Move to McNeill Pays Off For Bears

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel

Hershey Bears defenseman Patrick McNeill was second among the team’s rearguards in regular season scoring. Playing in his third AHL season, the 23-year-old Strathroy, Ontario native totaled eight goals and 35 points despite missing 18 games. That point total was good for 25th among all AHL blueliners. McNeill got his first taste of Calder Cup playoff hockey at the conclusion of his first pro season in 2007-08 when he got into two games with the Bears after having played five postseason contests with the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays that spring. Last spring, McNeill got into 10 Calder Cup contests with the Bears, who eventually won the Cup. This spring, McNeill got into three first-round games against Bridgeport before a shoulder injury sidelined him for a month. He returned to action midway through the third round of the playoffs, playing in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final – a game in which the Bears dressed seven defensemen – against the Manchester Monarchs. But McNeill was held out of the lineup in Game 5, a Hershey overtime win that sent the Bears back to Pennsylvania with a 3-2 series lead. Most coaches are loath to change up a winning formula. Bears bench boss Mark French went against that grain in last Saturday’s Game 6 of the Eastern final against Manchester, re-inserting McNeill into the lineup for Greg Amadio, who played in Game 5. The move proved to be a prescient one. With the Bears down 1-0 and foundering in their own end early in the second, McNeill reached behind Hershey goaltender Michal Neuvirth to swipe a puck out of harm’s way just before it crossed the goal line. Although McNeill downplayed the “save” after the game, it was a huge play in a one-goal, overtime contest. “We were back on our heels for about five minutes there,” said McNeill. “I saw the puck kind of squeak through Neuvy’s five-hole. I was just the guy standing there. Anybody would have just threw that one out there. It was close, but luckily I was standing right there.” Late in the third period, Hershey trailed 2-1 and faced the unappealing specter of a Game 7 the next afternoon at Giant Center. With just under six minutes remaining in regulation, McNeill spotted Chris Bourque with the puck along the half-wall of the right wing boards in the Hershey zone. The defenseman drifted to center point, making himself available for a pass. Bourque saucered the puck to McNeill, and the lefty-shooting blueliner let loose a wrister that skirted through a screen in front and found its way past Manchester goaltender Jonathan Bernier. It was the first goal of McNeill’s 17-game AHL playoff career, and it gave the Bears new life. Hershey headed to overtime with momentum. Just past the seven-minute mark of the extra session, Bears winger Boyd Kane took a pass from Kyle Wilson behind the Hershey net. Kane fired the puck past Bernier to propel the Bears to their fourth Calder Cup final berth in the last five years. McNeill had a hand in that one, too; he picked up the secondary assist on Kane’s game-winner. “I got the puck at the point and tried to get it to the net quick,” noted McNeill. “I think it hit one of their players, and I really didn’t see what happened from there. I think [Wilson] threw it out front and Kaner got a whack on it. I’ve never see the guy so happy. It was pretty exciting.” McNeill and the Bears now have a few days to heal their wounds and rest their weary bodies. The Bears had a 12-day layoff before the Manchester series, but the six-game set was a hard-fought affair that featured five one-goal games and four overtime contests. The decision to put McNeill into the lineup was instrumental in helping the Bears finish off the Monarchs. “When we decided to put Greg into the lineup in Game 5, we wanted to know 100 percent that the guys we were putting into the lineup were going to put it on the line,” said French, in outlining his thinking. “And because of an injury, we weren’t 100 percent sure whether Patrick could. “We felt the series was a puck-movement, quickness series. It was a physical series, but size wasn’t an issue for their team. So tonight in putting Patrick in, we thought we needed another puck-moving defenseman. We needed a guy where we could get some offense from the back end. Because [the Monarchs] collapse so much off the points, you need some guys who have the ability to get it through and that’s one of the characteristics Pat possesses.”

next up:

Experience Required

January 14, 2013

As the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In recent years, it has become common for NHL teams to pattern themselves after recent Cup-winning clubs in the hope of fashioning a team that can challenge for the chalice. The 2006 Carolina Hurricanes showed that speed kills, and

Advertisement

Mike Vogel on Twitter

Caps Featured Video

Caps Red Line 2014-15: Episode 1,...

Cruisin' to Dulles Airport with new Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen, who describes his transition t...

Capitals Shows & Videos

Advertisement
Advertisement
x