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Bears Hit First Road Bump Under New Coach

Bears Hit First Road Bump Under New Coach

HERSHEY, Pa. – It’s safe to say the first two losses of the 2022-23 campaign sting a bit for the Hershey Bears. Two losses by a single goal to a team that’s had their number over the years in the Charlotte Checkers, in which both games saw leads evaporate for the Chocolate and White, will leave a bitter taste where a chocolate one would ordinarily be for fans in the Sweetest Place on Earth (this writer included).

However, coming off a strong opening weekend at Giant Center, it’s far from the end of the world as the Bears at least took a point in the second game, thanks in large part to two key saves in the game’s final minute by Hunter Shepard. Shepard’s saves earned that point, and it’s unfortunate that those saves didn’t spark a strong overtime to get him the win.

The Bears are still adjusting to new head coach Todd Nelson’s style and philosophies as the first major adjustment since Spencer Carbery joined the organization prior to the 2018-19 season, in which the team similarly went through growing pains. Scott Allen’s term in Hershey wasn’t as far of a departure after being Hershey’s assistant coach during that season. Nelson alluded to the change in his pregame interview Saturday, deflecting any positives to the areas the team can improve on.

“I think everybody can bring a lot more to the table,” Nelson said during the pregame interview. “We talked about that [before the game on Saturday]. It was nice seeing Sam [Anas] score that goal, every time you get a goal scorer like that, you like to see him pop his first one. Same with Garrett Pilon, he scored a big goal for us yesterday, the thing is that having a guy like Sam in the lineup gives us more diversified scoring and we’re looking for those guys to rise to the occasion.”

Nelson continued with areas the team has to improve upon.

“Playing responsible. We watched video and it wasn’t a positive video [session] to be honest. I wanted to get my point across that we have to play hockey the right way, and what I mean by that is that if we aren’t attacking, we’re returning and we gave way too many odd man rushes against, not three-on-twos, but a number of four-on-twos, and that’s not the right way to play. We’re playing against a team that has probably at least one thousand games in their careers, and they’ll take advantage of it if we play the way we did, we have to play for 60 minutes from the drop of the puck.”

The coach’s comments come off a disappointing weekend for the Bears, who squandered a 3-0 lead on Friday en route to a 5-4 loss over the game’s final 30 minutes after limiting their opposition heavily in terms of shots and quality chances. In a tale of two halves, the Bears limited the Checkers to single digits in shots on goal, pretty much up to the tail end of the late second period power play that the Checkers connected on to help turn the tide heading into the third.

Charlotte turned around and won the game in the last 20 minutes, outshooting the Bears 11-4, and tallying four times, including an empty net goal as the eventual game winner. The third period was described as tilted ice for the Checkers, who consistently kept the Bears in their own zone and forced turnover after turnover from the blue line in. Once such turnover came in the dying moments of the second game, where Shepard bailed out his team with two quality saves in the final minute of action.

It’s an alarming difference for the Bears, who had shown pretty good poise in their first two games at Giant Center. Those games seem to be the ideal version of the team, versus the polar opposite of the performances over the weekend, a fitting Jekyll and Hyde comparison in the month of Halloween.

Nelson made the comment that the Checkers simply took advantage of what the Bears gave them, which is an accurate summary of how the leads fell apart for the team over the weekend. Most of the turnovers were unforced errors, failed clearing attempts that resulted in break-ins from the blue line in. It’s a startling polar opposite from the smart, responsible play from a week ago that the team will need to fix in order to win games.

The Bears will have a tough task ahead of them this weekend in a visit to the hungry Hartford Wolf Pack on Friday and a pair of strong local foes in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the friendly confines of Giant Center. Those teams will be a measuring-stick game for the Bears, and if the previous weekend wasn’t a wake-up call, it could be a world of hurt this weekend.

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