Daniel Sprong scored in his Hershey debut, and that became the game-winner, and Mike Sgarbossa returned to the lineup for the first time since Jan. 5 to help the Bears defeat the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, 5-1 on Saturday night at Giant Center. Sgarbossa’s three-point night, (two goals, one assist) extended his current assist and point streak to eight games dating back to Dec. 22, 2019.
Garrett Pilon blocked a shot and skated in on a breakaway 4:52 into the game to beat Casey DeSmith for his 18th goal of the campaign. Sprong’s first goal as a Bear came when he batted the puck out of mid-air that eluded DeSmith on the short side at the 9:44 mark for a 2-0 edge.
“It was nice to get the first goal out of the way so I could relax the rest of the way, and our PK was huge,” Sprong said. “We have two really good goalies here and tonight Vitek made several big saves. For me it was nice not getting booed here, but I always enjoyed playing here when I was with Wilkes because the crowd always got into it.”
Hershey scored twice only 1:59 apart in the middle stanza to take control of the tilt, and it started with more Penguins’ mistakes. Coming out of his net to handle the puck, DeSmith turned the puck over to a fore-checking Sprong.
He sent a pass to Sgarbossa who scored into an open cage for his 12th goal of the season at 4:17. At 6:16, the Chocolate and White capitalized on another Pens defensive zone turnover and Matt Moulson setup Philippe Maillet for his 14th goal of the season.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton got on the scoreboard at 8:54. Bobby Nardella was whistled for slashing and five seconds into the man-advantage, the Pens tallied their lone goal on Vitek Vanecek. Phil Varonek won a face-off back to David Warsofsky to end Vanecek’s shutout bid.
Later in the period, Sprong setup Sgarbossa for his second goal of the night at 15:39 for the 5-1 final. Shots at the end were 28-25 Bears.
“I just wanted to play my game and playing with Sgarbossa and O’Brien I just wanted to keep it simple after two good days of practice,” Sprong said about his quick start. “In practice, we just clicked and when that happens it makes it a lot of fun. Most of the game we were on the right page.”
The Bears conclude the weekend Sunday in a 5 p.m. start against the Charlotte Checkers at Giant Center.
This was the ninth time in franchise history, and the first time since Feb. 29, 2012, Hershey played on Leap Day.
This was also the first Leap Day game at Giant Center since a 4-2 win over the Binghamton Senators in 2004. Overall, Hershey is now 5-4-0-0 on Feb. 29 games dating back to a 10-3 loss against the Providence Reds in 1948 at Hersheypark Arena.
The Bears record improved to 35-17-3-3 with 18 games remaining in the regular season and maintained a three-point lead over second-place Hartford in the Atlantic Division. The win, combined with Springfield’s loss, moved Hershey four points closer to clinching a playoff spot.
Beck Malenstyn left the game in the first period and did not return with an upper-body injury.
Vanecek earned his 69th career win in a Bears uniform, surpassing Claude Dufor for 9th all-time in wins by a Hershey Bears goaltender in franchise history.
WB/S had a new face in the lineup in ex-Bear Riley Barber who made his Giant Center return thanks to a Feb. 20 deal between Pittsburgh and Montreal.