We can all appreciate a sports season that is evenly split between two calendar years. It provides every team with a chance to start fresh and turn the page if it’s felt necessary.
In 2013, the Hershey Bears struggled to stay above the .500 mark in the AHL standings, had a power play unit ranked near the league’s worst and floated near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
But into the final Saturday of 2014′s opening month, the Bears suddenly hit a power surge bringing them to 20 wins at the 40 game mark. A sudden six game Giant Center win streak and a climb in the special teams rankings has helped Hershey to their recent success. Entering Saturday’s contest against Syracuse, the Chocolate and White had the best point percentage (.750%) in their previous ten games compared to all other Eastern Conference teams.
An impressive angle on Friday’s win in New York was winning by a three goal margin despite going 0-for-5 on the improving power play unit. In the next night’s rematch, the power play was blanked once more, but Michael Latta’s two goals lifted Hershey to a thrilling 3-2 win.
The Hershey Bears did not register a single shot on goal in the opening half of the first period. Despite the low shot totals, offensive zone presence was not a problem in the period. Brandon Segal nearly opened the scoring on a 2-on-1 rush, but nicked the cross bar behind Cedrick Desjarsins.
Minutes later, Michael Latta was robbed with a beautiful glove save after unleashing a sneaky shot in the slot area. With 3:17 left on the clock, Julien Brouillette broke through to give Hershey a 1-0 lead. Brouillette blasted a slap shot from the point that bounced in and out of the cage like a trampoline.
But only 39 seconds later and before the goal was finished being announced in house, Syracuse answered to tie the game on only their second and final shot of the period. Cedric Paquette finished a quick centering pass across the low slot from Richard Panik on the tally.
Out of the Chocolate and White’s seven shots in the first period, none came via two power play chances. David Leggio’s lone save of the frame occurred in the opening moments before most people opened their popcorn.
The quick intensity slowed down second period, and each team tacked on one more goal to their total before the second intermission. 6:13 into the second period, a 4-on-4 turned into a Syracuse power play while three Bears were caught too high in the neutral zone. It lead to a 2-on-1 Crunch odd-man rush and Tanner Richards’ first goal of his professional hockey career.
Hershey answered to tie the game with 2:51 remaining in the stanza thanks to Latta’s fifth goal of the season. After being robbed with a great glove save in the first period, Latta again tested the glove side and this time beat Desjardins clean to knot the game before break.
Into the final period of regulation, overtime appeared to be looming, but Latta capitalized on a Syracuse defensive miscue to send Giant Center into a frenzy with only 7:32 left. After a flubbed clear attempt, Latta quickly gained the blue line and blasted another quick shot to the glove side of Desjardins. It caught the Crunch goaltender napping and proved to be the crucial, game-winning goal.
The Bears extended their home win streak to seven games and welcome in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins the very next night for a Sunday rivalry showdown.
More photos from tonight’s game. (All photos by Kyle Mace. Click to enlarge.)
Dane Byers turns his fight with Mike Angelidis into a wrestling match. Give him the people’s elbow!