Hartford CT: This week the Hartford Wolf Pack (37-23-5-4) witnessed their two-game win streak come to a halt with a 4-3 loss at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Wednesday night. A rough game, the Wolf Pack originally had the upper hand, getting off to a good start with the first goal of the game scored by Oscar Lindberg, the team went on to let the next four goals penetrate their side of the ice. It was only at the tail end of the third period that the team was able to put two more past the goaltender to minimize the scoring margin.
Ready for a come back, the Wolf Pack was back on home ice at the XL Center Friday night to face off for the last time this season against the Northeastern Conference first seed holder, the Syracuse Crunch (40-20-9-0). The second seed holder, Wolf Pack, have faced much adversary with the Crunch who have proven themselves to be the Pack’s biggest obstacle this season, after having been victorious in 5 of the past 7 meetings between the two teams. The Crunch, although mighty, were coming into Friday’s game with a back-to-back home loses against Rochester and Binghamton.
Getting a start in the net tonight was Mackenzie Skapski; looking calm, cool and collected as always. But was he ready for the fight? A bit of a rough beginning for the Wolf Pack in the first period, Tyler Brown, was given a great and early opportunity to get the first goal in the net. However, Brown was unable to get his stick around fast enough to fully capitalize on the chance. A few more chances came and went for the Pack to get the puck in the net, all of which came up short. The first goal came at 6:57 for the Crunch, a hard shot in front of the net by the 22-year-old Switzerland native, Joel Vermin. Vermin’s goal was quickly followed up by another Crunch goal at 7:47, this time scored by left-winger, Yanni Gourde. The period continued on rocky, with both teams giving up penalties. The period ended 2-0 Crunch.
Friday night the Wolf Pack warmly welcomed highly touted, Brady Skjei. Skjei who just celebrated his 21st birthday on March 26th has been waiting to make his professional debut since his initial drafting to the New York Rangers in 2012. What’s a better time to join the team then during a playoff push? Hopefully the youngster is ready for the wild ride.
The Wolf Pack started off the second period down a man as a result of the penalty on Joey Crabb that happened in the last minute of the first. Being one man down was no intimidation to the Wolf Pack, getting off to a good start, Skapski made a great kick save preventing a third goal. Finally at 6:50, Ryan Haggerty was able to put one past Crunch’s goal tender, Kristers Gudlevskis.
As the second period continued, a fight promptly broke out between Chad Nehring (HFD) and Justin Courtnall (SYR). Getting a bit caught up in the tension, Syracuse gained a power play, which nearly resulted in another Crunch goal, however Skapski was able to block the shot. Despite the ability to block the first shot, Crunch’s Ryan Martindale got one in just as the period was closing at 18:47 to end the period 3-1, Crunch.
Down by two, the Wolf Pack came into the third period hungry. It was quite clear that the team would not be giving up so easily. A quick goal to get the period started at 3:57 by Marek Hrivik to cut the deficit down. The gap wasn’t closed for long, immediately the Crunch fired back with short-handed goal once again put in by Martindale. Only minutes later, the Wolf Pack responded with another puck in the net by Justin Viave.
A big turning point for the Wolf Pack was coming, Viave’s goal closed the gap once again, and this time the team was determined to not let this one slip away. Chris Bourque came in hot with a beautiful break away shot to even the score 4-4 at 9:58. In a literal tug-of-war game, Hrivik deflected the puck in the net to steal the lead with his second goal of the night at 15:44; very impressive comeback for the Wolf Pack on a night where they didn’t come out playing their best. To seal the deal, Chris Mueller took the empty netter to finalize the score – 6-4 Wolf Pack.
This game was a real triumph for the Wolf Pack. Coach Ken Gernander was definitely proud of his team, “[We] didn’t let the deficit bother us, the guys really stuck with it,” he said. He later cautioned though, “We’ve got to do a little better job, you can’t always comeback like that.” Coach definitely has a point there, tonight’s victory was a big test of luck and skill for the Pack; not every game is going to run that way. Especially now that the teams are nearing the playoffs, comebacks aren’t going to be easy to come by going forward.
What did the players have to say about the big win tonight though? Obviously nothing but joyful and encouraging remarks about the game, and one another. “I can’t say enough about [Justin] Viave,” says Chris Bourque, “He’s been there all year and really gets his body in front of the net.”
1. Marek Hrivik (HFD)
2. Ryan Martindale (SYR)
3. Chris Bourque (HFD)
Shots on Goal: 37-32 – Syracuse.