Hershey coach Bruce Boudreau and the rest of the Bears were hoping right wing Graham Mink would be healthy in time for the start of the Calder Cup playoffs, and Friday night showed was a prime example of why Mink's presence is so integral to the Bears. The 26-year-old native of Stowe, Vermont set up shop in front of the Norfolk net on Friday night in Game 2 of the best-of-seven Calder Cup playoff series between the Bears and the Admirals. The result was a 5-2 Hershey win, a Mink hat trick and a 2-0 series lead for Hershey heading into Game 3 at the Scope in Norfolk on Saturday.
Mink scored all three of his goals in the second period. The last two tallies came just 1:09 apart in the final two minutes of the second period.
“That line offensively was pretty dominating,” said Boudreau after the game. “There are two really skilled players in [Kris] Beech and [Tomas] Fleischmann and you’ve got a bull in Graham. Right now it’s working out pretty good.”
Naturally, Mink, sidelined for much of the season’s second half with a sports hernia injury, concurred.
“My linemates played really well,” he said. “They’re easy to play with for me. They take care of the puck and I go to the net and try to clean up the garbage.”
The unique scheduling of the East Division Calder Cup semifinal series between Hershey and Norfolk diverts drastically from the traditional 2-2-1-1-1 format used in most best-of-seven playoff series. It may have also added an extra degree of urgency to what is traditionally the most urgent time of year, anyway.
That was evident on Friday night in the first period of Game 2. Both goaltenders were forced to make one strong save each early in the stanza, but a lot of the play was in the neutral zone for the first six minutes. Sufficiently warmed to the task, the Bears and Admirals then began hammering each other with hard bodychecks and engaging in pushing, shoving and facewashing after virtually every whistle.
Hershey’s penalty killing unit stymied a couple early Norfolk power plays, with Dave Steckel’s long reach and Dean Arsene’s shot-blocking ability coming up large. The Bears then had a few power play chances of their own, including a two-man advantage for 1:21. Norfolk kept the Bears off the board and for a while it appeared the first peaiod might end without a goal.
But with 1:31 left in the first, Norfolk’s Mike Brown received a five-minute major and a game misconduct. Hershey’s Tomas Fleischmann, on the receiving end of the spear, retaliated with a slash that resulted in two minutes of 4-on-4 play before a three-minute Bears power play.
Just seconds after Brown’s exit, Steckel pounced on a loose puck in the neutral zone, skated between Norfolk’s Carl Corazzini and Danny Richmond and unleashed a wrist shot that beat Admirals goaltender Adam Munro high to the stick side. The goal enabled the Bears to take a 1-0 lead to their locker room after 20 minutes of play.
The Mink Show started early in the second. With the seconds winding down on the power play that came from Brown’s major penalty, the puck pinballed around down low in the Norfolk end. It hit a few sticks and a glove before Fleischmann flicked it to Mink. The big winger took it off the goal line to Munro’s right, brought it toward the crease and slid a shot past Munro’s stick, off the inside of the post and into the net to give the Bears a two-goal lead.
By the midpoint of the second, Hershey held a 17-8 edge in shots, but Norfolk wasn’t done. The Admirals outshot the Bears 10-0 over the next 8:01 and then went on a power play, with Mink drawing a hooking call. Norfolk cashed in, with defenseman Dustin Byfuglien one-timing a shot from the high slot past Hershey goaltender Frederic Cassivi.
With just 37 seconds left in the second, Mink restored the Bears’ two-goal margin. The Bears were on another power play, courtesy of a Michal Barinka roughing call. Bears blueliner Lawrence Nycholat flipped what appeared to be a harmless wrist shot toward the net. But there was Mink, perched in his usual spot. He got his stick down and deflected the puck past Munro, and Hershey had a 4-1 advantage with 20 minutes to play.
“It’s a great feeling, it really is,” said Mink, who missed 37 regular season games and still managed to reach the 20-goal level for the first time in his AHL career. “It was really frustrating in December and January, not really knowing what was wrong with me, and trying to battle through it. Then in February when I went to the doctor and he told me it was a sports hernia and I was probably done for the year, that was kind of hard to take. I just said, ‘Let’s do it and see how it goes and hopefully I can be back for playoffs.’
“I was fortunate enough to heal quickly and a night like tonight makes everything else worthwhile. The regular season is what it is. This is the time when everyone wants to play hard and everyone wants to win and have success as a team. It’s the most fun part about playing.”
There was no quit in the Admirals; Corazzini and Nathan Barrett worked a pretty passing play to set up Mark Cullen in front, and he beat Cassivi to pull Norfolk within two just 26 seconds in the third period. Just over three minutes later, Mink helped put the final nail in Norfolk’s Game 2 coffin. He jimmied the puck loose in the corner of the Norfolk end, chipping it to linemate Kris Beech. Beech fired a perfect cross-ice pass to Fleischmann, who fired it home to close out the scoring. Fleischmann’s shot beat Corey Crawford, who relieved Munro in the Norfolk goal at the start of the third.
Hershey’s penalty killing corps was at its best in the final frame, repeatedly denying the Admirals any chance of making the score closer. The Bears killed off five minors in the third, including one stretch where they were shorthanded for nearly five minutes continuously, and short by two men for a great deal of that time.
Game 3 is at the Scope in Norfolk on Saturday night. Opening face-off is at 7:15 p.m.
Quotebook Boudreau on Louis Robitaille, who got under the Admirals’ skin in the first period: “He doesn’t have to do anything to get under their skins because he has played them 11 times this year. It’s already there that people dislike him. And if they don’t go after him, he’s a very good bodychecker. He’s a valuable player.”
Boudreau on scoring the third goal to go up 3-1 before the Ads could tie it at 2-2: “That’s the first time I can remember that we’ve done that. It’s great. You knew you’d have to do it, because that team doesn’t quit. I expect them to be twice as hard [Saturday]. It was a good killer instinct goal, and more importantly, it took the crowd out of it.”
Boudreau on how the Bears can’t let up: “We know how good this team is. We know how hard they’ve played us all year. We have to be absolutely at the peak of our game to win. To get this win was a huge win. We know we have to win four; we’re only halfway there. There’s no rest and tomorrow is a huge game for us.”
Boudreau on staying disciplined and composed after the whistle: “It’s a tough thing to do. These guys are brave guys and you don’t like getting punched. Both teams were emotional in the first period, then I think both teams realized what is at stake so they sort of backed off for the middle 30 minutes. Then frustration [set in] on their part a little bit at the end of the game, even though we’re the ones who took all the penalties in the third period.”
Boudreau on keeping the foot on the gas: “We’ll have a meeting tomorrow and I’ll watch the game again tonight and we’ll see what we can do. There is no let-up against this team. This team is too good to let up [against at] any time. They beat us five in a row during the course of the season and they’ve beaten us four [times] on our ice. The minute you think, ‘oh, we’ve got a lead and we can relax’ is the minute you’re in trouble and we don’t want to be in trouble at all.”
Boudreau on whether a 2-0 series lead is more significant in this series, given the odd scheduling configuration: “I don’t know how much home ice is an advantage. I see so many teams winning on the opposition’s ice. I like the idea that we have three games left in our building right now and we’re 2-0. I like that idea.”
Mink on the Bears keeping their composure: “We were a little uncomposed on Wednesday. One of our goals was to take a punch, be more disciplined and to initiate the physical play between the whistles and after the whistles, let them initiate the physical play. That was kind of a goal. We got sucked in a few more times than we would have liked, but I think overall it was a big improvement from Wednesday night and we’ll continue to work on it.”
Mink on the 2-0 series lead: “We view every game as big. We’re not looking beyond tomorrow night now. We knew they wanted to come out and send a message, and they were more physical tonight than they were the [game] before. We were ready for it. Same with [Saturday] night. It’s a must win for them and they’re going to be playing desperate hockey like they were in the third. We’re going to have to be ready for it.”
Mink on his willingness to go to the net: “I try to go there because that’s where you get rewarded. There are a lot of games where you are there and you don’t get anything. Tonight was a night where the puck did find my stick.”
Steckel on the Hershey penalty killing unit: “We go over it every game and obviously we know Norfolk pretty well. They’ve scored a bunch of them on us during the year. This particular series we’re taking pride in that. Once you get the first couple it just seems like you keep rolling them. We were fortunate that they didn’t connect on any plays down low.”
Steckel on his goal: “I was just trying to use my reach and put it through his stick and I just tried to get a shot on net.”
Notebook Ch-Ch-Ch Changes – Both teams altered their lineups a bit for Game 2. Right wing Jakub Klepis was a healthy scratch for Hershey, and center Jared Aulin, scratched for Game 1, was back in the lineup. Brandon Bochenski was back on the ice for Norfolk for Game 2. He missed Game 1 with a slight concussion. The Ads also inserted Brown into Friday night’s lineup. Among the Norfolk scratches were defenseman Brandon Rogers and forward Matt Keith, both of whom were in the lineup on Wednesday for Game 1.
Men At Work – When Mink came out to meet the media after Friday night’s game, he was sporting a construction hardhat, which he’d earned with his play in the 5-2 Game 2 victory.
“After our win the other night,” explained Mink, “Doug Doull brought it into the room and gave a little speech and gave it to the player that he thought worked the hardest and brought the best playoff intensity and work ethic. Mark Wotton got it the first night, and I was lucky enough to get it tonight. We’re just going to pass it around. We’ve got numbers on the side [descending from 16 to 1, representing the number of wins needed to claim the Calder Cup] and after every ‘W’ we peel one off. It’s basically a symbol of how we want to play: with a workmanlike attitude for every playoff game.
“Tonight it could have gone to a lot of different guys. The penalty killing was great again tonight and Freddie was outstanding. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. My linemates really set me up. I just went to the net and it found my stick and I was lucky.”
How Do You Do? – Pregame warm-ups put some unorthodox hairstyles on display. Norfolk’s Martin St. Pierre, Colin Fraser and James Wisniewski are all sporting Mohawk haircuts these days, and all three went sans helmet during the warm-ups, presumably to air out the pores on the sides of their heads.
As noted here on Wednesday, Hershey’s Louis Robitaille and Joey Tenute are both displaying modified versions of the classic Native American cut. Both Robitaille and Tenute have a bit of hair on the sides, rather than the shaved-down-sides look preferred by the Admirals.