The biggest hurtle for any American Hockey League team in a season would be the NHL trade deadline. Its the final opportunity for any NHL team that plans on making a playoff run to make their final advisement to their roster.
With the NHL trade deadline in the rear view mirror, passing by at 3 p.m. on March 1st, NHL general managers and owners can only wait to see if their season will have a happy ending.
However, from the perspective of AHL teams and fans, its a time to hope that any prospects wouldn’t be traded away to different organizations. Many times if a NHL team is looking for a playoff run, the trade deadline would relieve their AHL team of its greatest players. In return the NHL team may gain another piece to the puzzle that may lead to a championship.
The Hershey Bears and the Norfolk Admirals were among those AHL teams who survived the NHL trade deadline without any major changes. Those two teams squared off in a battle in Hershey, Saturday night. Saturday’s game featured the rematch of both teams from last Wednesday. A game Norfolk dominated from start to finish and beat the Bears, 6-1, in Virginia.
Giant Center has been a building not to kind to the Norfolk Admirals of late. The Admirals have lost 15 of their last 17 games on Giant Center ice against Hershey.
Right out of the starting gate on Saturday, Norfolk had an early power play to work with. Marc-Antoine Pouliot was robbed in front of the net by new Bears’ goaltender Nolan Schaefer. With that save, Schaefer made a few new fans in Hershey and kept the game scoreless.
Moments later, on a race to a loose puck Bears’ forward Brian Willsie beat Norfolk goaltender Dustin Tokarski and shot the puck into an empty net from a sharp angle. The shorthanded goal for Willsie gave Hershey an early 1-0 advantage.
Tokarski’s over aggressive mistake would be followed by a puck handling mistake with 3:21 left in the opening 20 minutes. On the rebound off a Keith Aucoin shot, Brian Willsie slid a loose puck through the legs of Dustin Tokarski to make it a 2-0 game on his second goal of the night.
That would be the final tally of the first period with Hershey dominating play, out shooting the Admirals 17-13 with countless amounts of great “A” opportunities.
However at the start of the second period, needing a goal to get back in it, Matt Fornataro scored for Norfolk on a rebound in close to the net. The goal would cut the Hershey lead in half just under five minutes into the stanza.
Late in the second period, controversy between the two teams and the officials would kick-in. With 24 seconds left, Troy Milam of Norfolk took a shot from far out that at first glance, appeared to hit metal. After ten more seconds of play referee Chris Brown blew the whistle and signaled goal.
In the AHL, there is no video review for referees. Instead the AHL has goal judges who sit behind the net every game who turn the red light on if the puck crosses the goal line. The light never came on, and Chris Brown reviewed the play himself on the video board and confirmed it was a good goal for Norfolk.
Upon personal video review, the puck did go into the net where the post and crossbar meet. Bears’ head coach Mark French was not happy with the approach by the two referees and loudly voiced his opinion, mainly to referee Chris Brown.
Nonetheless, the late goal counted despite the controversy, and it was a 2-2 dead locked hockey game after 40 minutes. The rest of the game Chris Brown and Marcus Vinnerborg were hesitant to call any kind of penalty.
With frustration bearing down on Hershey at the start of period three, Nolan Schaefer kept his team tied with Norfolk denying any opportunity on net.
As the game grew more intense between the two teams, its worth mentioning that with the playoffs around the corner, Norfolk and Hershey are two teams that could very well be facing one another after the regular season is said and done.
With 2:58 remaining in regulation, Mathieu Perreault scored the game winning goal for Hershey on a shot low to the ice, past Tokarski to seal a 3-2 win. In a playoff-like atmosphere in front of a crowd of 10,616, the Bears at the end of the night would gain points on the league leading Penguins. The Penguins’ lead regarding first place was cut to only six points going into the next day.
The Hershey Bears escaped Giant Center with a big 3-2 win over and East Division team also looking to make a playoff run. The Admirals last made the playoffs in the 2007 postseason, but they are still in search of their first Calder Cup Championship.
The Bears return to the ice tomorrow evening on Sunday for possibly their biggest game of the season on hand. They take on their I-81 rivals who have the best record in the AHL to date. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins come to Giant Center for their first time since November 20th.
The I-81 rivalry renews between the two clubs at 5 p.m.