Big goals in Game 3 gave Bears win, confidence

Photo: Tori Hartman/Hershey Bears

📝 by Patrick Williams

Game 1 – COACHELLA VALLEY 5, Hershey 0
Game 2 – COACHELLA VALLEY 4, Hershey 0
Game 3 – HERSHEY 5, Coachella Valley 4 (OT)
Game 4 – Tonight at Hershey, 7:00
Game 5 – Saturday at Hershey, 7:00
*Game 6 – Monday at Coachella Valley, 10:00
*Game 7 – Wednesday at Coachella Valley, 10:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern

HERSHEY, Pa. … The Hershey Bears needed those goals.

Each of one of them was required to put away the Coachella Valley Firebirds, 5-4, in overtime of Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals on Tuesday night at Giant Center. The win sliced Coachella Valley’s lead to two games to one in the best-of-seven series heading into Game 4 tonight (7 ET, NHL Network, AHLTV, NHL Network Radio).

But they were needed mentally as well. Just ask rookie forward Ethen Frank. Or Joe Snively. The goals came, and a victory and good feelings followed.

That scoring had dried up for Frank, Snively and the Bears at the most inopportune time. After popping in 30 regular-season markers, tops among AHL rookies, Frank went into Tuesday night without a goal to show for these Calder Cup Playoffs. There were no particular indications of a slump coming into the postseason, either. Frank had put up six goals in his final seven regular-season games, including a hat trick against Lehigh Valley in the Bears’ regular-season finale on April 15.

“It’s not all about scoring goals, but part of my job is to produce,” Frank said.

Frank ended up sitting out four postseason contests, including Game 1 at Coachella Valley. He met regularly with head coach Todd Nelson.

“Constant conversation,” as Nelson described it.

But still the goals failed to come. Nelson had shown faith in Frank, however, using him on a line with Henrik Borgstrom and Mike Vecchione. Going into Game 3, Nelson said that he was debating switching up his forward lines. Ultimately he decided to remain with the status quo.

And finally it happened. Hershey went on a first-period power play, and Sam Anas reached Frank with a slick cross-ice feed from the right boards. With the Firebirds yielding ample time and space, Frank set and fired a wrist shot from inside the left circle that flew over Firebirds netminder Joey Daccord’s right shoulder for a 1-0 Hershey lead.

“He was dealing with that [stress],” Nelson said of Frank, “but I think it was just a huge weight off his back.”

Said Frank of what Nelson’s message had been: “Don’t worry about anything but playing hard and playing Bears hockey. Everything else will follow through and finally work.”

It did. It also showed that Daccord, who had shut out the Bears in back-to-back games to begin the series, could be solved.

Then came the Snively goal, one that restored a Hershey lead after the Firebirds had struck late in the first period. Garrett Pilon set up Snively with a gorgeous give-and-go feed, and Snively finished with a cross-crease cut that beat Daccord 1:05 into the second period. For Snively, who produced 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists) in 32 regular-season games with the Bears, it was his first goal since Game 2 of the team’s Atlantic Division semifinal series against Charlotte back on April 29.

The Bears ended up hanging five goals on Coachella Valley; before Frank’s goal, they had managed to score just once — Shane Gersich’s goal in the series-clinching 1-0 win over Rochester on June 2 — in their previous 209 minutes and 40 seconds of play.

Back in it against the Firebirds, the Bears can play together at least another game longer.

“We’ve been together it feels like for a while,” Pilon said. “A lot of this core, at least it seems. I’m really glad that I’m here with all these guys, that’s for sure.”

Said Snively, “I think what makes our team special is that we have such a close, close group of guys. We’ve had a core that’s been here for three to four years, but even the new additions this year, it seems like they have been here since then, too. We just have a really tight team.

“On the ice, off the ice, we just really enjoy each other.”