The Hershey Bears defeated the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins 3-1 Sunday night due to strong performance in net from Braden Holtby. Brett Flemming, Alex Berry and Jeff Taffe all scored for the Bears, who built a 3-0 lead in the third period for their star net-minder. Holtby stopped 27 of 28 shots his way, as he hopes to return to his playoff form from last year in Washington.
Postgame, Holtby talked about his performance in net. “I felt a lot better today than last game and through our practices this past week. It’s a good sign, but there’s still things to work on, still stuff I got lucky with especially in screens.”
“You can’t really say the NHL isn’t better than the AHL,” Holtby said. “But at the same time for a goalie it’s basically how many scoring chances you get against.”
The first period offered many opportunities for both clubs to score, but neither could light the lamp. A fight, between Hershey defenseman Steven Oleksy and Wilkes-Barre Scranton forward Dominik Uher, highlighted the physical play in the first frame. The Penguins had three power plays in the first, but couldn’t capitalize on their scoring chances. Bears first year pro, Stanislav Gailev had two prime scoring chances in the period, but Penguins goalie Brad Thiessen answered the call. Both teams had equal shots on goal in the period with seven apiece, but neither team dominated puck possession.
The tie game was broken midway through the second period when Bears defenseman Brett Flemming received a great feed in the slot from Mattias Sjogren and ripped it past Thiessen. The physical play continued in the second period, highlighted by two fights won by Hershey players, Matt Clackson and Steven Oleksy.
Deciding who to cut will be a tough decision for the co-coaches and players are taking notice of their teammates efforts. “It’s a little different this year with big training camp,” Taffe said. “Guys really battled hard and there are some tough decisions for the coaches to make here. You look at Oleksy [Steve Oleksy] guys like that. I mean, he’s working his butt off every night fighting, things like that just trying to make a spot here.”
The Bears extended their lead in the third period, scoring two goals in two minutes. Hershey forward Alexy Berry potted home a rebound 26 seconds in, followed by a Jeff Taffe breakaway goal just under two minutes into the third stanza.
Berry’s goal was his second game winning goal in two straight games against Wilkes-Barre Scranton this preseason.
“The first game just trying to get back into it and keep things simple,” Berry said. “Definitely last night and tonight I felt a lot better and getting two goals back to back nights and game winners is bringing my confidence back to where it was before I got hurt.”
The Penguins answered back later in the third frame, when Jayson Megna pulled Wilkes-Barre Scranton within two goals. A last ditch effort for offense was for no avail and Hershey came out victorious in their final preseason match-up.
“I got to hand it to the guys, because we gave them a lot of information,” Oates said. “Changing a lot of systems and them being willing to play what we’re going to play up in Washington and I thought they did a great job at it.”
Oates updated the status of injured forward Danick Paquette. “He’s gonna get surgery either tomorrow or Tuesday and I’m not totally sure on that, but I think it’s gonna be six to ten weeks.”
Following the game, the Bears announced that Alex Berry, Joel Champagne, T.J. Syner and Brett Flemming have been assigned to the Reading Royals, Washington’s ECHL affiliate. The Bears open the regular season on October 13th in Syracuse when they play the Crunch. Hershey’s home opener is set for October 20th against the Rochester Americans.