If the Hershey Bears were to pick a location to open their season on the road, it likely would have been Syracuse. The last five seasons the Onondaga County War Memorial has been a very successful road rink for the Bears. Entering Saturday’s match-up, the Bears have posted a 8-1-0-1 record in Syracuse dating back to the 2007-08 season. But the winning pattern didn’t hold up Saturday night as former Norfolk Admiral, Cory Conacher posted two points and earned first star honors in a 4-3 Crunch with over Hershey. It was the first opening night loss for Hershey dating back to October 2007.
Washington Capitals Coach Adam Oates joined Mark French and Troy Mann on the Hershey bench to evaluate a physical and quick opening frame. In the opening minutes Hershey pressured early looking to score to silence an enthused opening night crowd.
Within the first seven minutes Hershey jumped out to a 7-0 shot advantage on goaltender Riku Helenius. Although Hershey threatened early, Syracuse hit pay-dirt on Braden Holtby shorthanded with 8:37 left in the period. J.T. Wyman threw a sharp-angle shot that was tipped by Mike Angelidis. The deflection beat Holtby to the top-shelf, giving the Crunch a 1-0 lead going into intermission.
To start the middle stanza, the Bears played a dump and chase game, looking to send the puck into the offensive zone quickly. That strategy led to a countless number of scrums and 50-50 puck battles along the half-boards. However at the 5:36 mark, Syracuse found a deadly passing lane in the slot as Conacher sent a quick pass to the slot, where Tyler Johnson buried his third goal of the young season.
But the two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey. Minutes later, the Bears proved why that’s the case. While shorthanded Garrett Mitchell had himself a 2-on-1 offensive zone rush. He blasted a shot low, through the five-hole of Helenius to put the Bears on the board for the first time in the 2012-13 season.
Just over seven minute later, Hershey’s forwards proved that if you give them open ice and time, they will make any defense pay. Jeff Taffe and Jon DiSalvatore put together a passing play that was finished by Barry Almeida into an open net to tie the game 2-2.
But with 1:16 left in the middle period, Conacher showed why he is the reigning AHL rookie of the year. Conacher found the loose puck and blasted a turn-around shot on net, past a surprised Holtby. The late tally gave Syracuse a 3-2 lead into the second intermission.
Into the third period, early penalty trouble turned out to be the decisive factor. Steve Olesky and Garrett Stafford were sent to the penalty box only 16 seconds apart, leading to a lengthy 5-on-3 power-play for Syracuse. At 5:02, Brett Connolly scored Syracuse’s only power-play goal of the game out of their seven opportunities.
Hershey would again have to battle back from two goals down with only 15 minutes remaining in regulation. The Bears had themselves a two man-advantage for just over a minute. They failed to capitalize on the 5-on-3 portion, but on the 5-on-4, Jon DiSalvatore scored his first goal as a Bear, to cut the lead to 4-3. Holtby eventually got to the bench in the closing minute, but the Bears failed to score and lost by the 4-3 count