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Atlantic Division Finals Game 1 Preview: Bears vs. Wolf Pack, 7 p.m.

May 16, 2024

The Hershey Bears open the best-of-five Atlantic Division Finals tonight against the Hartford Wolf Pack. The two teams are meeting for the second consecutive postseason in the division finals, after Hershey earned a 3-0 series win in 2023 en route to the franchise's 12th Calder Cup championship.

Hershey Bears (3-1) vs. Hartford Wolf Pack (5-2)
May 16, 2024 | 7 p.m. | GIANT Center | Series tied, 0-0
Referees: Graedy Hamilton (41), Morgan MacPhee (43) 
Linespersons: Joseph Mahon (89), Luke Pye (42)

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Broadcast Information 
Voice of the Bears, Zack Fisch, AHL Hall-of-Famer Mitch Lamoureux, and in-arena host Jim Jones on the call
TELEVISION: Monumental Sports Network (Washington, D.C. market) 
RADIO: WFVY-100.1 FM, Fox Sports 1460-AM, Capitals Radio, In-Arena on 88.9 FM
WATCH LIVE: AHLTV
LISTEN LIVE: Fox Sports AM-1460 StreamCaps Radio 24/7 
Radio pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m., Television coverage starts at 7 p.m.

LAST TIME OUT:
The Bears closed out their series with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last Saturday at PPL Center, taking Game 4 by a 5-3 score. After falling behind 1-0 at 9:01 of the first period, Ivan Miroshnichenko scored a breakaway goal 17 seconds later to draw Hershey level. Garrett Wilson scored on a fluky goal at 12:18 to put Lehigh Valley up 2-1, but Pierrick Dube answered at 15:08 to even the game at 2-2. Miroshnichenko scored at 2:36 of the second to put the Bears ahead and Ethen Frank struck on the power play at 10:57. Tanner Laczynski trimmed Hershey's lead at 16:17, but Hardy Haman Aktell provided a valuable insurance marker at 14:52 of the third period to close out the game. The Wolf Pack claimed their series against Providence with a 3-2 overtime winner last Friday, as Victor Mancini's shot rebounded off the crossbar and Jake Leschyshyn at 9:41 into the extra frame for Leschyshyn's second of the evening to push Hartford past the Bruins.

WE MEET AGAIN:
Hershey and Hartford have met twice before in the postseason: the Wolf Pack took the 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals 4-2, while the Bears swept Hartford 3-0 in the 2023 Atlantic Division Finals. Hartford has advanced to the division finals for the second consecutive season after rallying from a 1-0 series deficit against Charlotte with two straight in the opening round, then upsetting the second-place Providence Bruins 3-1 in the Atlantic Division Semifinals. Three of Hartford's five playoff victories this spring have been earned in overtime. The Bears previously faced the Wolf Pack franchise in the postseason in its previous incarnations as the Binghamton Whalers/Dusters (going 1-2 lifetime in head-to-head playoff series, with Hershey's lone series victory against Binghamton coming in a four-game sweep of the 1988 Southern Division Semifinals on the way to the Bears' seventh Calder Cup), and five times as the Providence Reds (4-1 series record, with each team claiming a Calder Cup against the other: Providence in 1949, and Hershey in 1974).

REGULAR SEASON HEAD-TO-HEAD:
Since the Binghamton Rangers relocated to Hartford prior to the 1997-98 season, the Bears have owned a 47-30-2-3-6 regular season record against the Wolf Pack/Connecticut Whale franchise; Hershey was 3-1-0-0 against Hartford during the 2023-24 regular season. Ethen Frank (3g, 0a), Alex Limoges (1g, 2a), and Riley Sutter (1g, 2a) tied for the team lead in scoring against Hartford with three points, while Alex Belzile paced the Wolf Pack with four points (1g, 3a). Hunter Shepard earned all three Bears wins, going 3-0-0 with a 0.97 goals-against average and a .964 save percentage, while Louis Domingue - currently the No. 3 goaltender for the New York Rangers - had Hartford's only victory. Hershey's power play operated at a 4-for-15 (26.7%) clip against the Wolf Pack, while the penalty kill went 10-for-13 (76.9%).

FAMILIAR FOES:
Last spring's playoff matchup between Hershey and Hartford tied a franchise record for the fewest goals allowed by the Bears in a postseason series lasting three games, as the Bears limited the Wolf Pack to only five goals in total during the series. 10 Hershey players who saw action in last season's playoff series are on the Bears' current playoff roster (and could expand to 11 once Vincent Iorio is cleared to return from an injury sustained in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and is formally added to the team's roster), while seven members of Hartford's playoff roster competed in last season's series. Of the returning players for Hershey, Mike Vecchione and Logan Day tied for the team lead against Hartford with identical 1g, 2a stat lines.

FIRST STRIKE:
The Bears boast a lifetime playoff series record of 56-19 when winning the first game of a playoff series, and a 22-39 record when dropping the opening game. In the history of the Bears/Wolf Pack rivalry, every team that has won the first game of a playoff matchup went on to win the series; Hershey dropped a 2-1 overtime decision to Hartford in Game 1 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals, while the Bears rallied for a 3-2 overtime victory over the Wolf Pack in Game 1 of last year's series to catapult the Chocolate and White to a series sweep.

FRANK TURNAROUND:
Ethen Frank led Hershey in the series against Lehigh Valley with five points (3g, 2a), as the sophomore forward netted his first three-point game in the postseason in Game 2 and scored the series-clinching goal in Game 4. While finding the net in the regular season has not been an issue for Frank (60 goals in 126 regular-season games), the forward initially struggled in the playoffs last spring by failing to score in his first 11 postseason games, Frank broke through with goals in Games 3 and 4 of the 2023 Calder Cup Finals, including burying the game-winning tally in Game 4 that leveled the championship round with Coachella Valley at two games apiece. He now has three game-winners in his last eight playoff games.

BEARS BITES:
Aaron Ness is Hershey's active leader for career playoff games with 56, and he is four games away from tying Larry Zeidel for 10th in franchise history. Ness' 15 career playoff assists are also the active leader for the Bears and is tied for 11th in franchise history among defensemen with Pascal Trepanier, while his next assist will move him into a four-way tie for eighth with Rich Brennan, Mike Gaul, and Steve Smith...The Washington Capitals announced the re-assignment of forward Alex Suzdalev to Hershey from Saskatoon of the Western Hockey League on Saturday...Bears head coach Todd Nelson celebrated his 55th birthday on Wednesday.

ON THIS DATE:
May 16, 1980 - The Bears faced the New Brunswick Hawks in Game 5 of the Calder Cup Finals at Moncton Coliseum with a chance to clinch the franchise's sixth championship, but New Brunswick exploded with three first-period goals in a span of 3:45. Darryl Sutter, uncle of current Bear Riley Sutter, scored the Hawks' third goal. Hershey got on the board in the second frame with tallies from Ron Lalonde and Claude Noel, but New Brunswick added an insurance marker and held on, delaying the inevitable champagne that would follow for the Bears the following evening in the Cup-clinching Game 6 win at Hersheypark Arena.




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