If you were to compare the weekend schedules of the Hershey Bears and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, it’s easy to predict the Bears might have had an edge entering Sunday.
The Chocolate and White kicked off the weekend with a home-and-home series beginning in Syracuse on Friday. Back-to-back wins over the Crunch including a Saturday 3-2 win at Giant Center built towards the hype of Sunday’s contest against Wilkes-Barre.
For the Penguins, let’s just say I hope they have a strong relationship with their bus driver. Back-to-back games in Norfolk started off their weekend Friday and Saturday. However by the time most Bears players were already in their Central PA home on Saturday night, the Penguins were squeaking by the Admirals in a shootout. Wilkes-Barre then boarded the bus for a hell-full night of travel to Chocolate Town USA for a Sunday matinee against the Bears. It takes a special kind of human to be an American Hockey League player.
The Hershey Bears took advantage and battled to a 2-0 Giant Center victory over the Penguins. It pushed the home win streak to eight games and concluded the GC portion of the January schedule. Hershey will finish the month of January with a perfect 7-0-0-0 record at home. Philipp Grubauer participated in his second game of the weekend and blanked Wilkes-Barre/Scranton by stopping all 27 shots he faced en route to the win.
Scott Stuccio released on twitter prior to puck drop that Head Coach Mike Haviland was not available due to a “medical issue.” The traditional assistant bench boss Ryan Mougenel stepped into the Head Coach’s spot for the night and controlled the forwards.
But the most entertaining story of the night was injured defenseman Patrick Wellar conquering the job as assistant coach. Wellar controlled the defense from the bench against the Penguins. Wellar said during post game, “It was a different role for sure, but I was honored when asked to fill in.
“At first the guys had a nice laugh about it, but they were great. They new it was obviously a different situation for me and something I’m not used to. It was a unique experience and something I’ll always remember.”
Wellar later noted the the biggest struggle for him during the game was rotating defenseman. The Bears dressed 11 forwards and seven blue liners, leading to an extra body to shuffle with.
Into the hockey game, Dustin Gazley opened the scoring with a power play goal 11:39 in. Ryan Stoa sent a backhand pass through the slot that found Gazley near the back-door, wide open for the one-time finish.
Jeff Taffe expanded the lead to 2-0 in the second period to round out the game’s total scoring. Taffe crashed the net after a Gazley pass off the goaltender’s pads for a hard-earned goal in the slot area.
The third period was one that could easily be predicted at the end of a three games in three nights stretch. Grubauer was held to mostly routine saves, as well as Penguins goalie Eric Hartzell. 27-17 in was the final shot on goal total in favor of the W-B/S Penguins.
Hershey’s penalty kill was also a key factor, going a perfect 7-for-7 in the game including a lengthy two-man disadvantage in the first period.
Mougenel noted that Haviland is doing “much better” and will be attending the Bears’ practice on Tuesday.