If you could ever imagine such an intense, playoff-like game in just the second contest of the regular season, it’s easy to picture the I-81 rivalry. To kickoff the 15th anniversary of the rivalry, the Bears visited Wilkes Barre Township for their first away meet of the campaign.
A late third period tactical mistake by Hershey’s only goal scorer, Tomas Kundratek handed the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins a 2-1 lead. An insurance marker seconds later by Zach Sill capped a 3-1 decision.
The goalie match up of David Leggio against Jeff Deslauriers appeared to be the story of an end-to-end first period of play. Although shot totals were questionably low at 5-5 after 20 minutes, both men were active in keeping the game scoreless.
Kundratek opened the scoring only 4:05 into the game for the Chocolate and White. After a Wilkes-Barre outlet pass attempt through the neutral, the Bears caught a break as the puck glanced off a linemen’s skate blade. Kundratek pinched forward, received the puck, bolted into the offensive zone and rocketed a shot into the cage.
Unfortunately the fortune turned only 3:26 later. Brian Gibbons finished a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush and tallied the first goal scored at Mohegan Sun Arena this season.
Despite a 1-1 deadlock after 40 minutes, Hershey looked to have the better chances on frame as the Penguins appeared to have an advantage in puck possession.
Hockey is a game of countless split second decisions. An element of what separates NHL players from AHL is the tactical decisions. Sad to say Tomas Kundratek made a tactical mistake in the game’s final minutes of regulation to cost Hershey a standings point.
With his team moving the puck around in the offensive end, Kundratek sent a flat pass across the point which was intended to switch the angle of attack. Gibbons exploded forward to intercept the pass and burst down ice. In a breakaway chance, he elected to pull up and wait for Chris Conner to finish the play.
Conner’s backhand goal with 2:38 remaining proved to be the game winner. With momentum pumping on the Penguins’ bench, Zach Sill iced the game with 1:13 left after another turnover.
Hopefully an aggravating loss like this will build the team’s character moving forward into next weekend. The Bears will prepare for a time zone change next week with a two game tilt in St. John’s.