Down the Frozen River is now covering the AHL! If you don’t know what the AHL is I will let you know! The AHL (American Hockey League) is called the minor league. The reason why it is called this is because it is a level below the NHL (National Hockey League). Each team in the NHL and the AHL are affiliated with each other. This means that every single NHL team signs a contract with an AHL team. A player can either be called up by the NHL team or sent down to the AHL team during the season as well.
Both the Hershey Bears and the Lake Erie Monsters will begin their quest for the 2016 AHL Calder Cup. It features the Bears (who’s NHL affiliate is the Washington Capitals) out of the East Coast and the Monsters (who are affiliated with the Columbus Blue Jackets) out of the West Coast. This is the Bears first appearance in the finals since the 2009-2010 season when they won it all beating the Texas Stars 4 games to 2. While this is Lake Erie’s first Calder Cup Final appearance in franchise history.
The game started out with both teams gaining equal chances but no one could get the momentum they needed to score. This would change with just 4:28 into the opening frame. Lake Erie would gain the puck at their own blue line, center T.J. Tynan would receive a beautiful stretch pass. Tynan would go in all alone on a breakaway from the attacking blue line in. Tynan would skate right into the slot fake a slap shot and opened up to his forehand trying to go upstairs for the goal. Well, Bears goalie Justin Peters was having none of this and stretched out with his left pad to rob Tynan with the tip of his pad. This save kept the game scoreless.
Lake Erie was all over Hershey front to back controlling most of the first period. This relentless pressure resulted in the Monsters second prime scoring chance of the first period.
with 7:28 into the period Monsters winger Sonny Milano would make a great defensive play Bears defender Ryan Stanton at the right dot just outside Hershey’s zone. Milano picked pocketed the puck right off Stanton’s stick and went in all alone for their second breakaway of the period. Milano would fancy his luck opting to go to his right just like Tynan did before. The result was the same for Milano and Peters stood tall and stopped his shot with his left pad/blocker to keep the game scoreless.
This provided a HUGE boost for the Bears as 3:10 later Hershey would grab the game’s first goal.
Bears winger Chris Bourque would burst into the offensive zone on the right side, stop on a T at the tops of the circle, and skate back up to the tops of the blue line. Bourque would find a cutting Jakub Vrana with a rifle of a pass while Vrana was barreling into the zone. Vrana would receive the pass at the top of the high slot and roof a laser of a wrist shot beating Monsters goalie Anton Forsberg high over his blocker for the 1-0 lead. This was Vrana’s 8th goal of the playoffs tying him for the league lead.
Lake Erie would end the period down a goal which they were not happy about. The Monsters were controlling a majority of the first with a lot of pressure in the o-zone. They also did a solid job limiting the Bears shots to the outside despite giving up the opening goal.
The start of the second period was no different than the start of the first. What I mean by this was that both teams, again, had a couple chances but none of them were big. Both goalies came up big, especially Anton Forsberg of the Monsters.
Finally, after all, the pressure to start the period Lake Erie was able to get past Hershey’s defenders and tie this game up. With just about eight minutes gone in the middle frame, Monsters’ Daniel Zaar would get a pass from fellow linemate Alex Broadhurst in the neutral zone. Zaar would take the tape to tape pass at center ice and speed past Bears defender Tyler Lewington and in on another breakaway. Zaar would speed into the slot and rip a wrister under the glove hand of Justin Peters and just inside the right post for his 4th goal of the playoffs and leveling the score at one goal apiece.
Surprisingly, after Zaar’s goal to tie the game, neither Hershey or Lake Erie were able to gain any momentum back to their side. Both goalies again acted like brick walls and did not let another goal get by them and the middle period ended 1-1.
The start of the third period was much different. The Bears were in on the attack looking for the goal to break the tie. Their pressure paid off as we would get the first penalty of the game just 58 seconds into the third. Monsters center Alex Broadhurst would get called for two minutes after he hooked a Bears player. This sent Hershey to their first PP of the game but was unable to break the deadlock after some solid saves from Forsberg.
Then just about four minutes and change later Lake Erie would grab the go-ahead and eventual game-winning goal thanks to winger Trent Vogelhuber. Captain Ryan Craig would feed Vogelhuber behind Hershey’s net. Vogelhuber would corral the pass, skate behind the net, and come out from behind the right side of the net. He would skate right to the right dot, turn around, and whip (what looked like to be a harmless shot) on net. The puck took a deflection off Bears defender Aaron Ness’ stick and through the 5 hole of Justin Peters for the 2-1 lead.
The play would then settle down for the next five minutes of play as both teams settle down into their roles. Lake Erie defending and Hershey pressing for that tying goal.
Hershey would go back to their second and last man advantage of the game as winger Josh Anderson got the gate for roughing. Hershey would once again, gain a little momentum with a flurry of shots but the Monsters were able to kill off the pressure.
Then with 6:27 remaining in the last period the Monsters were back on the offensive prowl and tallied a very important insurance goal. Bears defender Ryan Stanton looked to keep the puck, step around the forecheck and start a rush from his own zone. This was a bad idea as Lake Erie’s first goal scorer Daniel Zaar would make another beautiful defensive pick and steal the puck right from Stanton’s stick at the left-hand dot. Zaar would then be all alone for a small breakaway where he took full advantage. Bears goalie Justin Peters looked to poke check the puck away but failed. In doing this, he opened up his 5 hole and Zaar finessed the puck right through his legs for the two-goal lead at 3-1. This was Zaar’s second goal of the game.
Just 1:36 later the Monsters would strike again! Lake Erie’s winger Oliver Bjorkstrand would feed the puck over to D-man Dean Kukan at the right side blue line. Kukan would put a helpless wrister towards the net that was deflected by winger Markus Hannikainen in the slot and sneaked past Justin Peters for the 4-1 lead with just four minutes. The Bears were unable to muster any offensive after this deflecting goal and the score ended with the Monsters’ easily taking the game 4-1.
Lake Erie’s goalie Anton Forsberg stopped 26 out of 27 shots for a stunning .963 SV% while Hershey’s goalie Justin Peters turned away 22 out of 26 shots for a terrible .846 SV%. The Bears led in shots (27-26). There were only 2 penalties in the game with both of them going to Lake Erie. The Bears were 0/2 on the man advantage while the Monsters did not get a chance.
Lake Erie now leads the series 1-0. These two teams will suit up again Friday night for Game 2 in Hershey with puck drop at 7 pm.