The Hershey Bears returned from the AHL’s All-Star break with a 3-0 loss to the Utica Comets (23-16-5-2) on Friday night at the Adirondack Bank Center. Then on Saturday, Hunter Shepard made a season-high 33 saves and the Bears (30-12-4-1) used a two-goal first period to hang on for a 2-1 win over the Hartford Wolf Pack (19-19-3-6) at Giant Center.
In Friday’s tilt, Utica goaltender Akira Schmid made 19 saves for the shutout. It was the third time on the road this season that the opposing goaltender blanked Hershey in regulation.
Hershey faced numerous shots from Utica’s offense in the first period when the Comets out shot the Bears 12-2.
Utica’s Graeme Clarke was impeded on his way to the net at 14:16 and was subsequently awarded a penalty shot. He deked to his backhand but was stopped by a big pad save from Zach Fucale.
Despite the Bears rebounding in the early stages of the second period, initially out shooting the Comets 7-1, it was Utica that finally struck first when Jack Dugan beat Fucale on a two-on-one rush at 6:35 to take a 1-0 lead.
Nolan Foote scored for Utica off a faceoff at 11:35 of the third period to extend the lead for the hosts to 2-0, and Andreas Johnsson ended the scoring with an empty-net goal at 19:38.
Shots finished 33-19 in favor of the Comets. The Bears and Comets were both 0-for-3 on the power play.
The Washington Capitals recalled Aliaksei Protas from Hershey.
The Bears have an all-time record of 10-3-2-1 against the Comets, with a 5-2-1-0 record at Utica.
Going into the game, Hershey was the AHL’s top team when it comes to opening a contest with the first goal of the game. The Bears had scored the icebreaker a league-best 30 times this season, posting a 21-5-3-1 record when they took a 1-0 lead.
Zach Fucale’s save on a penalty shot on Utica’s Graham Clarke was the first penalty shot Hershey has been involved in this season. The last save on a penalty shot by a Hershey goaltender came from Pheonix Copley on Brendan Gauce on Feb. 5, 2022 at Cleveland.
The Saturday 2-1 win over Hartford was Hershey’s 30th win in its 47th game, which matched the 2010-11 Bears squad (30-14-1-2) as the third-fastest teams in club history to reach the 30-victory total, surpassed only by the 2008-09 and 2009-10 teams, which both hit the 30-win mark in their 41st contest with an 80-game schedule.
The Bears grabbed a 2-0 first period lead starting at 12:13 when Mike Vecchione centered the puck to Mike Sgarbossa in the slot and he recovered his own blocked shot to beat Dylan Garand for his 16th goal of the season.
Hershey made it 2-0 on a shorthanded goal with less than five minutes remaining in the period when Henrik Rybinski stole the puck at the Hershey blue line for a breakaway and fired a shot underneath the blocker of Garand at 15:08 for his third of the season.
The Wolf Pack’s Will Cuylle made it a 2-1 tilt at 10:46 of the second period when he sent a sharp-angle shot behind Shepard.
The Bears held Hartford to just six shots in the third period to close out the game despite some carryover time from a second-period double-minor penalty and a pair penalty kills in the final frame.
Shots finished 34-20 in favor of the Wolf Pack. The Bears and Wolfpack were both 0-for-6 on the power play.
Hershey begins a three-game road trip that starts against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Mohegan Sun Arena on Wednesday at 7:05 p.m., and then heads to Charlotte for games Saturday and Sunday at 7 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Mike Sgarbossa played in his 200th game as a member of the Bears.
Hershey entered the game with losses in four of the past five games scoring just seven goals.
The Bears are 11-3-2-0 on Saturday’s this season.
Now that the AHL season is past the All-Star Break, the Bears have switched to wearing dark jerseys on home ice.