On Saturday night, hockey returned to Hershey, PA as the Hershey Bears dueled the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for a preseason match-up. Brian Gibbons tallied with only 3:15 remaining in the final period to capsize the Bears. With the goal, the rookie earned first star honors in front of a light Giant Center crowd.
It was only three months ago when the Binghamton Senators knocked off the Houston Aeros in six games to hoist Calder for the first time in team history. The B-Sens made the playoffs last April by grabbing the final playoff spot within the entire league.
Four weeks prior, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins were upset by the Charlotte Checkers, ending the Penguins’ hopes and dreams for their first championship in franchise history. Interestingly enough, the Checkers also eliminated the Hershey Bears in the first round of the 2011 postseason in six games. It ended the Hershey Bears’ quest for being three-peat champions of the American Hockey League.
Both teams who were victimized by the Charlotte Checkers last Spring squared off in Hershey for the Bears’ second preseason game. Early on in Saturday’s game, the Penguins iced the puck twice in the first 45 seconds of the game. It would disallow the Pens’ ability to change lines the first minute leading to Hershey having a slight advantage early.
Only 1:31 in, Bears’ newcomer Matt Pope found himself in all alone against Scott Munroe after a Keith Aucoin feed. The former Manitoba Moose forward put a forehand-backhand move on Munroe and potted his first goal of the preseason. The next major scoring chance for either team came with only 6:04 remaining in the opening period. Chris Barton of the W-B was awarded a penalty shot after being tackled on a breakaway.
Barton was denied on the penalty shot by Bears’ netminder, Dany Sabourin who resigned for a second consecutive season in Hershey. Shots after 20 minutes would be tied at eight a side with both teams lacking grade “A” opportunities on net. There were three fights in the stanza between the two bitter rivals. One of the many things that signifies an entertaining rivalry is two teams going at it physically during a game that means nothing.
Following an eventless opening ten minutes of the middle frame, the Bears received a golden opportunity to extend their lead. Zach Sill who was involved in a fight earlier put a nasty hit from behind, bloodying the face of Hershey D-man Zach Miskovic. Sill was given a match penalty which is an automatic one game suspension at the least. The incident will be reviewed over by league officials in Springfield, MA.
The Bears struggled to make crisp passes and set up a consistent passing sequence during the man advantage. Despite 24 shots on net after 40 minutes, the Bears would carry their 1-0 lead into the dressing room. At the start of the middle period, however, Hershey did put together several lengthy passing sequences in the offensive zone that lasted about 45 seconds each. It did force Wilkes-Barre back on their heals a bit, but the Bears still struggled to fire any threatening scoring chances on net.
The Penguins only managed five shots on net the entire stanza. The bulk of the shots came off a defense to offense transition when they were shorthanded. Several times the Pens found themselves with numbers up and having a shorthanded rush off of Hershey’s lack of starting a passing sequence on the man advantage.
To begin the third and final period in the preseason match, the Bears once again allowed the Penguins a scoring chance on a breakaway. This time Ben Street would capitalize for the Penguins only 26 seconds in, as he beat Dany Sabourin low to the ice with a wrist shot.
Suddenly the Bears found themselves in a tied hockey game where the Penguins controlled the momentum. With 3:15 remaining in regulation, rookie forward Brian Gibbons made a statement by beating Hershey’s Keith Aucoin on route to the net and flipping a backhander over the shoulder of Sabourin. The late go-ahead goal would prove to be the game winning goal, as the Pens beat the Bears by a final of 2-1.
Despite giving up the third period lead, Dany Sabourin would earn third star of the game honors stopping 23-of-25 shots. His counterpart, Scott Munroe, would receive the second star, making 34 saves in his winning effort.
The Hershey Bears wrap up the preseason with a game on Monday, October 3 against the Binghamton Senators. The game will be held at Giant Center with game time scheduled for 7 p.m.
Friday, October 7 will mark the beginning of the 2011-12 regular season.