Phantoms/Bears Tournament Begins

The season-long rivalry between the Phantoms and the former Flyers affiliate in Hershey begins in the 2015/2016 season tonight Chocolate Town.  der Eishockeyzuschauer filed this report previewing today’s game in Hershey.  The Bears will come to Allentown on Friday.

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The 11-time Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears have been struggling to get themselves untracked in earnest to start this new 2015/16 AHL season but took a big step in that direction with a come-from-behind triumph over the visiting St. John’s IceCaps on Saturday night.

Hershey certainly have had their share of challenges to cope with; to begin with, the Bears had to play their first four games on the road and, overall, five of their first seven AHL contests this fall have come away from the Giant Center on Hersheypark Drive in central PA. Two-way center Chandler Stephenson (5’11” 200 lbs), the sturdy 21-year-old who was the 3rd round pick of the Washington Capitals at the 2012 NHL Draft, was recalled after skating in the season opener and has not returned to Chocolate Town. Just this past week, hot prospect Jakub Vrana, the talented 19-year-old Czech import who was the 1st round pick (# 13 overall) of the Washington Capitals at the 2014 NHL Draft, injured his hand in practice and is sidelined indefinitely.
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Vrana, who had five assists in just three AHL games for the Hershey Bears last spring after concluding the European season with Swedish club HC Linkoping (44 ga, 12 go, 24 pts, 12 pen, + 3 def), was tied for the scoring leadership in Chocolate Town (6 ga, 2 go, 6 pts, 2 pen, + 1 def) going into this weekend; it was the teenaged Vrana who had three assists during the Bears’ decisive 5-1 victory over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the last game of the 2014/15 AHL season for Hershey.
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Primarily, it has been the lack of consistent goal-scoring that has caused the most problems for Hershey thus far. After finding the back of the net five times in the opener against rookie German goaltender Niklas Treutle and the Springfield Falcons, the Bears managed to score a combined total of just 11 goals on its next six outings (a woeful average of less than two per game). Rookie right wing Riley Barber (6’0″ 198 lbs), the 21-year-old from Miami University of Ohio who was teammates with Lehigh Valley defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere on the United States team which won the gold medal at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championships, scored two goals on his AHL debut and another in Hershey’s third game of the season but has now failed to get his name on the scoresheet for the last five games in a row.
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Saturday night versus St. John’s, the Bears were bolstered by the return of defensive forward Zach Sill, the 27-year-old center who spent all of last season skating in 63 NHL games (1 go, 4 pts, 84 pen, – 5 def) for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins. Sill was not in uniform for Hershey on Friday night after traveling back home to attend a family member’s funeral in Ontario. Significantly, it was the Bears’ third line, a classic checking unit featuring team captain Garrett Mitchell (who sparked his team to a rally by scoring Hershey’s first goal), that was the most effective trio against visiting St. John’s :
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Paul Carey ……. Travis Boyd …….. Chris Bourque
Sean Collins ….. Carter Camper …. Riley Barber
Liam O’Brien ….. Zach Sill ………… Garrett Mitchell
Dustin Gazley … Nathan Walker … Caleb Herbert
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Fittingly, skating in his 400th career AHL game on behalf of the historically successful Hershey Bears franchise, it was veteran winger Chris Bourque, the small but skillful 29-year-old from Boston University, who set up the game-winning goal for linemate Paul Carey (a Boston College product) and notched his 400th career AHL point in the process … it is also Bourque who now leads the Bears in scoring (8 ga, 2 go, 7 pts) this season. 
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(NHL Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque was reportedly at the Giant Center on Saturday night to see his son play and will also be in attendance for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms game on Sunday)
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As for the defensive side of things, it is hard to say that the Hershey Bears have been bad, especially considering the number of road games. Hershey have conceded two goals or less in five of their first eight games. The pairings for Saturday night’s game against St. John’s were as follows :
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Madison Bowey … Aaron Ness
Connor Carrick …. Christian Djoos
Ryan Stanton …… Eric Burgdoerfer
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Rookie blueliner Madison Bowey (7 ga, 1 go, 3 pts, 4 pen, + 2), the promising 20-year-old who was the 2nd round pick of the Washington Capitals at the 2013 NHL Draft and won a gold medal with Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championships last winter, had a three-game point scoring streak snapped on Saturday night. 
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Swedish rookie defenseman Christian Djoos (6’0″ 162 lbs), the slender 20-year-old import who was the 7th round pick of the Washington Capitals at the 2012 NHL Draft, was inserted into the line-up for only the third time this season against St. John’s on Saturday night; Djoos, who was teammates with Lehigh Valley Phantoms defenseman Robert Hagg on Sweden’s teams which won silver medals at the annual IIHF World Junior Championships in both 2014 and 2015, does have a hard shot and collected his first assist of this new season at the expense of the IceCaps.
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Given the fact that second-year head coach Troy Mann has been rotating his two experienced goaltenders religiously, it is certain that the Hershey Bears will use Dan Ellis (4 ga, 2.97 avg, .885 svpct) between the pipes opposite the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Sunday. The 35-year-old veteran has 212 NHL games in his career but has never before faced the Phantoms after spending most of last season in the AHL’s Western Conference with the San Antonio Rampage (37 ga, 2.71 avg, .904 svpct). Perhaps visiting Lehigh Valley can give this goaltender a proper greeting.   
I know some Phantoms Phans are making the trip out today, and I hope they can Rise Up and represent us well.  The Bears are finishing a 3/3, where the Phantoms were off last night.  Could that play a role?  Tune in on AHL Live or WAEB-790 for the game action later this afternoon!
See you at the arena,
@Kram209


Categories: Kram's Korner - From the Club Level, Phantoms Hockey

5 replies

  1. Some pre-game notes while waiting for the drop of the puck …

    The Philadelphia Flyers have called up former Hershey Bears right winger Chris Conner, the 31-year-old veteran who skated in two NHL games for the Washington Capitals last season and, overall, has already appeared in 180 NHL games (22 go, 50 pts) in his career.

    In response, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms have called up Kevin Sundher from the Reading Royals of the East Coast Hockey League and signed the center/left wing to a standard Professional Tryout Contract (PTO). The 23-year-old Canadian was the 3rd round pick of the Buffalo Sabres at the 2010 NHL Draft and spent three years in that organization before hitting the free agent market this summer without great success. Sundher did skate in a few exhibition games with the Phantoms this fall being being cut at the conclusion of training camp and has already appeared in nine ECHL games (3 go, 6 pts, 0 pen, + 3 def) for the Royals.

    Sundher spent most of his first three seasons as a pro with the AHL’s Rochester Americans but was demoted to the ECHL’s Elmira Jackals three times after the New Year last term.

    12/13 … Rochester ….. 38 ga … 4 go … 13 pts … 26 pen … – 4 def
    13/14 … Rochester ….. 60 ga … 6 go … 20 pts … 25 pen … – 1 def
    14/15 … Rochester ….. 31 ga … 1 go ….. 5 pts … 12 pen … – 5 def

    Per Tony Androckitis on Twitter, Lehigh Valley will definitely be without its leading scorer, center Nick Cousins (8 ga, 3 go, 9 pts, 4 pen, + 5 def) on Sunday in Hershey. Cousins, to review, received an elbow to the head against the St. John’s IceCaps on Friday night. Androckitis has posted the following line-up for the Phantoms on Sunday :

    Leier – Brent – Palushaj
    Alderson – Martel – Straka
    Goulbourne – Goumas – Rankin
    Rosehill – Sundher – Mathers

    Gostisbehere – MacDonald
    Drewiske – Lashoff
    Alt – Morin

    Jason LaBarbera (3 ga, 4.74 avg, .835 svpct) will get the start in goal for Lehigh Valley.

    As far as the all-time series between the still relatively new Lehigh Valley Phantoms and the intra-state rival Hershey Bears are concerned, it is the Bears who currently hold a lead with seven regulation-time victories after a dozen games with the Phantoms. Lehigh Valley has three regulation-time victories, one overtime win and one triumph via shootout versus Hershey. It is the Hershey Bears who hold a lead the total goals scored competition by a considerable margin (43-25).

  2. Will Conner need to pass through waivers in order to return? With him up it relieves the “veteran” roster limit problem, but I kinda like having him around.

    • Conner would definitely need to pass through waivers if he is sent back to the AHL but I am inclined to think that if any NHL team was inclined to claim the Michigan Tech product off of waivers, they would have done so when the veteran winger was sent to Lehigh Valley towards the end of training camp. True, some teams may now find they have a few problems with injury or lack of form that just did not exist before the new season got underway and so Conner’s stock may seen to be higher these days. Still, unless Conner really romps for the Flyers while he is in Philly, I am inclined to think that it is a relatively safe bet that he would pass through waivers again.

      There is no question that Conner is a quality player at the AHL level and his presence makes the Phantoms’ attack stronger.

      It is interesting to note that it is the younger Phantoms players who have been absorbing most of these injuries suffered by Lehigh Valley so far.

  3. Note To Kram :

    Alright, I understand that the Lehigh Valley Phantoms made some last minute changes to their line-up; because we’re going to want this information handy later this week as we prepare for the return engagement at the PPL Center in Allentown this coming Friday night, let’s conveniently list the line charts and defense pairings for each team from Sunday’s dramatic game (won by the Phantoms after a shootout) here :

    Lehigh Valley Phantoms
    ———————————

    Leier – Brent – Palushaj
    Alderson – Martel – Straka
    Goulbourne – Goumas – Padakin
    Rosehill – Sundher

    Gostisbehere – MacDonald
    Drewiske – Lashoff
    Alt – Morin
    Pettersson

    (in the end, the Ukrainian forward Padakin keeps his place in the team and the coaching staff decides to go with a seventh defenseman, in this case, the Swede Pettersson)

    Hershey Bears
    ———————
    Carey – Boyd – Bourque
    Collins – Camper – Barber
    O’Brien – Sill – Mitchell
    Fyten – Walker – Gazley

    Moore – Carrick
    Djoos – Ness
    Stanton – Burgdoerfer

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