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2023 Calder Cup Playoffs

Shepard, Bears Outlast Amerks to Take Series Lead

Shepard, Bears Outlast Amerks to Take Series Lead

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The Blue Cross Arena in Rochester was bumping on Saturday night as the host Americans played game three of the Eastern Conference Final against the Hershey Bears before a crowd of 10,746. The visiting Bears went into a hostile environment and quieted the crowd early on, holding on for a 4-2 win courtesy of a 31-save performance by Hunter Shepard in goal to take a 2-1 series lead. The Bears held off the Amerks in the third period, making a one-goal lead stand up behind a few key saves and icing the game with an empty net tally. Malcolm Subban took the loss in net with 21 saves.

Much as the Bears did when they went to Hartford in the Atlantic Division Finals, Hershey was forced to weather the early storm Rochester brought behind their home crowd before turning the tables. In keeping with the similarities of that game, the Bears got a big goal from a defenseman as Logan Day wound up with some space and cranked a shot past a screened Subban to make it 1-0 Hershey. Day, who has chipped in goals from the blue line over the course of his American Hockey League career, had no goals in a Bears jersey during the regular season, but his tally marked his second of the postseason.


Hershey got another important goal early on in the second period as they took advantage of a power play to go up by a 2-0 score. Sam Anas, the former league scoring champion from the 2019-20 season, picked his target on the glove side of a screened Subban and did not miss, in a similar fashion to Henrik Borgstrom’s goal a game prior. Hershey now has two goals on the power play in this series that have been important towards their success.


It didn’t take long for Rochester to respond and give their fans something to be excited about as Zach Metsa scored his first AHL goal on a point shot through traffic in front of Shepard to cut the lead to one. Metsa, an undrafted defenseman, has only played postseason hockey for the Amerks after winning a national championship with Quinnipiac University earlier this season. He signed a two-year AHL contract with Rochester in short order to join the Amerks for their playoff run.


However, the Bears responded minutes later with the eventual game-winning goal as Lucas Johansen snuck down the boards and fed Connor McMichael in front of the net, with the former first round pick sliding the puck between Subban’s pads to make it 3-1 Hershey. McMichael has a penchant for finding the back of the net at key times, last scoring the tying goal in game one of Hershey’s prior series against the Hartford Wolfpack. It’s his fourth of the playoffs and sixth point in ten postseason games as a key contributor for this Bears group. Hershey got more offense from different places in this game, a key component of their success as a group.


Rochester needed a shot in the arm to get back in this game, and they found it before the midway point of the third period as Sean Malone buried his third of the postseason. Malone made a slick play to lift a rebound of a shot from Michael Mersch over Shepard’s shoulder from in close to get the crowd on its feet and cut the lead to one with plenty of game remaining. Malone has played five of six seasons at the AHL level with the Americans and had one of his best seasons in 2022-23 as the Buffalo native is a natural pick to be a difference-maker.


One player who has been a difference-maker in his days prior to this series is Shepard, who has a laundry list of achievements at the collegiate level and guided the University of Minnesota-Duluth to back-to-back national championships. He very well could have gone for a third had the 2019-20 season not been cut short. Shepard was not fazed by the second goal and instead stopped 12 of 13 shots in the final frame including a key sequence where he stopped Jiri Kulich on a rebound by kicking out the right pad with plenty of daylight to the goal.


As they’re known to do, the Bears clamped down on defense over that extended period and sealed the deal with Aliaksei Protas scoring on the empty net to make it 4-2 inside of the last minute of play.


The Bears took the lead in the series two games to one with the win, playing to their strengths and withstanding Rochester’s push that was bound to happen for large stretches in this game. It sets the stage for an important game four for both teams as the Americans will look to head to Hershey even at two games with a split at home while the Bears could have the opportunity to advance at home should they emerge victorious on Labor Day on Monday. It figures to be another big crown on-hand for Monday’s game in another intense clash between the AHL’s two oldest teams.

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