Maine Hockey Journal

DeCaro shows little love in Hershey

Hershey, PA – John DeCaro earned his first AHL win as the Portland Pirates held on for a 3-2 over the best team in the AHL, the Hershey Bears, in front of 8,226 at the Giant Center on Sunday afternoon.

The Bears entering the game were ranked first in the AHL (35-12-0-4) with 74 points, not to mention two of the most lethal scoring forwards in the league, too, in Alexandre Giroux and Keith Aucoin. The game proved to be a very good measuring stick for the Pirates as they move forward into the season.

“It’s funny how we play against the top teams in the league like Providence a couple weeks ago and this game tonight,” said Pirates’ head coach Kevin Dineen. “We’re getting healthy – with the exception of Cliff Loya – and that’s a big difference for us. It’s nice to have those bodies in there.”

“I thought the guys played very well on both sides of the puck.”

The Pirates down to five defensemen played perhaps one their best games of the season as the core group.

“It’s hard to say that you have chemistry because they’re flip-flopping (the pairings) so much, but (we’re) happy with how they responded under that type of pressure,” said Dineen.

The Pirates found themselves down to five defensemen as a result of Cliff Loya, who was hurt in Glens Falls on Saturday night hurt. He will be out for the season due to a broken right leg and will need season-ending surgery. Dineen said that he was actively looking for a replacement, but didn’t say if that would come from the ECHL or Buffalo.

In the third period, the Pirates weathered the storm as the Bears had 15 shots on net in the period, most of them of the quality variety, but Pirates held the fort for the final 20 minutes.

“We had to keep the shifts sort and keep our game simple,” said Pirates’ defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani. “We did a good job of doing that, tonight.”

Portland and Hershey traded a pair of first period goals as both teams skated to the locker room, tied 2-2 after one period of play.

Hershey jumped on top first in the game, while on the power play, as former Pirate Graham Mink scored just 2:24 into the period.

Keith Aucoin spotted Mink to the right of the crease, sending a perfect pass across for the redirect past DeCaro.

“It was very pretty,” said DeCaro. “You can’t fault that one. It was just the perfect tic-tac-toe play.”

Derek Whitmore tied the game, 1-1, for Portland at 6:50 of the period as crashed the crease, stuffing Dylan Hunter’s shot from the left face off circle past Bears’ goalie Michal Neuvirth.

At 11:39, the Bears regained the lead, 2-1, when Quintin Laing picked up the rebound Andrew Gordon, shooting the puck upstairs by DeCaro.

Portland has finally begun to show some signs of health as Nathan Gerbe has returned to the lineup, playing in his second game. Dineen shuffling lines, place him on a line with Mathieu Darche and Tim Kennedy. It paid off with immediate dividends as the Pirates tied the game, 2-2, with 2:40 left in the first period.

“Talking with (Kennedy) and (Darche), I was saying that we had a lot of chances tonight and when can build off that,” said Pirates’ forward Nathan Gerbe. We can create some chemistry that can carry us forward into the season.”

Gerbe, racing down the left wing, cut across the net as he tried to stuff a backhand shot by Neuvirth. The rebound, sitting in the crease, was batted into the net by Aaron Slattengren as the Pirates pulled even with the Bears.

“As happy as I was with them,” said Dineen. “What really made that work was having Slattengren playing as well as he was right now.”

“When (Slattengren) is playing as well as he is that give you the luxury of playing him in a top-end role. Not only did they create offensive chances, they played against the top-offensive tandem in the league.”

At 8:17 of the second period, the Pirates had the extra attacker on the ice, as there was a delayed call on the Bears. Mike Kostka, at the point, ripped a bullet behind Neuvirth, giving the Pirates a 3-2 lead.

DeCaro, playing in only his third AHL win, stopped 37 of 39 shots for the win. It was his first win in the AHL as he played two games with the Philadelphia Phantoms last season.

“You know you’re not going to play a whole bunch,” said DeCaro. “When you get that opportunity you have to play and (Dineen) wanted to see what I can do against one of the top teams in the league and it just gave me more incentive to do so.”

Dineen had been pondering when he wanted to get the Marysville, Washington native a start, despite the solid play of starting goalie Jhonas Enroth.

“There is such a thought process on how am I going to get (DeCaro) a game because I am so stuck on Enroth,” he said. “It was a little bit of throwing him to the wolves and saying, “Let’s see what you’ve got.” Now, the door has been opened a bit.”

NOTES: Dylan Hunter and Felix Schutz returned to the game after a one game absence as a result of a suffering a bout of food poisoning. The team will travel to Buffalo tonight and will take to the ice for practice tomorrow at 11:00 am, followed by the Sabres, who will skate at 12:30pm.

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