AHL Game Story: Crunch 4 Bears 3

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Fruitless on four previous power play attempts, the Syracuse Crunch found themselves with a two-man advantage for nearly two full minutes early in the third period Saturday.

With plenty of extra time and space, it took only 34 seconds for Mark Barberio to set up Brett Connolly with a one-timer that beat Hershey Bears goalie Braden Holtby from the point.

"I had a few chances last night and tonight," Connolly said. "It's always nice to see the puck go in the net."

The 20-year-old former first rounder's first American Hockey League goal – the Crunch's only power play tally of the night – proved to be the difference-maker, as Syracuse held on to beat Hershey 4-3 at the Onondaga County War Memorial.

"I think we were better tonight on the power play, but we still have work to do," Connolly said. The Crunch finished the night 1-for-7 with the man-advantage. "We have a lot of top guys who can play, so we just have to work each other out and get used to each other a little bit."

Although the Crunch's marketing campaign warned fans for months leading up to the home opener that there was a storm front coming, it was Syracuse who needed to weather the initial storm in front of a sold out crowd.

Syracuse took three minor penalties in the first 10 minutes, forcing goalie Riku Helenius and the team's penalty kill to make crucial stops early.

"He may not have seen a lot of work in the final 50 minutes of the game, but the first 10 minutes of the game, the shots were 7-0," Crunch coach Jon Cooper said of Helenius. "If we go down one or two nothing there, who knows how this game turns out."

In his first regular season game since the former first-rounder returned to North America, Helenius made 23 saves.

"A good trait for good goaltenders is you have to make the timely save at the right time," Cooper said.

While the Bears couldn't capitalize on their early power play chances, Crunch captain Mike Angelidis cashed in with a shorthanded goal at the 11:23 mark, tipping J. T. Wyman's shot past Holtby, who made 28 saves in the loss.

Tyler Johnson was the next to find the back of the net when he crashed the crease and got a stick on Cory Conacher's feed 5:36 into the second period, giving Syracuse a short-lived two-goal lead.

"It was just a great play by (Conacher)," Johnson said of his third goal of the year. "I just went to the front of the net … and I just got lucky. It hit my stick and just kind of went in."

"We call it three lanes," Conacher said. "We go three hard to the net and I knew if I got it into a position where someone could whack at it, we'd have a chance."

Forward Cory Conacher makes his way around Bears center Mattias Sjogren and passes to Tyler Johnson for the Crunch's second goal of the game at the Onondaga County War Memorial in Syracuse Saturday.

The Crunch allowed two Hershey goals about seven minutes apart midway through the second – a short-handed goal from Garrett Mitchell and an even-strength marker from Barry Almedia – before Conacher netted a rebound from a Matt Taormina shot in the waning moments of the second period.

"It got blocked by their defender and it bounced out to the slot and I just turned around and threw it on the net," Conacher said.

After Connolly's eventual game-winner five minutes into the final frame, Syracuse again had to weather a Hershey storm. The Bears' power play unit broke through with less than seven minutes remaining when Jon DiSalvitore found the twine on a rebound.

Despite the parade to the penalty box, the Crunch held the Bears to 1-for-8 with the man-advantage.

"We take a lot of pride in our penalty kill," Johnson said. "Last year it was something very important to our team, especially in the playoffs. We just try to battle hard and sacrifice our body."

Syracuse looks to keep the momentum going when it hits the road for three games next weekend, including a tilt in Albany Friday, before returning home against Wilkes-Barre Oct. 27.

"We wanted to make sure we had a good start and let the fans know what type of team we are," Johnson said. "I think we did a pretty good job of that."