Joe Snively scored his first pro hat-trick and Vitek Vanecek made 22 saves to backstop Hershey to a 6-1 victory over the visiting Charlotte Checkers Tuesday in front of a near-sellout crowd of 10,446 fans at Giant Center.
The downside of the night was an injury to winger Kale Kessey, which occurred in a fight with Derek Sheppard at 11:30 of the second period with Bears leading 3-1. In the fight, Kessy was knocked down but regained consciousness before being removed from the ice.
He was alert, in stable condition when leaving the ice on a stretcher, and was transported to a local medical facility. The game continued after a delay with both teams leaving the ice, and the second period resumed at 9:13 p.m.
As soon as Sheppard realized Kessy was injured, he immediately started calling for medical help because he was concerned about the situation which Snively was quick to point out.
“There’s mutual respect in hockey for the other team when something like that happens and you put aside the game and make sure everyone is healthy and safe and it was a classy thing for him to do rather than stand up and do a victory dance,” said Snively.
Snively opened the scoring with his tenth of the season 4:02 into the contest. Morgan Geekie evened the score for the Checkers at 11:04 on the power play. Jake Bean fired a shot from the center point, and the puck caromed to Geekie near the left post to beat Vitek Vanecek who improved to 16-10-1 for the season.
Bobby Nardella scored the eventual game-winning goal at 15:34 to put the Chocolate and White ahead the rest of the way.
Recent trades made by Charlotte’s NHL team, the Carolina Hurricanes, saw five top-line players moved, plus both goaltenders were injured forcing recalls from ECHL teams.
“We approach every game with the same mindset and don’t really change our game plan for any team we play,” Snively said. “That’s what the coach was telling us before the game. When we played in Charlotte we didn’t play our best so this was an opportunity for a little payback.”
“We’re doing well because we have the two of the best goalies in the league which always helps and we’re playing good structural defense,” Snively added.
Brian Pinho completed the scoring with the third period’s lone goal at 12:10. Down a man, Pinho picked up his team-leading third shorthanded goal of the season for a 6-1 lead.
Snively nailed his second goal of the night at 3:19 of the middle stanza, and Shane Gersich extended Hershey’s lead to 4-1 at 11:22, after stuffing home a loose puck sitting in the blue paint. Snively completed his hat-trick at 17:34 firing a breakaway opportunity past Charlotte goaltender Jeremy Helvig.
The Bears improved their record to 34-17-3-3 for 74 points, to second place Hartford’s 71 points, which has two games in hand in the Atlantic Division race.
Hershey’s penalty kill finished the night 4-for-5.
The Bears return to action and conclude February on Saturday at 7 p.m. against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Giant Center.
The Washington Capitals acquired forward Daniel Sprong from the Anaheim Ducks for Christian Djoos. Sprong, 22, was assigned to Hershey and will wear #11. He was named to the 2017-18 AHL All-Star Classic and the AHL All-Rookie Team, leading first-year players in goals, and finishing second among rookies in points.
Hershey defenseman Tyler Lewington, who had two assists in Tuesday’s game, played in his 300 th pro game. He has appeared in eight NHL games, 278 AHL games, and 14 ECHL games.
The Charlotte Checkers roster underwent huge changes recently. Due to injuries with parent club Carolina, both of Charlotte’s netminders Alex Nedeljkovic and Anton Forsberg were recalled to the NHL. Charlotte responded by recalling goaltenders Callum Booth (14 games of AHL experience) and Jeremy Helvig (one game of AHL experience) from the ECHL.
The trade moves made by Carolina meant Charlotte lost leading scorer Janne Kuokkanen (42 points), center Eetu Luostarinen (25 points), defender Chase Priskie (31 points), as well as veteran defender Fredrik Claesson (19 points).
Hershey and Charlotte started the game as two of the top penalty kills in the league. The Bears were second best at 86.8% and Charlotte is third at 86.5%. No road penalty kill is better than Charlotte’s, 87.9%. The Bears have now scored nine shorthanded goals this season.