|DAN LAMBERT POST-GAME|
|BRENDAN GUHLE POST-GAME|
|CASEY NELSON POST-GAME|
(Rochester, NY) – The Rochester Americans (30-39-0-2) could not have begun Friday night’s game at The Blue Cross Arena versus the Hershey Bears (40-22-8-3) any better as Casey Nelson scored 26 seconds into the contest. However, after the final buzzer sounded, the Amerks saw their home win streak snapped at four games as the Bears escaped with a 3-2 win. The 454th all-time meeting between the league’s two oldest teams was also the final meeting of the 2016-17 season.
Besides Nelson’s sixth goal of the year, which was also the fastest goal scored by an Amerk this season, fellow rookie defenseman Brendan Guhle scored his first marker of the season after being reassigned earlier in the day. The 19-year-old blueliner’s tally was his second in the AHL and fifth point (2+3) after joining Rochester for the final six games of the 2015-16 campaign. First-year goaltender Jonas Johansson, who made his fourth straight start, made 17 saves in the defeat after seeing his two-game win streak halted.
Third-year forward Liam O’Brien led the Bears as he collected his seventh multi-point (0+2) effort of the campaign while Tyler Lewington, Jakub Vrana and Riley Barber each found the back of the net for Hershey. Goaltender Pheonix Copley improved to 24-11-3 on the season as he turned aside 25 of 27 shots he faced. The 25-year-old netminder lowered his goals-against average to 2.32 on the season, which ranks 11th-best in the AHL.
After controlling the puck in the offensive zone for the first 20 seconds of the contest, Justin Bailey slid a pass to Tim Kennedy near the top of the point. The former Bears forward, who now has four assists in the last two games, handed the puck to Nelson as the two traded spots at the top of the zone. The rookie defenseman faked a shot, causing a Hershey defender to slide past him before ripping his sixth goal of the season past a screened Copley.
“We got the puck deep inside the Hershey zone and went to work early,” said Nelson. “That was part of the game plan and I am unsure if the goal was a part of the game plan that early but we will take it. We have been on the other side of falling behind and lately we have had good starts, but we would have liked to came out with the win.”
The Amerks lead was short-lived, however, as the Bears tied the game less than a minute later when Vrana fired a one-timer from the left of Johansson to knot the score at 1-1 with 18:12 to play in the opening stanza.
Before the end of opening period, newcomer Guhle raced into the offensive zone to catch up to a loose puck just inside the Bears zone. As the offensive-defenseman reached the puck, he quickly ripped a shot over the left shoulder from the near face-off dot to reclaim the Rochester lead at 2-1. Justin Vaive and Daniel Muzito-Bagenda each recorded helpers on the play at the 14:32 mark.
The home squad carried the lead into the break but Hershey came out in the sandwich stanza as Rochester would see its lead evaporate before midway point of the period.
After an Amerks holding penalty, the Bears cashed in to even the score at 2-2. The power-play goal was just the second that the Amerks have allowed on home ice while shorthanded since Feb. 24. In the last eight games, the Rochester penalty-kill unit has successfully killed off 23 of the last 25 infractions during that span (92.0%).
It appeared the two clubs would enter the second period break tied at 2-2 but Hershey netted the eventual game-winning goal as Lewington poked home a Chris Bourque rebound with 1:34 left to play in the stanza.
Rochester tried to even the score over the final 20 minutes of regulation as they held a shot advantage of 11-3 during the period. The Amerks had a five-on-three-man advantage for 1:12 following a pair of penalties on the Bears but could not solve Copley as he held on for his second straight win.
“I liked a lot of things about tonight’s game despite the result,” Amerks head coach Dan Lambert said. “Unfortunately, we were not able to capitalize on power-plays and we hit a few posts. Hershey got a few breaks tonight, as their power-play goal we sort of fell asleep and then at the end of the second period, they threw a shot from a bad angle that led to a goal. We did not get those breaks but I was pretty satisfied with the effort the guys had tonight.”
The Amerks close out their three-game homestand on Saturday, April 8 as they welcome back the North Division rival Utica Comets at 7:05 p.m. for the final meeting of the season between the cross-town foes. The Amerks will be wearing pink specialty jerseys for their annual “Pink the Rink” Breast Cancer Awareness Game, which can be heard live on The Sports Leader 95.7 FM/950 AM ESPN Rochester.
RCH: Nelson (6), Guhle (1)
HER: Vrana (17), Barber (13), Lewington (4)
RCH: Johansson – 17/20 (L)
HER: Copley – 25/27 (W)
RCH: PP (0/5) / PK (3/4)
HER: PP (1/4) / PK (5/5)