TORONTO – With two high-powered offences in Hershey and Toronto squaring off, goaltending was the story. Hershey got it, while the hometown Marlies didn’t.
The result was a convincing 6-1 victory by the Bears on Saturday afternoon in American Hockey League action.
Bears netminder Simeon Varlamov, making his first start since mid-January due to a knee injury, stopped 20 of 21 shots. He was particularly sharp in stoning Toronto sniper Tim Stapleton twice in the opening frame and robbing defenceman Joe Ryan in the slot on a Marlies power play.
“He’s quick,” Stapleton said. “It’s almost like he reacts before you shoot. He’s an outstanding goaltender and obviously a big part of their win tonight.”
Toronto coach Greg Gilbert was more concerned with the lacklustre play of his own squad.
“We weren’t mentally in the game,” he said. ” It was one of those nights where we didn’t execute anything. (Varlamov) saw 99.9 per cent of the shots we took. No traffic, no second opportunities…he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame if he plays us every night.”
After a closely contested first period, the Bears opened the scoring in the second on a cross-crease play by right winger Andrew Gordon, who eluded a wild swinging poke-check at the side of the net by Toronto goalie Adam Munro and swung the puck around to winger Francois Bouchard, who had an open cage on the right side.
Toronto (31-25-2-5) evened the score soon after, cashing in early on its first power play of the game. Varlamov stopped an initial point shot by Marlies right winger Jeremy Williams, but couldn’t control the rebound. In the ensuing scrum in front of the net, the puck squirted out to Stapleton, who made no mistake popping one in the back of the net.
But Hershey (40-17-1-5) struck back when Bouchard netted his second of the game, corralling a Munro save and slapping it back into the top of the net from the slot. The Bears attack continued when a poor clearing attempt by Toronto’s Alex Foster turned into a quick slapshot goal by sniper Alexandre Giroux.
The Bears brought the heat again minutes later, when centre Keith Aucoin powered another slapshot past Munro just seconds into a Bears man advantage.
Even in giving up four goals in half a period, Munro earned praise from coach Gilbert, who didn’t pull the goaltender despite the onslaught.
“The thought had crossed my mind, but he was battling,” Gilbert noted. “It was the 18 guys in front of him I have a problem with.”
Munro finished with 23 saves on 29 shots.
Hershey’s assault continued in the third when Giroux deposited his second of the game, scooping up a Graham Mink curl attempt in front of Munro, while Mink himself tallied on the power play minutes later on a bang-bang play set up by blueliner Karl Alzner.
Defenceman Staffan Kronwall, a Marlie up until a few weeks ago, played in his first game for the Bears since being sent down by the Washington Capitals, who picked him up on waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Stapleton was blunt about where his Marlies went wrong.
“I think we tried to play their game, which is a straight skill game,” he noted. “And they capitalized on that.”
Notes: Prior to puck drop, a moment of silence was held for Colleen Howe, wife of Gordie Howe, who recently passed away. … Hershey’s Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux are the top two scorers in the league, with 85 and 75 points, respectively. … Five Bears had multi-point games. …Defenceman Brian Pothier also played his first game for Hershey.