It’s early Sunday afternoon and it’s been about 14 hours since the Hershey Bears put the finishing touches on their fourth straight win, matching a season high. The Bears are still a few hours away from their next challenge, the second of back-to-back games with divisional rival. Despite the difficult schedule and a lack of sleep, head coach Bruce Boudreau and assistant coach Bob Woods are hard at work in Boudreau’s office. They’re wearing out the video machine, watching the previous night’s 4-1 win over Bridgeport. Anything for an edge.
“I get here too early sometimes and I’ve watched it twice,” he says, taking a break from the VCR to talk about his team.
Boudreau is a bit weary; today’s game will be the fourth in five days for his team. It will also be the third game against Bridgeport in five days and the fourth in 10 days. He senses some weariness in his team, too, but not physically.
“They work hard,” says Boudreau. “They’re a little tired right now. I don’t think it is fatigue from working; I think it’s mental fatigue. I think it’s hard to keep winning. The guys who have been on this team in both Hershey and in Portland, they haven’t won consistently. So it is hard to continually get pushed to get up for a game. That’s where they looked tired to me, [Friday and Saturday]. They’re tired because they’re like, ‘Oh man, if we want to be real good, we’ve got to get up again! We’re not allowed to have these days off.’ I think that’s where they’re more tired than say, ‘Oh man, we traveled all night and we should have been better than Bridgeport because Bridgeport traveled further than us.’
Boudreau knows that his team won the previous night’s game against Bridgeport despite not playing as well as they are capable of playing. He is not sure what to make of that.
“I don’t know what it tells us,” he says. “I have so many different theories that I screw around with in my head in this sort of situation. I wish we had a week off right now to practice. We’ve played a lot of games and we didn’t practice that hard quite frankly the last couple days. It’s going to be good after Sunday’s game to have a week off to practice and to get [back to] things that we’re accustomed to doing and back into more of a structure rather than playing a game of shinny and hoping your team’s skill is better than the other team’s skill.”
The Bears came out blazing in Sunday’s game. Barely half a minute after the opening faceoff, Brooks Laich
won an offensive zone draw and pushed the puck to Graham Mink on his right. As soon as he let go of the puck, Laich pushed his way through the Bridgeport defense and headed to the net. Mink fired a shot on goal that was kicked out by Bridgeport netminder Wade Dubielewicz. But he kicked it right to Laich’s stick and the big Hershey center tapped it in easily to give the home team a quick 1-0 advantage.
Immediately after the red light went on, thousands of teddy bears are flew from the stands to the ice. It was the Bears’ annual teddy bear game, and fans are hurled the stuffed mammals onto the ice so they could be collected and distributed to underprivileged children. The game was delayed for several minutes so the bears could be collected.
If there was any doubt as to whether the Bears would be able to maintain their early jump after the lengthy delay, it dissipated quickly. Bridgeport center Mark Lee took a hooking minor, putting the Bears on the power play. Hershey didn’t score, but kept Dubielewicz busy by firing six shots on goal during the man advantage. Not even four minutes into this one, Hershey held a decisive 9-1 lead in shots on goal.
The Bears didn’t mount as much pressure on next power play. Hershey goaltender Frederic Cassivi made two solid stops to deny the Sound Tigers a shorthanded goal and protect Hershey’s lead.
Late in the period, Hershey’s Joey Tenute came in unmarked with a burst of speed only to be denied by Dubielewicz. The period ended with Hershey still clinging to a 1-0 lead despite a 15-6 advantage in shots on goal and three power play chances.
The two teams played relatively even through the first six minutes of the second but the Sound Tigers became energized at that point. Bridgeport’s Steve Regier scored the equalizer at 6:12 of the middle frame, going into the net and crashing into Cassivi in the process.
Sensing an opportunity to salvage some points from what had been a futile road trip, the Sound Tigers kept buzzing in the Hershey end. Their hard work was rewarded almost immediately when Sean Bergenheim tapped in a rebound that squirted free just 1:17 after Bridgeport’s first goal. The Sound Tigers’ second goal was the result of pinning the Bears in their own end and working the puck around without allowing Hershey to clear and change.
Boudreau called a time-out immediately after Bridgeport took its first lead of the weekend. After the game, the Bears’ coach was asked what he told his troops at that juncture of the game.
“I just told them that if they wanted to be great, they’ve got to step it up,” said Boudreau. “This was a team that we were playing that was feeding on us. We can’t let them believe. They were starting to believe. If we could have gotten one or two more in the first period, I think they would have said, ‘Ah geez, it’s four games [in five days], we’re tired, we’ve got five [defensemen], let’s go home and regroup.’
“But we gave them life. And when you give a team life and emotion and they feel they can believe and their goaltender was really good today, bad things can happen. So I said, ‘You’ve got to step it up right here. You’re letting them dictate the game.’”