After many players had their fair share of preseason action in Washington, the Hershey Bears began their season at home for the first time since the 2015-16 season. Seeking to right the ship and set the tone for a new season under a new head coach in Spencer Carbery, the Bears got off to a strong start, but were ultimately stymied by their own penalty markers throughout the game.
Coming off of a less-than-impressive season last year, culminating in a last place finish for the first time in over thirty years, Hershey needed a jolt of energy, something that could set them back on the path of success that the organization and their fans have come to admire over the last 81 years. That jolt, in the form of new head coach Carbery, seemed to have ignited something in this set of Bears. With a goal courtesy of Liam O’Brien early in the first period, things were looking good, as Hershey was able to force pucks into the attacking end with some success. However, a hooking penalty against Sergei Shumakov at 6:46 in the opening frame would be the first letter of disaster for the Chocolate and White, resulting in a PPG for Syracuse center Carter Verhaeghe at 7:49. Hershey would give up one even-strength goal in the second period, followed by another PPG a quarter of the way through the third.
The lackluster penalty killing units, which at times showed flashes of brilliance, were the cause of much distress for rookie goalkeeper Ilya Samsonov, who was making his AHL debut in white. Samsonov was able to stop 28 shots on the night, but had visible trouble when the beleaguered penalty killers allowed pucks to come up the middle, causing traffic and mayhem near the blue paint. When asked about the issues that his team faced, Carbery stated that many of the issues faced in the opener were from “special teams, definitely,” adding that the Bears’ ability to create odd-man rushes “looked good”, but that poor penalty killing “really hurt us.”
The Bears ultimately ended the night under-performing 0/4 on their own power play, while ending up 1/3 on the penalty kill, conceding what proved to be the game-winning goal in the final period. Special teams issues aside, however, Hershey played a fast-paced game, keeping up with the Crunch through both youthful speed and veteran tenacity. If the issues on both sides of the penalty coin can be addressed, the early showing from these Bears may have some fans hesitantly hopeful. The Bears return to the ice on Sunday, October 7th, facing off against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers during their Washington Capitals Night at 5 p.m. at the Giant Center in Hershey.
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