It’s no secret that the Bears are off to a rough start this season. In their first 13 games, the Bears are 5-6-0-2, good for sixth in the Atlantic Division. There have been a few rough spots in their play over the course of the season, including new and young players adjusting to the system and team defense. One of the most prominent issues, however, has been keeping the puck out of their net. The Bears are 28th in the league in goals against, having 49 scored on them in just 13 games. With their goal differential being -15, the Bears are looking for stability in the net. Thankfully, Pheonix Copley might be able to give it to them.
On November 8th, Copley started just his second game for the Bears this season, despite being the number one goaltender in the organization. Last postseason, during a grueling matchup against the Providence Bruins, Copley sustained a groin injury in the fourth game that forced him to miss the rest of the series, as well the beginning of the 2017-2018 season. In light of Copley’s absence, goalies Adam Carlson and Parker Milner were called up from the Bears’ ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays. While Milner put up respectable numbers in the ECHL, his time in the AHL was a different story. In his six games up with the Bears, Milner posted a GAA of 3.81 and a save percentage of .865, which is well below league average, and well below what the Bears needed to start the season. Carlson had struggled for much of his time in the ECHL, but put up decent numbers in the AHL. With the Stingrays, Carlson played 23 games, posting a 2.97 GAA and a .895 save percentage. With the Bears, Carlson posted a 3.03 GAA and a .903 save percentage in four games. Although it was only four games, Carlson gave enough stability in the net for the Bears to win a few games. Still, a .903 save percentage is not stable goaltending for any team in the league, especially a young “run and gun” team like the Bears. On November 3rd, Pheonix Copley was cleared for play again, and the Bears will welcome him with open arms.
In his second stint with the Bears organization, Copley will look to provide that stable net-minding that the Bears so desperately need, something he can absolutely do. Over the course of his AHL career, Copley has never finished a season with a save percentage below .909. Copley began his professional career in Hershey during the 2014-2015 season, when he played 26 games for the Bears, posting a 2.17 GAA and .925 save percentage. The following season, Copley was traded to the St. Louis Blues organization along with Capitals forward Troy Brouwer and a third round pick, in exchange for Blues forward TJ Oshie. Copley played one unsuccessful game for the Blues that season, but played 37 games with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, posting career worsts in GAA (2.79) and save percentage (.909). Putting the down year behind him, Copley came back in the 2016-2017 season as the Wolves’ starting goalie, playing 25 games and posting solid numbers of 2.31 GAA, and a .920 save percentage. On his way to a career year, Copley was then reacquired by his former team, as a piece in the Shattenkirk deal. Back in Hershey again, Copley played 15 games over the rest of the season, posting career-best numbers of 2.15 GAA and a .931 save percentage. His domination continued as he carried the Bears through the playoffs, posting a GAA of 2.13 and a save percentage of .933. His postseason, of course, was cut short due to the groin injury.
It’s proven that Copley can perform at a high level in the AHL, especially when playing in Hershey; it must be something in the chocolate. This scattered Bears team is more than happy to have him back, even though he has played just three games in the 2017-2018 season. Backup goalie Vitek Vanacek is also healthy, and currently on a conditioning stint with the South Carolina Stingrays. Although Copley’s numbers have not been good over three games, (2.86 GAA .894 save percentage), the Bears organization has full confidence that he can get back to form and help this Bears team to another successful season.