Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Night in Hershey: Bears 2 - Monarchs 1

52 weeks ago tonight, The Peerless was anticipating a trip to Hershey to see the Bears take on the Binghamton Senators. Unfortunately, earlier in the day, we lost a skirmish with a truck that left us with a concussion and two injured legs. We didn’t make it to Hershey that night.

Well, the Irish in us makes for a stubborn streak, so on the last Saturday in January… again, we tried this… again. We made it to Hershey this time to see the Bears take on the Manchester Monarchs on “Washington Capitals Night.” The Bears defeated the Monarchs, 2-1, in front of a sellout crowd at Giant Center, many of whom stayed afterward for the auctioning of Capitals jerseys worn by the Bears for the occasion.

It wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing of games, perhaps due to the fact that the Bears had a rip-roaring battle against arch-rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton the previous night (the Bears lost, 4-3, in a Gimmick). The Bears, looking smart in the red jerseys, did manage to have the better of the play in the opening period. However, the Bears couldn’t solve Manchester goalie Jonathan Bernier until the Monarchs took a pair of minor penalties 30 seconds apart before the five-minute mark of the frame. With the Bears on a 5-on-3 power play, the Bears managed to spread the defense thinly, with Sami Lepisto finding Alexandre Giroux deep in the right wing faceoff circle. Giroux wasted no time sending the puck across to Keith Aucoin, and with Bernier unable to get from post to post in time, Aucoin flicked the puck past the goalie from a tough angle deep in the left wing circle.

It was all the Bears could manage in the first period, though, despite outshooting the Monarchs, 14-8. Manchester, despite giving up the goal while two men down, did a superb job of foiling the Bears’ exits from their own zone, using an effective forecheck to force the Bears to pass the puck into a waiting Monarch defense clogging the neutral zone and preventing any skating momentum.

The second period was a mirror image of the first, with the Monarchs carrying the play to the Bears. It was a thoroughly dominating opening of the middle period by Manchester, as the Monarchs outshot the Bears 11-1 in the first 6:19, the eleventh shot being a goal – also scored on a 5-on-3 power play – by Alec Martinez. It was a slick bit of footwork that enabled Martinez to even get the shot on goal. The play started with the puck squirting out from a group of players in front of Hershey goalie Michal Neuvirth. As the puck was about to go through Martinez’ legs, he used his right foot to kick the puck to the blade of his stick, then snapped the puck off his forehand past Neuvirth, who was still sprawled in the crease.

The third period looked grim for the Bears at the outset as they looked very lethargic, reaching with their sticks to defend instead of moving their feet. Manchester wasn’t able to take advantage, though, but they managed to bottle up the Bears' offense quite effectively. The Bears did not get a shot on goal in the first 9:26 of the period. But their first shot was a doozy. Keith Aucoin did some good work against the left wing boards in the defensive end, getting the puck free to Sami Lepisto. The defenseman then sent a pass down the middle to Alexandre Giroux breaking toward the Manchester net. With a defenseman draped all over him, Giroux used his body to shield the puck and carried it in on his backhand. At the right hash mark, Giroux flicked the puck toward the net, and with Bernier having overplayed Giroux to protect the post, the puck slid just past his right skate along the ice and into the net for the goal giving the Bears their final lead.

That wasn’t all for the fireworks, though. Less than 90 seconds after Giroux’ goal, Joe Piskula tried to reverse the momentum in favor of the Monarchs, getting into a tussle with the Bears’ Jay Beagle. The two went at it in the Monarchs’ zone, but the fight ended abruptly when Beagle landed a thunderous overhand right, squarely on the nose of Piskula. It was as if someone had shot a balloon filled with red dye, as blood spilled onto the ice and left a trail behind Piskula as he skated to the Manchester bench to go to the locker room for repairs. It took more than five minutes for crew and officials to clean the ice and make it ready for play again.

After that, it was a struggle for both teams to mount anything resembling an attack, but the Bears had only to protect a lead. They made it interesting late as Keith Aucoin was whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. But the Bears killed that off, as well as the man-advantage the Monarchs had in the last 90 seconds after Bernier skated to the bench for the extra attacker. The Bears skated off the final seconds with Monarchs chasing the puck carrier, and the team hopped over the boards to congratulate Michal Neuvirth for his 29-save win.

Some other stuff…

Chris Bourque didn’t get a jersey tonight after taking a major penalty at an inopportune time last night against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (the Penguins took advantage to score twice on the extended man advantage). There was more than a little cheering when the scratch was announced.

Neuvirth looked solid in goal. He didn’t have to make as many quality saves as did Jonathan Bernier, but he was very calm in the crease when the puck was pinballing around on several occasions. There were virtually no rebounds.

An odd sight…Keith Aucoin (5’9”, 187) being defended by Brian Boyle (6’7”, 250). Give it to Aucoin, though. He was one Bear who worked hard in the corners and along the boards.

We’re wondering if the length of the season and the heavy workload of weekend games isn’t starting to take a toll on the likes of rookies Oskar Osala, Mathieu Perreault, and Francois Bouchard. For the most part, they looked a step slow tonight, although Osala had a couple of excellent shifts in the third period forechecking in the Monarchs’ zone and clogging passing lanes to prevent breakouts.

Andrew Gordon took a shot right off the kneecap in the third period. He was on the ice for a few seconds as play continued in the Bears’ zone, but he managed to get himself upright and into the play, eventually clearing the puck out of the zone. He missed only a shift or two.

Greg Amadio was another one who took some abuse over and above the strict call of duty. He was kneed along the boards near the Bears’ bench on one occasion, then nearly had his head snapped off by Kevin Westgarth in front of the Bears’ net (Westgarth took a roughing penalty for his trouble).

Westgarth and Kip Brennan got into it in the first period. Brennan looked to have landed quite a few uppercuts.

The post game auction was quite something. The jerseys worn by the four Bear players heading to the AHL All-Star Game went first. Alexandre Giroux’ jersey went for a whopping $2,500 (candy sales must be good in that part of the world). We were hearing bids for jerseys passing the $1,500 mark.

It was a good way for the Bears to enter the break, earning a win in what Coach Bob Woods said in the postgame interview was a "playoff atmosphere." We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. If you have an opportunity to take in a game at Giant Center, it’s a great facility and a great time.


Dougeb said...

We agree. Last night's game was our fifth of the year. We have yet to see the Bears lose a game.

Anonymous said...

Bears STH here. We are happy to have Caps fans coming to see our team and great prospects. Likewise we are enjoying "Rocking the Red" at Verizon Center. We've also been to five Caps games this season and they've all been wins.

pepper said...

Didn't know you were there too, brotha. It was a fun time.