With time running short in November, the Hershey Bears scrapped for a win Sunday night against the defending Western Conference Champions, Toronto Marlies. Four goals were scored in the first 40 minutes, leading to a much needed 4-2 win.
As fan have been begging for in previous days, Patrick McNeill was finally bumped from the healthy scratch list and played against the Marlies. The move was due to a Garrett Stafford injury the night before, in Adirondack. Right out of the starting gate, 10:38 into the match up, McNeill made a positive difference for Hershey.
McNeill sent a nice breakout pass to Zach Hamill, who “threaded the needle” across the ice to Alex Berry. Berry launched a high wrist shot into the net for his first goal as a Hershey Bear.
Just over three minutes later the Bears were handed their first power play of the game, and wasted no time to capitalize. Eight seconds into the man-advantage, Zach Hamill found the score sheet once more, as he finished a cross-ice pass on the door step of the Toronto net. On the tally, Evan Barlow, who was signed to a player tryout Sunday morning, recorded his first point as a professional.
Shots were 11-6 Marlies, but after 20 minutes Hershey carried a 2-0 lead.
Into the middle frame the Bears quickly jumped to the drivers seat and tallied two more quick goals only 45 seconds apart. First, Cam Schilling threw a shot on net from the top of the face off circle, beating goaltender Mark Owuya.
45 seconds later, Jon DiSalvatore was wide open on the back-door, and fired a shot into a wide open cage, after a Dmitry Orlov pass from the center point. It was DiSalvatore’s 500th AHL point.
“I was definitely aware of it (the milestone). I’m proud of it. It goes hand in hand with a lot of great teammates over the years. My no means is it an individual accomplishment. You need a lot of help to get there,” said DiSalvatore.
However at the 11:10 mark, Toronto hit pay-dirt on Braden Holtby. Mark Frattin jammed the puck into the net on Holtby’s glove side after a small scramble in front of the net. Although the Bears led 4-1 after 40 minutes, Holtby was forced to make several big, point-blank stops in the frame to keep the big lead.
During the third period it was anything but smooth sailing for Hershey. The Marlies dominated the period with a countless number of chances on Holtby. With 7:55 remaining, Mark Fraser roofed a blast from the point to bring Toronto within two goals.
Despite 16 third period shots on goal for Toronto and heavy pressure against, the Bears escaped with a 4-2 win.
“Scoring the first two goals in the first period helped our level of confidence offensively and we carried that into the second period. We got the first two goals (in the second period) and probably a lot more. We seemed to be able to play with more offensive composure.”
The victory broke a three game losing streak for the Bears, who had also lost six of seven before Sunday night’s victory.
“Every win is important,” said goaltender Braden Holtby. “Especially when we are in a slump. It wasn’t our best game, but it was something we really needed.”
The Bears continue to find themselves in a very different position of simply trying to get out of last place. The rest of the AHL has become stronger, because of the NHL lockout and Hershey has been struggling for scoring.
“You don’t really know how to judge the rest of the league,” added Holtby. “There have been a lot of easier wins in years past. This year, every team is strong. That’s out of our control. We believe we are a better team in here. Maybe we aren’t the powerhouse we were a couple years ago but we believe we can get to the the playoffs and make a run at it.
The Bears travel to Norfolk to face the Admirals on Wednesday night. They return to Giant Center for a rare Friday game facing Bridgeport.