After starting the season with seven consecutive losses in October and sitting near the bottom of the standings, the Hershey Bears have turned their season around dramatically.
The Bears have rattled off a 9-0-0-1 record in their last 10 games, and have tallied points in 15 straight games, tying a 76-year-old franchise record. Let me repeat: a SEVENTY SIX YEAR-OLD-RECORD.
The last time Hershey had points in 15 straight games was during the 1942-1943 season.
That moment when you tie a 76-year-old franchise record at the expense of the @LVPhantoms… Here are the final moments from last night's 4-3 win over Lehigh Valley to secure points in 15 straight games, tying a record from the 1942-43 season! #HBH pic.twitter.com/FgG3WpJRB3
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) February 18, 2019
During the streak, the Bears have rocketed up the standings and currently sit third in the Atlantic division and 11th in the AHL overall.
The Bears have been buoyed by solid goaltending play. Ever since changing his number from one to 35, adjusting to the smaller rink, and finding newfound confidence in his English skills, Ilya Samsonov has been phenomenal. Through the Bears’ win streak, Samsonov has had two consecutive shutouts, eight wins, one shootout loss, and a .955 save percentage.
“I don’t like to play with number 1,” Samsonov told Chocolate Hockey on January 19. The change was more than just symbolic, with his play shifting dramatically since the number swap.
AHL All-Star Vitek Vanecek has been no slouch either, winning all six of his starts during the 15 game win streak, and sporting a .906 save percentage.
But it’s not just goaltending that has driven the franchise record tying win streak. Contributions are coming from throughout the lineup. January’s AHL player of the month Riley Barber, Mike Sgarbossa and Liam O’Brien, notably, have driven much of the offensive play, combining for 58 of the Bears’ 141 goals. Sgarbossa and Barber are tied with 44 points each. Sgarbossa has scored 23 goals and tallied 21 assists, while Barber has scored 21 goals and tallied 23 assists.
Even beyond the core forwards — and renewed secondary scoring — defensemen like veteran Aaron Ness have become a solid presence. Ness plays in all situations and has a place on both the penalty kill as well as the team’s top power-play unit. That role has seen Ness take the third spot in points on the Bears roster, with 38, and he’s equally driving offensive play with his 35 assists.
Over the summer, the Bears parted ways with head coach Troy Mann, and assistant coach Ryan Murphy. Mann spent four seasons as head coach of the Bears, and in that time led them to two Atlantic Division titles and the 2016 Calder Cup finals. However, the Bears missed the 2017-18 playoffs, and Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan opted to take the AHL affiliate in a different direction.
“At this point, we feel a fresh approach and a change in leadership is needed in order for us to continue to develop our young players towards the next level and for success at the AHL level,” MacLellan said at the time.
That change in leadership was current head coach, Spencer Carbery, the second youngest coach in the AHL. While it has taken some time for the Bears to find their feet under Carbery’s direction, MacLellan’s faith in his ability to develop younger players is now being rewarded.
The Bears next game is against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Friday.
More from the Bears:
(Lehigh Valley, PA – February 17, 2019)- The Hershey Bears tied a franchise record with points in their 15th straight game (14-0-0-1), and extended their current winning streak to nine in a 4-3 win over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Sunday night at the PPL Center. Beck Malenstyn scored a pair of goals in the first period for his first professional multi-goal game.
For the second straight night, the Phantoms drew first blood, but the Bears rallied right back. Only 7:38 in, Tyrell Goulbourne opened the scoring on a rebound after depositing a Jori Lehtera shot past Vitek Vanecek inside the blue paint. Before the period came to a close, Malenstyn scored twice on 2-time NHL All-Star goaltender Brian Elliott. First at 13:52, Malenstyn redirected a Ryan Sproul shot through the five-hole of Elliott.
At the 16:48 mark, Malenstyn on the transition blasted a shot past Elliott for his second goal of the night. Hershey carried a 2-1 lead into first intermission with shots even at 7-7. Into the second period, the Chocolate and White tacked on two more to take a commanding 4-1 lead. After the Bears successfully killed a Jonas Siegenthaler cross-checking minor to start the frame, the Bears cashed in on a power play chance of their own.
After winning the ensuing offensive zone draw, Riley Barber fed an open Mike Sgarbossa in the slot. Sgarbossa tallied his 23rd goal of the season, and Barber earned his 23rd assist on the play at the 6:28 mark. Less than two minutes later, Ryan Sproul scored the eventual game-winner on a shot from the right point past Elliott. Shots after 40 minutes were 16-14 Bears.
Lehigh Valley pushed in the third period to chip their deficit to one goal, but the Bears successfully hung on for a 4-3 final. Nicolas Aube-Kubel tallied at 2:07, and Mikhail Vorobyev brought Lehigh Valley within 4-3 after beating Vitek Vanecek from a sharp angle at 14:37. The Chocolate and White’s record improved to 29-20-0-3 with the victory, and the Bears have rallied their road record to 11-11-0-2
Hershey finished 1-for-3 on the power play and 3-for-4 on the penalty kill. The Bears return to action on Friday, Feb. 22 with a 7:05 p.m. meeting against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Mohegan Sun Arena. Voice of the Bears Zack Fisch will have the call on the Bears Radio Network.
Headline photo: @TheHersheyBears
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