HERSHEY, Pa. -- The bus ride to Hershey and back is usually a long and unrewarding one for the Baltimore Skipjacks.
Last night the trip home was a lot worse than usual, after the Skipjacks blew a three-goal lead in the final period and lost to the Hershey Bears, 6-5, before 8,017 -- the largest crowd of the season -- in the Hersheypark Arena.
"Ollie Kolzig [the Baltimore goalie, who had 42 saves] kept us in the game," said the Skipjacks' John Purves. "We know we have to shut down Tim Tookey and Al Conroy but we can't seem to do it. This was the worst emotional loss for us this season."
The Skipjacks, who had a four-game unbeaten streak broken last night and have not beaten Hershey in the last four meetings, built a 3-2 lead after two periods on goals by Craig Duncanson, Mark Ferner and Todd Hlushko. Baltimore lengthened the lead to 5-2 early in the third period on goals by Bobby Reynolds, on a shot from outside the blue line, and Jeff Greenlaw on a wraparound shot.
The Bears then began their rally. Conroy, who had the hat trick in the third period, scored on a rebound at 8 minutes, 6 seconds, and Tookey, who had a goal and four assists, scored during a power play at 15:22 to cut the lead to 5-4.
With 1:03 left, Hershey coach Mike Eaves pulled goalie Dominic Roussel in favor of a sixth attacker, and the move paid off as Conroy beat goalie Ollie Kolzig from the left circle with 58 seconds remaining to tie the score.
Twenty-one second later, Conroy, in the slot, beat Kolzig with a wrist shot, high and to the stick side for the game-winner.
"Even after we were down early in the third period we knew we could win if we pulled together," Conroy said. "We work on our plays involving pulling our goaltender all the time in practice. On my tying goal, Kolzig slid to the right to try and stop Darren Rumble and I had an open side of the net to shoot at. We controlled the faceoff prior to my game-winning goal and I received a pass from Tookey and scored."
Despite the loss, Baltimore remained in a first-place tie in the Southern Division with the Utica Devils, who lost to the Adirondack Red Wings, 4-2, last night. Hershey now leads the 16-game season series with the Skipjacks, 4-2-2.
"I have been on both sides of these kinds of games," Tookey said. "Hopefully a game like this can turn our season around.
Last night's crowd was the largest of the season in the AHL and largest in Hersheypark Arena since Jan. 18, 1988, when 8,143 turned out.
"We have been struggling of late," said Bears coach Mike Eaves, whose team has lost six of its last eight games. "Tonight we did what we had to. We were frustrated most of the night by Kolzig but we got to him at the end."