American Hockey League

Frank breathes new life into Bears

📝 by Patrick Williams


HERSHEY, Pa. … As the Calder Cup Finals shifted east earlier this week, something for the Hershey Bears had to change — and quickly — if this was going to be a series at all.

Two games later, the Bears have rediscovered their scoring touch. Ethen Frank is back on the scoresheet. So is linemate Mike Vecchione. And Hershey has evened the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.

Frank enjoyed an excellent regular season in Hershey, representing the Bears at the AHL All-Star Classic — where he set a league record in the fastest skater event — and leading all AHL rookies with 30 goals on the campaign.

But the Calder Cup Playoffs had been anything but a happy dream for the 25-year-old Frank. Eleven games. No goals. Scratched by head coach Todd Nelson four times, including Game 1 of the Finals.

Looking for something — anything — following a 5-0 loss in the series opener, Nelson reinserted Frank into the lineup. But then the Bears went shorthanded nine times, disrupting the Hershey bench, and Frank and the rest of the club went without a goal in a 4-0 defeat in Game 2.

It was tense around Giant Center as the Bears prepared for Game 3. Another loss would leave them in a nearly impossible bind. Still, as disappointing as this postseason run had been personally for Frank, it’s the Calder Cup Playoffs. And even with the Bears’ predicament after their two losses at Coachella Valley, only four wins separated them from a Calder Cup championship. If you’re playing, you still have a chance.

So quickly after Game 3 started, Frank took charge. He proved that Joey Daccord could be solved, taking a cross-ice pass in the first period from Sam Anas and ripping it home for Hershey’s first goal of the series. The Bears survived a desperate three-goal third period from the Firebirds to scratch out a 5-4 overtime victory.

Then, up a goal late in the second period of Game 4, Frank struck again. Vecchione won a puck battle just inside the Coachella Valley blue line and worked a pass over to Frank, who cruised to the edge of the right circle before launching a shot past Daccord for the eventual game-winner in Hershey’s 3-2 decision. Vecchione had the other two Bears goals in the win.

“I kind of realized a couple days ago that this isn’t something you do every season or maybe even at all ever in your career,” Frank said after Game 4 on Thursday. “I try to keep an even head no matter what happens, but, yeah, it did kind of click. I was like, ‘This isn’t going to happen very often, so I need to take advantage of it and step my game up.’ I’m glad that I’m helping the team win.”

With regular-season leading scorer Mike Sgarbossa having been out of the lineup the last 13 games, Nelson’s club needs every bit of offense that it can find against a potent opponent like Coachella Valley.

“Hopefully they’re heating up at the right time,” Nelson said of Frank and Vecchione.

“If we play Bears hockey, I don’t think that there’s a team in the league that can beat us,” Frank said. “We’ve said that from game one. We think if we play the right way and play physical and stay above them on the defensive side, then we’ll be in a good spot, because we’re pretty good on the forecheck. We pride ourselves on that. If we just keep being smart and responsible, then we’ll be set.”

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