Albany, N.Y. The Hershey Bears had the top record in the AHL this season and they almost accumulated the highest number of points, (123), in the history of the AHL. In the end, the Albany River Rats were no match for them as they dropped four straight games, (although they played to an overtime period in three of those four losses), to this minor league powerhouse.
Last night's contest went down much like the previous loses. The Rats took a lead into the third period and could not hold onto it.
After Hershey jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the opening period on a nice goal from Chris Bourque, Albany struck back quickly. Jerome Samson scored the first of his two goals as he tucked back a rebound from a Drayson Bowman breakaway attempt. Chris Terry would make it 2-1 Albany, as he ripped in a one-timer from a pass by Bowman on a powerplay.
After the game, Bowman said that he thinks he deserves a shot in the NHL. "I think I can play up there, if I have a chance," he said. The youngster led his team in the postseason with 6 assists. It looks at this point like he will certainly have a chance. The Hurricanes should have more than one opening at forward next season.
Early in the second period Bourque tied things up with another goal, but Zach Boychuk made it 3-2, as he scooped up a loose puck after Bears' goalie Michal Neuvirth misplayed it behind his net.
Midway through the third period, Jerome Samson made a beautiful play as he stole the puck at the blueline, skated in alone on Neuvirth, and faked the goalie out as he easily backhanded the puck into an open net. With the score 4-2 and time running out, it looked like the Rats might finally win a game against these Bears.
But once again, the Bears struck back. With less than 3:30 in the game, Alexandre Giroux scored his 10th goal of the playoffs to make it 4-3, as he was set up nicely by John Carlson. The Bears were on another powerplay as Samson was in the box because of a delay of game penalty.
Then with just 1:13 left, Mathieu Perreault tied things up, 4-4.
The Bears almost scored again with just a couple of seconds left, but Justin Peters was scrambling and managed to keep the puck out.
The overtime period was all Bears as they kept the puck in the Rats zone for almost the duration. Perreault scored the game winner just two minutes and change into it.
In another familiar theme, the Rats were outshot again in the game, 39-21.
While the Bears have several young players who will serve their parent team, the Washington Capitals well someday, they also have several older, experienced veterans who have been through the wars. Keith Aucoin, (32), Alexandre Giroux, (29), and Boyd Kane, (32) can hardly be called "prospects". The average age of their roster is 25.8 years.
The Rats on the otherhand have several players right out of Juniors. Their oldest players are Tim Conboy and Jay Harrison, both at 28. This series has certainly been more of a learning experience for them than it has been for their opponents and the more experienced team certainly looked the part late in the games when it mattered the most.
It was a sad ending for the fans in more ways than one as the Rats will now move to Charlotte, North Carolina and begin next season as the "Checkers"
Not that I am a professional scout by any means, but I thought I would share some of my first-hand perceptions from last night.
The usual suspects were standouts to me. Zach Boychuk skated well and was all over the ice. He benefited by the puck misplay by the Bears, but his hustle helped to create the play.
What more can be said about Jerome Samson? He almost looked like a man among boys at times in the offensive zone, but he probably could do better in his own end. His penalty late in the game helped the Bears to get closer. He backhanded the puck high to clear the zone, but it went over the glass for an automatic penalty.
Drayson Bowman played very well and Nick Dodge stood out to me, especially on the penalty kill. The kid is one heck of a skater.
Jamie McBain does a great job of continually moving his feet and knows how to get open on the point of the powerplay. Anton Babchuk might be well-served by playing alongside him. On one play, Chris Terry was trying to get the puck to the defenseman, but a Bear was there to break up the play. McBain recognized the situation and skated laterally until he was open. He is also able to move back and forth along the blueline until he is open enough to get a shot through to the net.
Chris Terry's one-timer last night was NHL quality. It reminded me of a Jussi Jokinen shot. If he can keep shooting like that, he might have a chance in Raleigh next season. The rest of his game is solid, if not flashy. He does a good job of grinding along the boards.
Zac Dalpe looked good, played a good all around game and tried to make a couple of set up plays that never quite materialized. He finished with a plus +2.
Oskar Osala made some moves, even if he did not dent the scoresheet. He also finished at plus +2. The Finn did not necessarily seem physical to me, considering his size.
Justin Peters seemed to fight the puck at times, although he made several nice saves. He was certainly kept very busy this series. The goalie did not seem as confident to me as he did when he played for the NHL club.
Of course all of this is just a one game sampling, so it doesn't mean much. Take it for what it is worth.
The game was lightly attended, reminding me somewhat of a scrimmage at times. But Albany fans can not be blamed. They are losing the team soon, so it would be tough to support the franchise at this point unless you are a diehard.
The people in charge of the arena music did a great job. It was nice to listen to different things. They played Brass Bonanza during the pregame and fittingly closed things out with "The End" by the Doors.
I took some video of post game interviews by the local media which are included below. I also had the chance to speak one-on-one with Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman, and Jerome Samson, and will post those interviews in separate articles in the near future.
Coach Jeff Daniels