The Hershey Bears barely tried to score in the third period. They had a 1-0 lead and their plan was to simply keep Rochester from getting an equalizer.
Down a goal and with 80 percent or so of the possession time, the Amerks registered only seven shots in the final period of their season. The only semi-dangerous chance came with a minute and change to play and while Rochester was shorthanded. In all, the Amerks had 24 shots on Hershey goalie Hunter Shepard and he stopped each one.
The result was a 1-0 loss for Rochester in the game and a 4-2 loss in the Eastern Conference Final series. A great playoff run ending at the hands of an elite, experienced defensive hockey team.
“The intentions were there. The compete was there. The battle was there,” captain Michael Mersch said. “They played a real solid game and I thought we did too. It was kinda the story of the whole series–just really tight matches.”
Shane Gersich scored the only goal of Game 6 on a rebound late in the second period. Rochester’s best series of chances came almost immediately after the goal.
Two minutes later, Mason Jobst was sprung on a clean breakaway. Instead of shooting, he tried a drop pass that didn’t result in a shot on goal. However, Hershey had too many men on the ice during the breakaway. The Bears took a tripping penalty 36 seconds later that gave Rochester an 84-second 5-on-3 opportunity.
Mersch had a handful of point blank bang in attempts, but could not score. Mersch and Jiri Kulich each had swings with a one-timer. The puck went everywhere but in the net.
“It just felt like everything just hit off a stick or a shin pad,” Mersch said. “Jiri had some great chances. A stick out of mid-air I think tipped one of his shots.”
“I don’t think you can diagram up the looks any better,” head coach Seth Appert said. “We got our elite goal scorers shots that we wanted. A couple missed the net. (Shepard) made a couple scramble big saves in tight. They blocked a few great shots.”
“We collapsed on the net, winning puck battles,” Mersch added. “Just didn’t go in. Frustrating, obviously, but it wasn’t from a lack of effort.”
The Amerks had a few half-decent chances to tie in the third period, but Shepard rarely looked uncomfortable. A Brett Murray high sticking penalty with 2:22 to play helped snuff out most of the late flurry, but Sean Malone did stickhandle through the defense right in front with a bit over a minute to play. His backhand hit Shepard squarely in the chest.
The Amerks outshot Hershey 24-19, but their power play went 0 for 4 and 1 for 15 in the series.
While the nearly 9,000 in attendance went home disappointed Friday night, there was little to be disappointed about with Rochester’s playoff run as a whole. This was a team out of a playoff spot with about a month to play in the season. The Amerks ended up one of the last four teams standing and fell two wins shy of a Calder Cup final.
“It took time for us to become who we became and we had to fight really hard to become a team that played the right way and really loved playing for each other,” Appert said. “I’m incredibly proud of them.”
The Amerks have not been to a conference final since 2004 and had not won at least two games in that round since 2000. Appert said the worst part of Friday’s loss was that there were no more practices or games for this group together.
“There’s going to be a North Division banner in this rink for the first time in two decades,” Appert said. “It’s not the banner we wanted, but it’s still a banner we’re going to be damn proud of.”