HERSHEY, Pa. -- They honored Frank Mathers at the Hersheypark Arena last night, but the Baltimore Skipjacks stole the show.
Mathers, longtime player, coach, general manager and president retiring after this season and this was supposed to be his night as the largest crowd of the season -- 7,725 -- jammed the arena.
The Skipjacks ruined the fun, however, pounding the Bears, 6-3, in an important American Hockey League Southern Division game. The victory was the second in a row for the Skipjacks and enabled them to hold on to third place in the division and creep two points closer to second-place Binghamton Rangers, who lost to the Capital District Islanders, 4-3.
"It was a very big win for us," said Skipjacks coach Rob Laird. "We started off sluggishly, but then we made some offensive chances and buried them. Our defense played well, especially Jimmy Hrivnak in the goal. We're getting solid goal-tending and all the pieces are coming together. I liked the way we responded when we were down 1-0."
The Skipjacks spotted Hershey a 1-0 lead in the early going and then stormed back with five consecutive goals to put the contest away. Hershey scored a pair goals at the end of the second period and early in the third, but the newest Skipjack, Bobby Reynolds, acquired on Tuesday from the Newmarket Saints, ripped home a short-handed goal with 4 minutes, 3 seconds remaining to seal the victory.
Reynolds, a swift-skating right wing, also contributed two assists. Alfie Turcotte had a goal and an assist; Kent Paynter, Thomas Sjogren, Ken Lovsin and Tim Taylor also scored for Baltimore. Taylor also had an assist, and John Purves had two feeds.
Hrivnak, winning his 16th game of the season, made 38 saves, thwarting Hershey scoring chances time and again.
"We knew we had to win this one," said Hrivnak. "Any time you can win two games back-to-back on the road [Baltimore won in Springfield, 4-3, Friday], you know you are playing well. The defense played with a lot of intensity the entire game, and the team picked it up after Hershey dominated the first 10 minutes."
Baltimore chased starting goalie Marc D'Amour at 6:41 of the second period after opening a 5-1 lead. Hershey coach Mike Eaves replaced him with Dominic Roussel.
"D'Amour had a nightmare with the No. 5 hole [between the leg pads] tonight," said Eaves. "I'm sure he'd like to have some of those shots back. I can't be displeased with how we played overall. Baltimore just took the game away from us."
The game was the final one of the regular season between the Skipjacks and Bears. Baltimore won the season series, 9-5.
"It looks like I've come into a good situation coming to a team in playoff contention," Reynolds said. "Bobby Babcock and Jim Mathieson have helped me get acclimated with the team."
Turcotte said: "It was a good team effort. After Hershey came out smoking, we played with more physical intensity and took the play away from them the rest of the way."
The start of the game was held up for 42 minutes for the Mathers' festivities. Mathers, coach, general manager and president of the Bears for 35 years, will retire after this season. Jack Butterfield, president of the AHL and Gordon Anziano, vice president of the AHL, Bernie Parent and Bill Barber of the Philadelphia Flyers, and many former players were on hand.
Among the gifts given to Mathers and his wife Pat were a trip to Hawaii, a television satellite dish, a VCR and lawn tractor. Mathers' sweater, No. 3, was also retired last night.