HERSHEY, Pa. – It was Game 76 for the Hershey Bears as they wrapped up their season with a home game against the Syracuse Crunch on Sunday evening at Giant Center. The two teams traded goals in the third, but the Crunch ultimately prevailed in a physical game that would be a fun playoff matchup. Gemel Smith scored the goal that would ultimately stand up as the winner that locked the Bears in at fifth place for a first-round date with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins that begins on May 6. Pheonix Copley suffered the loss with 21 saves while Hugo Alnefelt earned the win with 31 saves.
The Bears once again put up a good offensive showing with shots on goal, reaching double digits in each of the three periods, and eventually broke through their latest scoring drought. With the Bears on a power play and about to go up two men with a delayed call, Mike Sgarbossa made a play instead of giving the puck up for a quick whistle and found Brett Leason on the back door, who jammed in his sixth of the season to give the Bears the lead in the second period. Syracuse would counter minutes later when Simon Ryfors capitalized on a strong offensive zone shift for the Crunch, hemming in the Bears’ fourth line with the long change and tucked a backhand shot through Copley to even the score through two.
Syracuse would take the lead in the third when Charles Hudon tallied his 30th goal of the season with a laser of a one-time shot that shattered Copley’s water bottle, sending the top part soaring through the air in an emphatic way to earn the milestone. The Crunch would tally again when Remi Elie beat Copley with a top-shelf snipe while engaged with the Bears’ defense to extend the lead to two but allowed the Bears to stay in the game when Daniel Walcott extended his knee at a passing Alex Alexeyev that got him ejected for the game and sent Hershey to a five-minute power play. Garrett Pilon would cut the lead to one on a gorgeous individual effort, but Smith’s response goal came 24 seconds later to silence the crowd of 7,519. Hershey would once again cut the lead to one with Jake Massie‘s second as a Bear, but Hershey couldn’t muster a tying goal with the goaltender pulled and the Crunch put the game away by a 5-3 final score.
— Bears Hockey Nation (@HBHNationBlog) April 24, 2022
“Myself and my staff will take our usual time to dissect this one, just like we always do, and learn from it and move by it,” Bears head coach Scott Allen said in his postgame press conference. “It’s time to prepare for Wilkes. We’re not going to just throw this one out as far as what we talked about before the game. Syracuse is as good a team as you’re gonna find in the Eastern Conference right now with two 29-goal scorers, now a 30-goal scorer, 17, 16, 16, tons of firepower. Every time we’ve played them this year they play a hard game. We were actually shocked earlier in the year that their record wasn’t better than it was at the time, because out of all the teams we’ve seen this year in the 76 games we played, that’s the best team we’ve seen. I did like our resolve and that there was no quit in our guys, and quite honestly I would have been extremely disappointed if that were to happen then I would have had our team completely misread.”
Highlights from tonight's regular season finale 👇 pic.twitter.com/674XVXplSf
— x – Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) April 25, 2022
“We’re the same way we’ve been for the majority of the season, we’re banged up, we lost a couple of guys again this weekend, it has not stopped,” Allen continued. “We’ve faced as much adversity as a team could probably face, and I give a lot of credit. I’m proud of our guys, we found a way to make the playoffs and if you did a deep, deep dive into breaking down the analytics and how the season’s played out, that’s on our guys, that’s a huge credit to our players.”
“We’ll be better when the playoffs start. We’ll be better, we have a little time to work, so we’ll be better.”
After giving his players credit for making the tournament, Allen turned his ire toward the officials, the lack of calls they’re making on dangerous plays and how it’s affecting the team:
“I don’t like the fact that in the last two games we played against Lehigh Valley we lost the two college players that we signed to cheap, dirty plays that weren’t even called penalties which was disappointing. It’s the officials’ responsibility to protect players out there, we had one guy completely on goofy street last night, didn’t even know where he was by the shot he got to the head,” Allen said. “The night before, such a dirty play into the end wall, could’ve been his ankle, could’ve been his knee, could have been any part of Ethen Frank‘s lower extremities and that’s what’s disappointing. Both situations went uncalled, we’re going to be limping into these playoffs and hopefully, this week of preparation also gives us time to get some healing, and who knows where we’ll be at. Cody Franson was also out these last couple games, it’s been crazy.”
Allen was unable to provide updates on any specific players as he had yet to meet with any of the training staff, but the Bears were without the aforementioned Franson, Frank, Julian Napravnik, Lucas Johansen, and Shane Gersich as recent players lost to injury. Sunday’s game saw the AHL debut of Benton Maass on the blue line in the absence of Johansen and Franson and acquitted himself nicely. Hershey’s top scorers did a good job producing, with Sgarbossa tallying three assists and Pilon tallying a goal and an assist, but the absence of as many key players has certainly impacted them in recent times. Allen mentioned Sgarbossa, particularly, as a player who places a lot of pressure on himself to score in these difficult times.
As a result of the final score, the Bears’ first-round schedule was released as the team prepares for a three-game series with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins beginning on May 6 at Mohegan Sun Arena. Hershey plays the second and only game of the series at Giant Center on May 8, and should the series require a third and decisive game, it would take place a day later on May 9 in Wilkes-Barre.
Hershey will enjoy nearly two full weeks away from game action to recover from their slew of injuries before getting down to action in the postseason for the first time in nearly three calendar years.
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