hershey bears michael latta-15
Michael Latta, seen here earlier in the season, had a goal during Hershey’s 5-3 loss to Norfolk Wednesday night (Kyle Mace / Sweetest Hockey on Earth)

As the Hershey Bears left South Central Pennsylvania Tuesday morning for Hampton Roads Virginia, they knew they were heading down south for arguably the two biggest games of their season against the Norfolk Admirals. The Admirals were tied in points with Hershey coming into Wednesday night’s game, but Hershey had the first tiebreaker, giving them the control of their destiny, but after the game, Norfolk now controls the final spot in the Eastern Conference as they topped Hershey, 5-3.

Norfolk took a 1-0 lead 6:40 into the match with Josh Manson getting his first AHL goal after his shot bounced off the back boards and whipped in past Philipp Grubauer after deflecting off of David Kolomatis‘ skate. Manson was not the only one to get his first AHL goal during the night, as the newest Bear Chandler Stephenson first professional shot found the back of the net, knotting the game up at 1-1.

Hershey would only lead the game once all night. That lead came when Michael Latta scored with just under five minutes left in the first period as he grabbed his 14th goal of the year, beating Brad Thiessen. That lead would not be taken into the first intermission as Norfolk responded with two goals from Emerson Etem and Matt Bailey in the final 1:08 of the first period.

The Admirals added on another goal eight minutes into the second with Max Friberg getting his 16th of the season and extending their lead to 4-2. Nicolas Deschamps would cut the Norfolk lead to one 6:22 into the third, but that’s the closest Hershey would come to tying the game back up, but the Ads added on an empty netter after some good pressure by the Chocolate and White in the final minute.

With the loss, Hershey needs a win Friday or their season is potentially over. Hershey does lead in Regulation/Overtime wins, so if they tie at the end of the season with Norfolk, they would have the tiebreaker, but that’s a situation they won’t want to be in coming down to the wire with two regular season games left. Hershey’s magic number is five coming into Friday’s game, meaning a win against Norfolk will cut that number down to one. If that win comes in overtime or a shootout, Norfolk’s magic number will also be cut to one, with both teams having one game to play on Saturday.

Hershey could get one point Friday, but then they are forced to win Saturday and are banking on two Providence losses in regulation.

Either way, Friday night beginning around 7pm, for about two hours Hershey Bears fans will be holding their breaths.