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2023 Calder Cup Playoffs

Bears Stun Wolf Pack in Overtime

Photo by Carl Minieri, Field Pass Hockey

Bears Stun Wolf Pack in Overtime

HERSHEY, Pa. – Hershey Bears forward Henrik Borgstrom was an unfortunate victim of circumstance towards the end of the regular season. Injury sidelined him down the stretch, and when he got healthy, the Bears were stocked with talent that left him on the outside looking in. He had never even played in a Calder Cup Playoff game prior to Thursday night’s Game One between the Bears and the Hartford Wolf Pack, but with center Mike Sgarbossa unavailable due to injury, found himself in the lineup and scored the game-winning goal in overtime to complete the comeback at Giant Center. Hunter Shepard earned the win with 25 saves while Dylan Garand took the loss with 32 saves.

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Photo by Carl Minieri.

In the first matchup in exactly three months between the two Atlantic Division rivals, the Wolf Pack were forced to weather the storm as the crowd of 7,274 of Bears fans got behind their team early. The Bears peppered Garand with one quality chance after another, but as strange of a game as hockey can be, it was the visitors who struck first as Lauri Pajuniemi found the rebound of a Zac Jones shot to beat Shepard. The series of shots were two of three pucks that Hartford got on goal in the first period to lift them to the early edge on the power play.

There was a scare in the latter stages of the first period as Hartford’s Anton Blidh was in discomfort going to the bench after colliding with Hershey’s Logan Day along the boards. Blidh briefly collapsed after getting to the bench but was able to go to the locker room on his own accord, which brought on the intermission early. When the teams returned to conclude the first period, Blidh was on the bench and finished the game to the applause of everyone in the building.

Hartford doubled their lead with another goal on the power play as Jonny Brodzinski scored his first goal of the postseason on a mad scramble. One Hershey defender had broken his stick while defender Jake Massie was stung by a shot block, and Brodzinski was able to find a loose puck and deposit it past the goaltender who had lost sight of the biscuit. After Hershey dominated the first period in terms of shots, Hartford turned the tables with a 16-7 edge in the middle stanza and seemed to be on the verge of putting the first game of this series out of reach.

It was familiar territory for the Bears. The Chocolate and White erased a two-goal deficit in Game Four of their prior series against the Charlotte Checkers by chipping away at their opponents’ lead over 40 minutes, but this game represented a new kind of challenge as the Bears only had 20 minutes to try and get back into this one. However, the Bears were able to get one early as the defenseman Day scored on a shot from the point that eluded Garand for a power play goal. Day, one of Hershey’s reliable depth defensemen, didn’t score a goal in 36 games with the Bears in the regular season and his tally was his first in the postseason since 2019, when he was a member of the Bakersfield Condors.

The Bears seemed destined to fall short in this game. The Wolf Pack were putting on a clinic defensively and made it difficult for the Bears to generate much of anything in terms of offense, but the Chocolate and White kept pressing in the third. After killing off a delay of game penalty late, the Bears got to work and hit paydirt when Connor McMichael got just a piece of a point shot from Massie to beat a screened Garand for his third of the playoffs with just over two minutes to play in regulation time.

Hershey seemed to be a tidal wave that couldn’t be stopped at that point, getting multiple quality chances in overtime and breaking through when Garrett Pilon made an excellent play defensively, intercepting a pass in his own zone and sending Borgstrom the other way. Borgstrom has a lethal wrist shot and took advantage of the time and space as a left-handed shot on the right side to beat the goaltender for his first American Hockey League playoff goal, an overtime winner.

Borgstrom was Hershey’s leading scorer in the regular season series between the two teams, although head coach Todd Nelson didn’t rely on that stat as his reason for dressing him.

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Photo by Carl Minieri

“With Mike Sgarbossa out, I didn’t want to touch the other three lines, they’ve been playing really well and have good chemistry,” Nelson said after the game. “[Borgstrom] fits that bill. I thought that line was better tonight and obviously [Borgstrom] got the game-winner. We can only dress 20 players and we have many good hockey players who aren’t playing right now.”

“I didn’t realize he was so successful against Hartford until Zack Fisch told me,” Nelson quipped. “He loves those stats. He was the right fit and when Zack told me that, it made me feel even better.”

The Bears only had one third period comeback win in the regular season, making Thursday’s game all the more remarkable. It’s an important game to win in a shorter best-of-five series, particularly at home where the Bears were the Eastern Conference’s best club. The shortened series was of particular concern for Nelson, and the idea of losing was not a fun one for Hershey’s bench boss. The win had the Bears bench boss roaring with the team after the game.

“It scares the crap out of me. I was thinking at second intermission that if we drop this one it’s like going down two games to one in a best-of-seven. It’s a pivotal game, we want to protect home ice and I’m glad things worked out the way they did.”

It’s the first time in these playoffs that the Wolf Pack have lost a game on the road, seemingly rising to the occasion time and again as the underdogs in this postseason and giving the Bears all they could handle in this game. Hershey has gotten contributions from up and down their lineup, getting goals from 14 different skaters in these playoffs with McMichael tied for the team lead. The two teams will rematch at Giant Center on Saturday night before the series shifts to Hartford next week. The Wolf Pack will look to leave the Sweetest Place on Earth with a split while the Bears will look to push for a two-game edge on home ice.

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