Baltimore Skipjacks coach Rob Laird likes to call games like last night's 7-6 victory over the Hershey Bears "character-builders."
But he saw the flaws in his young team during the third period, when the Jacks nearly squandered a three-goal lead they held with 7 minutes, 50 seconds remaining.
"If we are going to be successful over the long haul, we're going to have to improve in the defensive end," said Laird, who won his second season opener as Skipjacks coach. "We've got some young people and we're going to work to see that it doesn't happen again.
"We won and we're 1-0. That's the bottom line. For now, I'm just going to sit back and enjoy this."
With the score tied 3-3 after two periods, the Skipjacks needed goals from Harry Mews, Randy Pearce, Simon Wheeldon and Todd Hlushko to stave off the Bears' late assault on goalie Olaf Kolzig, who finished with 27 saves.
The seventh goal from Hlushko seemed unimportant with just 1:31 left in the third period, but it turned out to be the game-winner when Al Conroy scored his second goal of the period with 1:17 remaining to cut the lead back to one goal.
"You have to take every opportunity you can get against Hershey," said Hlushko, who also had an assist. "They have an explosive offense and they never died. Being the first game of the year no one on either side was playing at 100 percent and it showed, especially on defense."
Veteran Craig Duncanson, playing in his first game as a Skipjack, said his team's inexperience showed when the lead grew.
"We relaxed a little too much and took a pair of penalties and you can't do that against a team as talented as Hershey," he said. "They got hungry and we panicked. We ended up clawing at the end. It was almost a disaster."
The Skipjacks scored the first three goals of the final period to take a seemingly comfortable 6-3 lead.
The Skipjacks took a first-period lead at 5:39 when Reggie Savage rushed into the Bears' zone and, with Chris Clarke on his right, elected to take the shot himself.
Goalie Dominic Roussel made the initial save but the puck flew into the air and bounced into the right corner of the net just as the interference penalty to Wheeldon ended.
The Bears tied the game at 1-1 at 13:34 on a gift from Clarke, the Jacks rookie defenseman.
Clarke, attempting to clear the puck from goalie Kolzig's left side, fired the puck past his own man. Bears left wing Claude Boivin was credited with the goal.
Just 53 seconds later, Bill Armstrong gave the Bears a 2-1 lead, scoring with an assist from Tim Tookey off a faceoff in the Jacks' zone.
After Jim Mathieson got an extra roughing call in an altercation with Armstrong at 14:30, Jacks right wing John Purves tied the score at 2-2, beating Roussel on a breakaway at 15:30 for the season's first short-handed goal.
A minute later, Pearce was whistled for cross-checking, giving the Bears a 27-second two-man advantage.
It took Bears left wing Chris Jensen 51 seconds to beat Kolzig after Mark Freer fanned on the initial attempt for a 3-2 lead.
The game got rough at 7:02 of the second period when Freer was called for boarding Jacks defenseman Mark Ferner. As soon as referee Lance Roberts stopped play, all 10 skaters on the ice jumped into the fray.
It resulted in 39 minutes of penalty time, game misconducts to Freer and Brent Hughes, and a five-minute Jacks power-play advantage.
The Jacks, who were lethargic with the extra attacker, lost the advantage 1:25 later when center Mews was called for interference in the offensive zone.
Opponent: Adirondack Red Wings
Site: Glens Falls (N.Y.) Civic Center, 7:35
Radio: WYST (1010 AM)
Outlook: The Skipjacks have historically had trouble in Glens Falls, losing 8 of their past 9, including 2 of 3 last season. The Red Wings return veterans D Gord Kruppke, RW Sheldon Kennedy, C Bill McDougall, C Gary Shuchuk, C Micah Aivazoff, RW Brent Fedyk, D Chris Luongo and RW Daniel Shank. The Jacks will be without injured C Tim Taylor (knee), C Vic Gervais (shoulder) and D Bobby Babcock (wrist). Adirondack had 5 hours of overnight travel after last night's game in Rochester. Mark Reimer is the Red Wings' No. 1 goalie.