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Minor BEARings: Alex Limoges, Pierrick Dube and Riley Sutter Drive Hershey Offense, Hunter Shepard Shining In Goal

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Photo: Eric Lord

March proved to be the least successful month of the season for the Hershey Bears. The chocolate and white fell five times including three times in regulation, and lost the first three games of the month. Still, the skaters from Chocolate Town concluded March with a winning record.

The Bears ended the penultimate month of the 2023-24 American Hockey League (AHL) regular season with a record of 6-3-0-2. With only April left on the schedule, Hershey leads the AHL with 46 wins and 97 points. The chocolate and white did clinch a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs in March, becoming the first team to clinch their spot.

Summary Of Play

Penalties became a problem for the Bears late in the month. In their final four games of March, Hershey was shorthanded 23 times. While they only surrendered four power play goals during that stretch, the penalty parade hindered the chocolate and white because it kept key offensive players off the ice. However, the penalty kill continues to be a strength for the chocolate and white. The unit is the best in the league, killing off 88.2% of the power plays they face.

The offense struggled at the start of the month and was shutout in the first two games. After the slow start, the Bears netted three or more goals in eight of the month’s final nine games. Alex Limoges and Pierrick Dube led the way, scoring wise, with a team-high eight points.  Limoges netted a team best six goals in the month. Dube dished out a team best six assists.

Hershey also got contributions from fourth liners Riley Sutter and Matt Strome. Both players amassed six points in March. Sutter contributed four goals and Strome had four helpers. Joe Snively and Jimmy Huntington each compiled six points as well. Snively tied for the team lead in assists with five. Huntington came through with three game-winning tallies.

The goaltending duo for the Bears set a new franchise mark in March. Hunter Shepard’s second shutout of the month in Cleveland on March 23 was the 11th clean sheet of the season for Hershey. That is a new franchise record for shutouts in a season, besting the previous record of 10 set by Philipp Grubauer, Pheonix Copley and Justin Peters during the 2014-15 season. Shepard was strong all month, going 3-1-0-1 in five starts.

Forwards

Pierrick Dube (RW) – 23 – Undrafted

Hershey’s leading goal scorer turned into a facilitator in March. Dube compiled a team-high six assists in the month and tied for the most points by a Bear with eight. The speedy winger recorded a two-assist game in Charlotte on March 9. He picked up secondary helpers on first period goals by Matthew Phillips and Jimmy Huntington. The native of Lyon, France registered another two-point game against Syracuse on March 19. Dube wired a wrist shot through traffic from the top of the left circle in the second period to tie the game at one. Later in the stanza, the Frenchman picked up the primary apple on Jimmy Huntington’s power play goal. His other goal of the month came in Cleveland on March 22. He tapped home an Aaron Ness feed on the back door to give Hershey a 2-1 advantage in the first period. Dube ranks fourth on the team scoring list with 42 points. The winger is tied for seventh in the AHL in goals with 26 and also tied for eighth in the league in game-winning goals with six. He has netted seven power play goals, tied for the second most on the team.

Monthly Score: 4.0

Ethen Frank (RW) – 26 – Undrafted

Frank returned on March 8 after missing a month with a lower body injury. The winger showed some rust and was held without a point in the first four games following his return. Then, he found his groove. His first period power play marker would be all the Bears would need in 4-0 win over Hartford on March 17. The Papillion, Nebraska native tallied again in his next game, putting a wrist shot off a Mike Vecchione feed over the glove of Cleveland’s Jet Greaves in the first period on March 22. Frank made it three games in a row with a goal in Cleveland the next night. He one-timed a Joe Snively pass from the right point over Malcolm Subban’s glove for a power play goal. The tally was the first of three points on the night for the Western Michigan alum. Frank recorded an assist on both of Alex Limoges’ power play markers in the third period. He netted his fourth and final goal of March in Hartford on March 30. Frank has 25 goals on the season, the second most on the Bears. The Nebraskan leads the team with seven game-winning goals and tied for fifth in the AHL. Frank has scored a team-best 12 goals on the power play. He ranks fifth in the league in that category.

Monthly Score: 3.8

Ryan Hofer (C/LW) – 21 – Drafted 2022 (Sixth Round, 181st overall)

The rookie forward played in eight games in the month. Hofer went scoreless in his first three appearances in March, but the Winnipeg, Manitoba native potted his fourth goal of the season on March 17 against Hartford. He one-timed a feed from Matt Strome through the five-hole of Dylan Garand for the fourth Hershey goal in the third period. The only other point for Hofer came in Cleveland on March 23. He picked up the lone assist on Strome’s late second period tally that proved to be the game winner. The pivot showed more of an edge to his game late in the month, but that unfortunately also led to more penalty minutes. He amassed nine penalty minutes in his last four games of March after only having taken one minor the rest of the season. Playing with an edge is a plus for Hofer, but he needs to do it without taking penalties.

Monthly Score: 3.0

Jimmy Huntington (C) – 25- Undrafted

The Laval, Quebec native contributes in all aspects of the game and is an important part of the top-ranked Bears’ penalty kill. He is not in the first pair of lines that come over the boards, but is a consistent part of the forward rotation on the unit. He makes good plays with his stick and strong positional play. The center is strong on faceoffs and also plays on the second power play unit. Huntington also provides much-needed secondary scoring. The former Milwaukee Admiral accumulated six points in March to up his season point total to 30, which is a new career high. He recorded his second three-point game of the season in Charlotte on March 9 when he was involved in every Hershey goal in a 3-2 victory. First, Huntington set up Matthew Phillips’ opening goal in the first period. After Charlotte tied the matchup, Huntington snapped a wrist shot by the blocker of Spencer Knight to put the chocolate and white up, 2-1. He completed his offensive night in the second period when he swept a rebound from a Mike Vecchione shot through Knight’s five-hole. That marker proved to be the game-winning tally. The Québécois achieved another multi-point game versus Syracuse on March 16. He won a faceoff back to Pierrick Dube prior to Dube firing his shot home to bring the Bears even at one in the second period. With under three minutes remaining in the middle frame, Huntington put in a rebound from a Dube shot through Brandon Halverson’s five-hole. The goal would be the game-winner. The pivot would score his third game-winning goal of the month in Cleveland on March 22.

Monthly Score: 3.8

Alex Limoges (LW/RW/C) – 26 – Undrafted

Limoges remains a consistent producer for the Bears. The Penn State alum netted a team high six goals in March. He now has 21 goals on the season, the third most on the Bears. He has three overtime winners on the season, tied for fourth in the AHL (one off the league lead of four). The one-time Junior Washington Capital finished off a well-executed passing play in Charlotte on March 8 when he pulled the puck to his backhand and lifted a shot past Evan Cormier’s glove. Limoges posted a two-goal game against Utica on March 15. First, he scored on a breakaway in the second period to even the contest at two. The Penn Stater then put the chocolate and white ahead 24 seconds later by roofing a shot from in front. He put up a two-point night on St. Patrick’s Day versus Hartford by picking up the primary assist on Ethen Frank’s game-winning power play goal in the first period and adding a second period tally of his own. Limoges added another two-goal game in Cleveland on March 23. He scored both goals on the power play in the third period. Limoges sits second on the Hershey scoring list with 45 points and is tied for second on the team with seven power play goals.

Monthly Score: 4.0

Matthew Phillips (RW) – 25 – Drafted 2016 (Sixth Round, 166th overall – Calgary)

Phillips started the month in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization but was brought back to the Washington organization when he was reclaimed by the Capitals on March 5. The winger made his debut for the Bears in Charlotte on March 9 and made an immediate impact. He opened the scoring in the first period. Phillips was in close on the left side of goal after receiving a pass from Jimmy Huntington. The Calgary, Alberta native pulled the puck from his backhand to his forehand and ripped his shot past by a sprawled Spencer Knight to give the chocolate and white a 1-0 lead. He returned the favor to Huntington later in the period, picking up the primary helper on Huntington’s even strength marker after winning a battle behind the net. Phillips spent the rest of the month going up and down between the Bears and Capitals. As a result, he skated in only four additional games for Hershey. He registered an assist against Hartford on March 17. Phillips brings a ton of offensive skill to the table and adds another speedster to the roster. Being on the yo-yo between the AHL and the NHL has hindered his ability to gain chemistry with teammates with the Bears.

Monthly Score: 3.4

Henrik Rybinski (C/RW) -22 – Drafted 2019 (Fifth Round, 136th overall – Florida)

The second year forward totaled four points in March. That matches the most Rybinski has scored in a month this season. He posted his first multi-point game of the season on March 22 in Ohio against the Cleveland Monsters. The native of Vancouver, British Columbia tallied his first goal since January 6 in the third period. He was trying to feed Bogdan Trineyev, but his pass deflected off Cleveland defenseman Samuel Knazko and went in. Rybinski later earned the primary assist on Trineyev’s shorthanded, empty net goal. He has nine points on the campaign. Offense is not where Rybinski makes his biggest contribution to the team. That comes on the penalty kill. He gets consistent minutes on the unit and plays an important role on the kill. Rybinski leads Hershey in shorthanded points with four and shorthanded assists with three.

Monthly Score: 3.4

Joe Snively (LW) – 28 – Undrafted

Snively finished the month strong after getting off to a slow start in March. He had just a single assist in the first seven games of the month. The Yale University product snapped a four-game scoreless drought with the primary helper on Ethen Frank’s first period marker on March 22 in Cleveland against the Monsters. Snively delivered his best performance of March the next night again against Cleveland. He recorded three points in the third period. The Herndon, Virginia native teed up Ethen Frank for a power play goal. Thirty five seconds later, his shot was redirected by Alex Limoges as the Bears scored on both ends of a five-on-three power play. Snively then ended a 14-game goalless drought by putting a wrist shot over the glove of Malcolm Subban. He added an assist versus Providence on March 26 to conclude the March with six points. The veteran winger needs to shoot more. There were times during the month where he had open shots and instead tried to pass to a teammate. The Yale alum has been too unselfish. Snively leads the Bears in scoring with 49 points and assists with 38.

Monthly Score: 3.8

Riley Sutter (C) – 25 – Drafted 2018 (Third Round, 93rd overall)

After suffering an upper body injury in Toronto on February 17, Sutter made his return to the lineup in Charlotte on March 8. He went without a point in both games in Charlotte, but then caught fire. The Calgary, Alberta native redirected a Matt Strome shot over the Isaac Poulter’s glove late in the first period in Utica on March 15. Sutter followed up by recording the first two-goal game of his career in Syracuse the next night. He deflected a Vincent Iorio shot by Brandon Halverson early in the third period. His second marker came into an empty net. The son of former NHLer Ron Sutter then came back on March 17 with another multi-point contest. He was the recipient of a turnover by Hartford goalie Dylan Garand behind his net. Sutter moved the puck to his backhand and slid a shot into the open cage. He completed his two-point night with a secondary helper on Ryan Hofer’s goal. The pivot ended March with six points. Sutter has already set career highs in points (21), goals (9) and assists (12). The offense from the Albertan is a bonus on top of his contributions on the team’s top ranked penalty kill. He is the first forward over the boards on the penalty kill and forms a dynamic partnership up front with Strome. Sutter makes smart decisions and gets in shooting and passing lanes. In Syracuse on March 16, the Bears were down two men for 1:54 in the third period. Sutter won the faceoff clear out of the zone at the start of the kill. He then made another important clear after stepping into a passing lane.

Monthly Score: 4.0

Bogdan Trineyev (LW) – 22 – Drafted 2020 (Fourth Round, 117th overall)

The rookie winger skated in all 11 games in March. Trineyev posted three points in the month. His lone tally of March was a shorthanded, empty net goal with four seconds remaining in a 4-0 victory over Hartford on March 17. It was his team leading third shorthanded goal of the season. That the Russian’s goal came shorthanded is fitting because that is the area where he has the most impact. Trineyev is usually paired with Henrik Rybinski on the penalty kill and the duo is a consistent part of the shorthanded rotation. He does a solid job of getting into shooting lanes and breaking up passes.

Monthly Score: 3.3

Defensemen

Hardy Haman Aktell (LD) – 25 – Drafted 2016 (Fourth Round, 108th overall – Nashville)

March was a little bit of a rough go for Haman Aktell. He was a minus player in five of the nine games he played and only posted a plus rating once. At times, the Swede strayed from his strengths. The rookie is at his best when he stays strong positionally and keeps it simple. He wandered out of position and sometimes looked hesitant to use his body to knock guys off the puck. The area in which Haman Aktell remained strong in was penalty killing. He stays in position and blocks shots by getting into shooting lanes. The Swedish blue liner needs to take that approach to his play five-on-five more consistently.

Monthly Score: 2.5

Vincent Iorio (RD) – 21 – Drafted 2021 (Second Round, 55th overall)

Iorio finally ended a 24-game scoreless drought on March 16, posting his first point of 2024 with the primary assist on Riley Sutter’s third period goal against Syracuse. The helper began a three game assist streak for the second year blue liner. He picked up the secondary assist on another Sutter tally versus Hartford on March 17 and then recorded another secondary apple on Matt Strome’s first period marker in Cleveland on March 22. Defensively, Iorio had some breakdowns. Late in the first period in Charlotte on March 8, he chased the puck and left the net front open. This left Will Lockwood wide open to score to give the Checkers a 2-1 advantage. In Utica on March 15, he got caught up ice as Brian Halonen brought the puck into the zone. This left Henrik Rybinski with Hardy Haman Aktell trying to break up the rush and Kyle Criscuolo wound up scoring the tying goal in the third period. The defenseman made a pair of errors in the first period against Syracuse the next night that led to the first goal of the contest. First, he tried to force a pass to the center that was taken away by Ilya Usau. The Crunch held the puck in and with the puck behind the net, Iorio followed Lucas Johansen to Usau behind the net. This left a vacancy in front and when Maxim Groshev’s shot produced a rebound, Gabriel Fortier was there to outmuscle Garrett Roe to score the goal. If Iorio would have stayed home, he would have been positioned to clear the rebound. The Coquitlam, British Columbia native also took an unnecessary holding penalty on Trevor Kuntar of Providence on March 26. He had three teammates with him in the zone with just Kuntar possessing the puck and Iorio grabbed the Bruin behind the net. Providence would score on the power play. The defenseman was recalled to Washington on March 27 and played 13 shifts against Boston on March 30.

Monthly Score: 2.8

Lucas Johansen (LD) – 2016 – Drafted 2016 (First Round, 28th overall)

The Vancouverite returned to action on March 9 after missing all of February and the beginning of March with a hand injury. Johansen played in six consecutive games prior to missing the last two games of the month with an illness. Johansen was strong during his appearances. He was a plus eight in his six games and was not a minus player once. The former first round pick has played well on the penalty kill. The defenseman provided an important clear against Syracuse on March 16 with the Bears killing off a lengthy five-on-three Crunch power play. Offensively, Johansen recorded his first two-assist game of the campaign in Utica on March 15. He earned the secondary helper on Riley Sutter’s late first period goal. His second apple of the night came after he stole the puck from Graeme Clarke along the left boards in the defensive zone and then spung Alex Limoges on a rush that concluded with the game’s tying goal. The Vancouver, British Columbia native added two more assists in the month. He has compiled two goals and eight assists in 19 games with Hershey this season.

Monthly Score: 3.5

Dylan McIlrath (RD) – 2010 – Drafted 2010 (First Round, 10th overall – New York Rangers)

McIlrath anchors the right side of the top defense pairing with fellow veteran Aaron Ness. The duo gives the Bears a rock solid shutdown pair and are consistently the first defensemen deployed on the penalty kill. The unit would not be the top rated penalty kill in the AHL without McIlrath and Ness. The Hershey captain clogs up shooting lanes and breaks up passes. He also does the same at even strength. McIlrath also brings a physical element to the team and always delivers a big hit when needed. The one area the Winnipeg, Manitoba native needs to clean up is penalty minutes. He took six minors in the last five games of March. The Bears need him on the ice and not in the sin bin.

Monthly Score: 3.5

Chase Priskie (RD) – 28 – Drafted 2016 (Sixth Round, 177th overall)

Hershey’s highest scoring defenseman had his quietest month offensively. Priskie registered a goal and an assist in 10 games and was held without a point in his last six games. His lone marker of the month came in Charlotte on March 8. He jumped on a loose puck off a Joe Snively shot and knocked the biscuit home to bring the Bears within one in the third period. Priskie picked up a secondary helper on the power play one day later, but then did not score the rest of the month. The native of Pembroke Pines, Florida is in the lineup for his offensive skill. He needs to provide more than two points in the month like he has throughout most of the season.

Monthly Score: 2.8

Goalies

Hunter Shepard (G) – 28 – Undrafted

Stellar. That is the way to describe Shepard’s play in March. The netminder went 3-1-0-1 in five starts. He surrendered two goals or less in four of those starts and recorded two shutouts in the month to run his season total to four. The Minnesota Duluth alum was the hard luck loser in his first appearance of March. He stopped 24 of 25 shots, but the Bears mustered no offense and lost 1-0 to Utica. After spending time in Washington, Shepard came back and fell to Utica again, giving up three goals in a 4-3 shootout loss. In that game, he turned aside 12 second period shots to allow his team to hold a lead after 40 minutes. The rest of the month saw the Coleraine, Minnesota native become a brick wall and barely give up any goals. Shepard earned his first shutout of March against Hartford on March 17. He denied all 26 shots he saw, including 16 over the last two periods. The reigning Calder Cup MVP came back in his next start and blanked the Cleveland Monsters on March 23, making 23 saves. The lone shot that got by Shepard in his final three starts of the month came from Hartford’s Brennan Othmann on the power play on March 30 and that shot deflected off the skate of defenseman Jake Massie. The Minnesotan had 15 saves in the first period in that contest. Shepard leads the AHL with a 1.80 goals against average and a .927 save percentage. At the end of March, the netminder has won 24 of his 30 starts this season and only has been beaten in regulation three times.

Monthly Score: 4.7 

Clay Stevenson (G) – 25 – Undrafted

Stevenson’s March was a bit of a mixed bag. He began the month by earning his seventh shutout of the season in a 1-0 shootout loss to Lehigh Valley. The clean sheet tied a franchise record for most shutouts in a season. In his next start, the Dartmouth College product was the victim of a poor defensive second period by the Bears and dropped a 4-3 decision. Stevenson rebounded with a three-game winning streak. He made 24 saves against Charlotte a night later, including 10 in a third period in which Hershey mustered a single shot, in a 3-2 victory. The Drayton Valley, Alberta native followed up by allowing one goal in a 4-1 triumph over Syracuse on March 16. The final win of the streak came in Cleveland on March 23 with Stevenson’s stopping 22 shots in a 6-3 victory. The Albertan’s last start did not go well, as he lost 4-1 to Providence on March 26. It was an overall poor effort for the chocolate and white and Stevenson could really only be faulted on one of the goals. The netminder still ranks among the league’s best. His 1.97 goals against average is second only to teammate Hunter Shepard in the AHL. He also ranks second (again behind Shepard) in the league with a .925 save percentage. Stevenson has recorded an AHL best seven shutouts.

Monthly Score: 3.4

 By Eric Lord

 

 



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