Bears Take Back-and-Forth Battle in Final Moments

Jan 28, 2017

Springfield, MAThe Springfield Thunderbirds (16-19-6-2) once again fell victim to last minute opposition heroics in a 4-2 loss to the Hershey Bears (21-13-7-3) before a crowd of 5,034 at the MassMutual Center on Saturday night. 

Piggybacking off the momentum of their nearly improbable comeback on Friday, Springfield carried the play in the opening eight minutes of play on Saturday, registering eight of the game’s first nine shots. The only reason they did not take an early advantage was the strong play of Bears’ goaltender, former Boston College star Parker Milner, who was stout in his first start of the season in the AHL.

The Thunderbirds’ early exploits then received a pratfall at 14:22. The Bears responded by hemming Springfield in its own zone off of a few consecutive icing whistles. Off the rush, Jakub Vrana powered his way toward the net over the right wing. With one hand on his stick, he poked the bouncing puck overtop of the pad of Reto Berra to give Hershey the 1-0 lead.

The Bears’ lead would not last three minutes, though. After Nolan Zajac cleared a puck out of play in his own zone, Springfield made it three consecutive successes on power plays dating back to Friday night, as Tim Bozon unleashed a knuckling shot past Milner at 17:18 to tie the score, 1-1, heading into the first intermission. Springfield outshot the Bears for the period by a 10-5 clip. 

Springfield continued a furious offensive push to start the second period, carrying a cycle in the offensive zone for well over a minute early in the frame, culminating in a snap shot goal by Jayce Hawryluk at 1:52. Kyle Rau picked up his second assist of the night with a silky pass from behind the net, while Hawryluk made it three consecutive games with a tally.

The Thunderbirds, unfortunately, would not see the lead last forever, as once again a combination of penalties and breakdowns gave the Bears an opening. The Thunderbirds held strong on the Bears’ three power play chances in the second, but ironically, it was a shorthanded Hershey team that picked up the highlight-reel tying goal.

Moving into the offensive zone in a 1-on-1 situation, Zach Sanford deked it to the backhand around a Thunderbirds defender before elevating a perfect backhand shot over Berra’s glove hand to tie the game at 15:17 of the second.

It appeared the Bears may vault to the lead in the dying seconds of the period on a power play, but Berra made a pair of saves, including a sliding pad stop on Christian Thomas, to preserve the tie score into the third. 

Berra and Milner were tasked with keeping things even for much of the third. Berra turned aside a Vrana breakaway and a wrap-around try by Sanford for two of his 22 stops on the night. Milner finished with 30 saves, including 11 out of 11 in the third.

With overtime looming, the Bears, who entered as the AHL’s worst overtime team, made sure they would not need to go past 60 minutes. Liam O’Brien took a drop pass from Steve Weinstein and beat Berra on a one-timer with just 3:28 to go for the eventual game-winning marker. Chris Bourque would add an empty-netter for the icing on the cake of Hershey’s second win in three games.
The Thunderbirds’ franchise-worst home losing streak reached eight games, with each of the last six losses coming by either one or two goals

Tonight marked the final game for both teams before the AHL All-Star Classic festivities in Allentown, Pa. on Sunday and Monday. Weegar will represent the Thunderbirds at the event. The Thunderbirds take the beginning portion of next week off before returning to game action on Friday, Feb. 3 against the Providence Bruins at the Dunkin' Donuts Center. Puck drop is set for 7:05 p.m. ET. 

Interested in being part of the next era of AHL hockey in Springfield? Springfield Thunderbirds Ticket Memberships start as low as $12 per game and feature the most exclusive benefits, including a commemorative jersey. For more information, fans may call the Thunderbirds ticket office at (413) 739-GOAL (4625) or visit

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