The Rochester Americans opened their 61st AHL season against the defending Eastern Conference champion Hershey Bears Friday night at The Blue Cross Arena. The Amerks came away with hard fought 5-4 victory against a veteran-lead Hershey squad to improve to 37-18-6 all-time in home-openers.
The Amerks were led by the top-scoring line of Cole Schneider, Nick Baptiste and Cal O’Reilly, who combined for eight (4+4) of the Amerks 15 points, including a four-point night from Schneider. Rookie forward Eric Cornel tallied his first professional goal, the eventual the game-winning tally, early in the third period.
Jakub Vrana scored twice in the loss for Hershey and Joe Cannata finished with five saves on 12 shots against. Brad Malone and Hubert Labrie rounded out the scoring for the Bears.
|DAN LAMBERT POSTGAME|
|COLE SCHNEIDER POSTGAME|
|CAL O'REILLY POSTGAME|
|ALEXANDER NYLANDER POSTGAME|
|MATT LANE POSTGAME|
Entering the final 20 minutes of regulation with the home team ahead 4-3, Cornel received a between the legs pass to the right of the Bears goaltender Joe Cannata. Justin Kea slipped the puck onto the stick of Cornel from below the goal-line before Cornel flipped the puck into the Hershey goal. Rochester native Matthew Lane picked up his first professional assist on the marker just 2:57 into the period.
The Amerks opened the high-scoring affair just 45 seconds into the contest thanks to Schneider. Following a Hershey penalty early into the game, Taylor Fedun, one of several newcomers, picked up the puck at the top of offensive zone and slid a pass along the blueline to Alexander Nylander. The rookie fired a shot-pass to Schneider, who redirected the rubberized disc into the cage.
“It was pretty cool getting a first shift on the power-play,” said Nylander. “I saw two guys collapsing on me and I was able to see Cole in front of the net, so I shot the puck his way.”
Neither team found the back of the net the remaining 19:45 of the first period but in the middle stanza things changed.
Schneider pushed the Amerks lead to two goals 4:02 into the frame after he backhanded a shot to the far side against the Bears netminder, but that was only the beginning of the scoring.
Hershey’s Labrie cut the lead to 2-1 less than three minutes after Schneider’s tally, but before the Bears could gain any momentum, Baptiste ripped a shot over the right shoulder of Cannata with 8:20 to go in the middle period. Schneider and former Bear Erik Burgdoerfer each picked up assist on the goal.
Hershey answered to even the score at three before the end of the period, but again the young Amerks continued to play their game when O’Reilly regained the lead.
Hershey was whistled for a penalty inside two minutes to play in the period. The Amerks sent out its power-play unit and controlled the puck for nearly the entire two minutes in the Hershey end of the ice. Schneider used his veteran scoring touch, settling the puck down and sent a pass to O’Reilly on the top of the right faceoff circle. The captain used patience and poise before firing the puck into an empty net with 25 seconds showing on the second-period clock.
“That was a big goal for us there in the late in the period, especially after Hershey tied the game,” said O’Reilly. “We were stuck in the defensive zone for most of the period, so to have the lead after 40 minutes, it was big.”
The Bears made a comeback as Vrana scored his second goal of the game at the 8:51 mark of the third but the visitor’s comeback fell short.
Linus Ullmark stopped 25 of the 29 shots he faced to earn the victory while his counterpart Cannata made seven saves of 12. The Amerks power-play unit was 2-4 and penalty kill was 3-for-4.
The Amerks continue their Opening Weekend when they travel to Syracuse to face the Crunch for a home-and-home series beginning tomorrow night. Faceoff is set for 7:05 p.m. and will be carried live on the Sports Leader 95.7 FM/950 AM ESPN Rochester.
RCH: Schneider (2), Baptiste, O’Reilly, Cornel
HER: Vrana (2), Malone, Labrie
RCH: Ullmark – 25/29 (W)
HER: Cannata – 7/12 (L)
RCH: PP (2/4) / PK (3/4)
HER: PP (1/4) / PK (2/4)