Long after the fourth-largest crowd in Condors history had filed out of Mechanics Bank Arena on Saturday night, the Condors dressing room was still rocking.
At one point, the song “Boys Are Back In Town,” blared from the speakers. It seemed appropriate.
On the biggest night of the season — the 21st annual Teddy Bear Toss Game — the Condors responded with one of their biggest wins of the first two months of the season, 3-1 over the Ontario Reign.
The fans, a standing-room-only crowd of 8,981, came early, many waiting outside in the rain for the lighting of the Christmas tree on the plaza before the doors opened.
And they came bearing gifts. Some carried a stuffed animal or two, other carried bags filled with many.
Sixteen minutes and 20 seconds into the first period, Josh Currie did what the fans were waiting for. He cut into the high slot all alone, took a feed from Cooper Marody and scored from between the circles.
That gave the Condors a 1-0 lead and started the rain of stuffed animals onto the ice.
“Everyone kind of thinks about scoring the first goal just because it’s such a big game, for the team and the organization,” Currie said. “It was kind of nice to get that one out of the way in the first period and take that pressure off the shoulders of myself and everyone.”
Just how many stuffed animals will be added to the 129,836 tossed onto the ice in previous years will be determined during a count on Monday morning. The record for a single TBT game is 10,549, set in 2017.
The crowd was the largest since the arena was reconfigured a few years ago, eliminating some seats in favor of suite areas that hold fewer people.
“It’s pretty cool to see how many bears get thrown onto the ice, it’s kind of crazy,” Currie said. “It’s cool to be a part of and even better that we got the win in front of such a big crowd.”
Condors coach Jay Woodcroft was also impressed, by both the outcome and the support.
“What a job our front office and sales staff and the community has done to make this such a big event for such a great cause,” Woodcroft said. “What a great job to make sure all these teddy bears are donated for a great cause. I think our building was electric tonight.”
The game saw the return of some key Condors, who had a 4-3 come-from behind win in San Jose on Friday night. Goaltender Shane Starrett, who last played on Oct. 13 after suffering an injury, was back in net and forwards Kailer Yamamoto, who missed the last five games, and forward Tomas Jurco, who missed the last three games, were back in the lineup.
Starrett stopped 29 of 30 shots. Yamamoto had a goal and an assist and Jurco had a goal.
“Stacking that game on top of the one (on Friday night) was important,” Woodcroft said. “We’re 6-4-2 in the month of November, which is a marked improvement on what we did in October. That’s what we’re asking our guys to do, to get better on a daily basis. Quite pleased with the last two. Good responses after the egg we laid on Wednesday (an 8-3 loss at home to Tucson).”
The final 3:40 of the first period was played after the ice was cleared of stuffed animals and the usual first-period intermission.
Jurco staked Bakersfield to a 2-0 lead midway through the second after the Condors forced a turnover deep in the Ontario zone. Yamamoto got his fourth goal of the season and his first since the fourth game of the season, when he banged home a rebound for a power-play goal just 32 seconds into the third.
As for Starrett, Woodcroft said he was “rock solid. He gives our team confidence. He’s the backbone of what we’ve got going on back there. He gritted through his first game in eight weeks and it wasn’t an easy game. He made some big saves for us. Her calms everything down back there for us.”
The Reign’s Martin Frk scored a goal with 4:30 left, but the Condors asked for a video review and it was disallowed as the net was off its mooring before the puck went in.
Starrett said the net had been off for a while before the goal was scored. He certainly knew as it appeared he may have helped it off after making a save off a Frk shot about 15 seconds earlier.
“I was trying to get the(the ref’s ) attention, the play was going on and the net was off,” Starrett said, not mentioning how the net may have come off. “It worked in our favor.”
The game ended a stretch of six in 10 days including a trip to Iowa, and the team was rewarded with Sunday and Monday off after the win. The Condors do not play again until Saturday night in Stockton.