HERSHEY, Pa. — The Hershey Bears are set to play in the 2023 Calder Cup Finals.
The team defeated the Rochester Americans by a score of 1-0 in Game 6 of the American Hockey League's Eastern Conference Finals to take the series 4-2.
While Rochester goalie Malcolm Subban posted another stellar outing stopping 18 Hershey shots, he needed 19.
In the second period, Beck Malenstyn commanded the Americans' attention with a shot from the wing. Subban stopped that one, but the rebound found its way to the stick of Shane Gersich, who beat a sliding Subban, glove-side.
"We've been talking about depth all year. Gersich brings a lot of energy and the thing is, this building is going to be loud. He's been around. He brings a veteran presence to this lineup," said Hershey Head Coach Todd Nelson. "It was a great goal. Beck Malenstyn is coming down the left wing and throws a far pad rebound and Gersich is there to bang it in."
The 1-0 lead with 7:20 to go in the second period was all Hershey netminder Hunter Shepard would need.
"Both goaltenders were playing so well tonight, I kind of thought that would be the one that separates us and it was," recalled Nelson.
The Bears' defense was tested, especially toward the end of the second period. With Riley Sutter already in the box for tripping, Rochester gained a five-on-three advantage after Hershey was caught with too many players on the ice. The Amerks had a two-man advantage for 1:25, which Shepard played most of without his stick after it was lost during a scramble in front of the net.
Hershey escaped the scenario unscathed and took a much-deserved breather into the third period, where the Bears would finish the job with the 1-0 win.
The Bears were presented with the Eastern Conference championship Richard F. Canning Trophy, but as expected, no player touched it during the presentation in Rochester, as they have their eyes set on the Calder Cup Trophy.
"It's my fifth year here and we've had some really good teams and haven't been able to go as far," said Gersich. "This just felt special this year with how tight our group has been through some ups and downs throughout the year. It's such a tight group and it just feels like we could do something special here."
Hershey now awaits the winner of the Western Conference Finals to see its opponent. It will be decided between the Milwaukee Admirals and Coachella Valley Firebirds.
While they don't know who or when they'll play next, Hershey will have tickets on sale for the first two home games of the Calder Cup Finals starting at 10 AM on Saturday morning.
The win marked the end of an emotional day for Hershey fans after the passing of Bears legend and the AHL's all-time leading scorer, Willie Marshall. A moment of silence was held for Marshall before the game, as he had also played two seasons for the Amerks during his career.