Crunch went into intermission with a 4-1 lead while a frustrated Hershey club headed to the locker room.
The Bears entered the final period of 2010 down by three goals with 20 minutes to play. The Crunch have out worked the Bears all night long when it came to face-offs and battles a long the boards. Hershey did amp up the offensive pressure to start the period with a constant offensive forecheck.
The Syracuse netminder remained to hold his ground, as the lone goal he gave up still dated back to the first period. However, with 11:51 remaining, Aucoin redirected a pass short side past Pielmeier to make it 4-2. Aucoin’s goal put the Crunch back on their heels heading towards the final minutes, but Syracuse hung for the victory.
The Bears return to the ice for their 2011 opener on January 2nd when they take on the Norfolk Admirals at 5 p.m.