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BY DON SCOTT

On Friday, the two teams combined for only 34 shots on goal during Hershey’s 6-3 road loss at the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. With the outcome Hershey remained winless (0-3-0-0) this season at the PPL Center. 

The Phantoms struck first, at 1:21 of the opening period on Brennan Saulnier’s third goal of the season. Saulnier shoved the puck underneath the pad of Hershey goaltender Zach Fucale at the left post, to give the Phantoms the quick 1-0 edge. 

Alex Kile made it 2-0 Lehigh Valley at 8:28 on the Phantoms’ second shot of the game. Kile, alone in front of Fucale, slid the puck backhand to forehand to beat the net minder.

Brian Pinho responded for Hershey on the power play at 16:26, extending his point streak to five games by tipping a Cody Franson shot past Lehigh Valley goaltender Felix Sandstrom to make it 2-1. Mike Vecchione also assisted on Pinho’s fourth goal of the season. 

The Phantoms added one more goal before the period ended when Strome added to his big night with his second goal of the season, to make it 3-1 at 19:23. 

Lehigh Valley scored twice more in the middle stanza. Logan Day struck from the right circle, firing a shot over the glove of Fucale, and under the crossbar, to make it 4-1 at 14:13.

O’Reilly scored on a power play goal at 18:49, sending the puck over the blocker of a screened Fucale for a 5-1 lead after 40 minutes.

Hunter Shepard replaced Fucale in the Hershey net to start the third period, and the Bears responded to head coach Scott Allen’s move, as Axel Jonsson-Fjallby made it 5-2, only 21 seconds into the period. Vecchione and Pinho assisted on Jonsson-Fjallby’s 14th of the season. 

Hershey pulled Shepard in the closing minutes of the third period, and Mason Morelli scored a 6-on-5 goal off a Sandstrom rebound at 15:09 to pull Hershey within two goals. Vecchione picked up his third assist in the game,

Lehigh Valley sealed the win with an empty net goal by Garrett Wilson with 38.7 seconds remaining. 

Shots finished up 20-14 in favor of Hershey. The Bears went one-for-three on the power play, while Lehigh Valley was one-for-one.

Bears Notes:

The Washington Capitals re-assigned forward Aliaksei Protas to Hershey on Friday.

On Saturday, the Bears got back in the win column with a 5-4 decision over the Belleville Senators in front of a near-sellout Giant Center crowd. The game was a wild, back-and-forth one, where special teams were at the forefront.

Hershey started the scoring at 2:35 on Mike Vecchione’s 11th goal of the season. With Hershey on a five-on-three power play, Vecchione fired a shot past Belleville goalie Mads Sogaard. Aliaksei Protas and Cody Franson assisted on the goal, with Franson extending his point streak to five games. 

Hugo Roy responded with a power-play goal for Belleville at 11:28. His one-timer beat Hershey net minder Hunter Shepard to make it 1-1. 

Just 15 seconds later, the Bears regained the lead on a goal from Marcus Vela. Vela won an offensive zone faceoff back to Lucas Johansen at the left point. His shot on goal was deflected by Vela past Sogaard to make it 2-1 Hershey.

After Hershey’s Dylan McIlrath was assessed a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for slashing, Belleville took advantage on the power play when Egor Sokolov made it 2-2 at 16:25.   

“I was a little disappointed on that penalty call but I think our guys rallied around to pick him up and let them know they weren’t going to let this one slip away,” said Allen. “Even when we fell behind in the third period, we found a way to tie the game and then get the eventual game-winner.”

In the middle frame, the power-play goals continued, as Protas put Hershey in front when he one-timed an Alex Alexeyev pass from the right circle past Sogaard to make it 3-2.

Belleville’s Chris Wilkie tied the score again, skating down the right wing and sliding a shot under Shepard’s pad to make it 3-3, at 15:33 of the second period. 

Only 1:21 into the third period, Logan Shaw gave Belleville its first lead of the night, sending a shot off Shepard’s pads to make it 4-3.

Hershey regrouped for back-to-back goals to regain and hold the lead the rest of the way. Mason Morelli scored the equalizer at 8:48, knocking the rebound of a Macoy Erkamop’s shot under Sogaard to make it 4-4.

Just under two minutes later, Cody Franson scored the winner, sending a shot through traffic from the center point. The power-play goal was Franson’s fifth marker of the season, with Vecchione and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby assisting on the deciding goal.

Belleville went two-for-four on the power play while Hershey was three-for-five. Shepard made 26 saves for his fourth win in five decisions.

Bears Notes:

Belleville is coached by former Hershey Bears bench boss Troy Mann, who led the Chocolate and White from 2014-2018.

Mann was an assistant coach with Hershey when the club won the Calder Cup in 2010, and he coached the Bears to the 2016 Calder Cup Finals. Mann’s goaltending coach in Belleville is Justin Peters, the former Bears net minder who led Hershey on its 2016 playoff run. Peters played 20 games that postseason, registering an 11-9-0 record, a 2.13 goals-against average, a .922 save percentage, and two shutouts.

Hershey ended its busy weekend with a 3-2 loss to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Sunday at the PPL Center. Marcus Vela and Mason Morelli scored, but the Chocolate and White fell to 24-15-3-3 overall and 0-4-0-0 at the PPL Center this year. 

The Bears got the show started when Vela deflected a Macoy Erkamps shot 13:27 into the first period to give the Bears a 1-0 lead. The secondary assist went to Shane Gersich for his 24th point of the year, tying a career-high.

Lehigh Valley responded on the power play in the second period, when Hayden Hodgson found the back of the net at 3:49, with Adam Clendening and Cal O’Reilly getting the helpers.

The game stayed tied until there was 4:16 left in the third period. The Phantoms would take their first lead when Morgan Frost had a high tip on a Charlie Gerard shot to make it 2-1 Lehigh Valley. Hershey vehemently argued the puck was deflected into the net with a high stick, but the goal was allowed to stand.  

Down by a goal, Hershey pulled goaltender Zach Fucale, and the Phantom’s Wyatte Wylie fed Cal O’Reilly for an empty-netter with 26.9 seconds left to make it 3-1.

That goal would prove critical, when Mason Morelli scored his seventh goal of the season, with two seconds left, thanks to a Lucas Johansen shot and a Vela setup. The late goal was too little, too late for Hershey as the Bears dropped a second game this weekend at the PPL Center. 

Shots finished 35-21 in favor of Hershey. The Bears went 0-for-four on the power play, while Lehigh Valley was one-for-four. 

The Bears return to the ice for a three-in-three weekend in New England, starting with a Friday night matchup against the Providence Bruins in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

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