Hartford Wolf Pack vs Hershey Bears series preview
The Hartford Wolf Pack continue their quest for the Calder Cup as they advanced to the Atlantic Divisions Finals last Friday in front of 5,035 delighted fans at the XL Center.
The Wolf Pack continue to impress the hockey world as they defeated the division’s best Providence Bruins 3 games to 1 in a best-of-five series. Each win was impressive, which included two shutout victories for rookie netminder Dylan Garand.
While the offseason is here for the New York Rangers, Hartford hockey continues to be alive and well as they inch closer to the 2023 Calder Cup Finals. Meanwhile, the Rangers ECHL affiliate is also in playoff mode with the Jacksonville Icemen down 2-0 in their best-of-seven series to the Florida Everblades.
Hartford Wolf Pack soaring
Through two rounds of the Calder Cup Playoffs, Hartford has compiled a 5-1 record through 6 games. In fact, the Wolf Pack have won their last 15 of 18 games (including the regular season). This team found their game at the right time and are riding the momentum.
Looking ahead, Hartford will be facing the Hershey Bears in a best-of-five series. This will be another tough match as the Bears have depth, strong defense, and goaltending. Considering Hartford’s recent accomplishments, I do not expect them to be rattled.
Hartford Wolf Pack vs Hershey Bears preview
Here’s the full series schedule:
- Game 1: Thu, May 11th at Hershey, 7 pm, Giant Center
- Game 2: Sat, May 13th at Hershey, 7 pm, Giant Center
- Game 3: Wed, May 17th vs Hershey, 7 pm, XL Center
- Game 4: Fri, May 19th vs Hershey, 7 pm, XL Center*
- Game 5: Tue, May 23rd at Hershey, 7 pm, Giant Center*
Regular Season Series Recap
Hartford will have another top team as they face the second-place Hershey Bears, who finished just 1 point behind Providence. Overall, the Washington Capitals AHL affiliate is ranked the second best team in the Eastern Conference and fourth best in the AHL.
During the regular season, Hartford faced the Bears in 6 games. The Wolf Pack compiled a 2-3-0-1 record against them this season. However, these games were played while the Pack were struggling and pre trade deadline.
Despite Hartford losing the season series, they competed well against Hershey, as 3 of the 4 losses was decided by just a goal. The Wolf Pack secured a victory in the first game on October 28th, and in the third meeting on November 20th. Analyzing the series further, Hartford went 1-1-0-1 at the XL Center against Hershey. On the road at the Giant Center, the Wolf Pack went 1-2.
It is expected that Hunter Shepard will be in against Hartford. In the season series, Shepard appeared in 3 games against Hartford, collecting 3 wins. He finished the year with a record of 20-8-5, a 2.18 goals against average, and a .916 save percentage.
The Bears also have Zach Fucale. In the season series against Hartford, Fucale is 1-2. He finished the year with a record of 21-11-4, a 2.54 goals against average, and a .902 save percentage.
From Hartford’s side, I expect Kris Knoblauch to continue and roll with rookie Dylan Garand. Through 6 games, Garand is 5-1 with a 1.17 goals against average and a .954 save percent.
The Wolf Pack also have veteran Louis Domingue on standby if a goaltending swap is needed. However, I expect Garand to remain the primary goalie. Domingue will continue to mentor Garand as this playoff journey continues.
Scouting the Opponent
Hershey’s roster is built with an emphasis on strong defense and goaltending. The Bears are a quality team preventing odd man rushes and keeping opponents from generating quality chances. They also have excellent depth and are able to roll four lines along with three reliable defensive pairings.
Offensively for the Bears, one name stands out: veteran Sam Anas. The 29 year-old forward brings dynamic talent to Hershey’s lineup. In addition to scoring, Anas is a great passer, especially on the power play. This season, Anas played in 41 games, collecting 13 goals and 8 assists missing a good chunk of time with injury. He has 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists) in 4 playoff games.
Capitals prospect Ethen Frank is another player the Pack must watch. In his rookie campaign, Frank collected 30 goals and 19 assists for 49 points in 57 games. The forward was ranked 4th in the AHL for rookies in points and led the group in goals. The talented forward has a great shot and and offensive instincts but was injured in the last series and his status is unknown.
Veterans Mike Sgarbossa and Mike Vecchione are the top two point producer on the Bears roster registering 58 and 55 points respectively. These players are well rounded and can be lethal if they are given too much time and space. Sgarbossa recorded 1 goal and 2 assists in 6 games against Hartford. Vecchione has 2 goals and 1 assist in 6 outings in the season series.
A few other notable mentions for the forward groups are Hendrix Lapierre, Garrett Pilon, Bobby Nardella, and Joe Snively.
On the defensive side, old friend Dylan McIlrath will be leading this group for Hershey. The 31 year-old veteran has a strong AHL resume and will give Hartford problems with his physical style. He also has a Calder Cup win on his resume.
Rookie Vincent Iorio is another blossoming prospect for the Capitals. The 20 year-old recorded 2 goals and 20 assists in 63 games this season. In the playoffs, he has 2 assists. Iorio has speed and size which keeps opponents out of the high scoring areas.
Logan Day, Bobby Nardella, and Gabriel Carlsson are also talented players blue-liners to watch out for. While this isn’t an offensive group, they are very tough in their own zone.
In the regular season, Hershey’s power play was ranked 18th in the AHL, operating at 18.5%. Hartford was ranked 28th in the season and have only two power plays in the playoffs to date.
On the penalty kill, Hershey was ranked 11th in the league, operating at 81.9%. The Wolf Pack were ranked 18th in the regular season, operating at 80.6%. This postseason, Hershey is ranked 4th, giving up just 1 goal. Meanwhile, Hartford is ranked 14th giving the Bears a clear edge for special teams.
From the Hershey perspective, veteran Aaron Ness will be out of the lineup. He left game 3 after a hit along the boards.
Ethen Frank missed game 4 with an injury and we’re unsure of his availability.
For Hartford, there is no new updates:
- Matt Rempe – Upper body, day to day
- Matthew Robertson – upper body, potentially to return in next round of playoffs
- Patrick Khordorenko and C.J. Smith – out for season
A key defenseman acquired at deadline, Hartford will be without the service of Adam Clendening in the first 2 games against Hershey. The veteran received a 3 game suspension from a hit on Providence’s Fabian Lysell in game 3. Lysell did not play in game 4 and is injured.
Wolf Pack Notes
- Lauri Pajuniemi leads the club with goals (3).
- Tanner Fritz leads the club with assists (6).
• Hartford played in 6 playoff games. They lost only 1. Including the regular season, Hartford has won their last 15 of 18 games.
• Off the ice, Hartford has drawn 15,573 fans in 3 playoff home games (5,191 average).
Hartford’s lineup in the playoffs were tweaked when reinforcements arrived from New York.
Good Reads on Hartford
Check out Forever Blueshirt’s one on one interview about the Wolf Pack with theAHL.com’s Patrick Williams.
A further look at Dylan Garand as well.
Live game coverage will be featured on Twitter via Milliner06. For broadcast and radio, radio announcer Alex Thomas will have you covered on AHLTV and Mixlr. Broadcasts will begin at 6:50pm for each game.