ALLENTOWN, Pa. – It has been nearly three months since Hershey Bears forward Sam Anas was forced to leave a game at PPL Center in Allentown just prior to Christmas, requiring him to undergo core muscle surgery. After a long road to recovery, the forward suited up for the Bears in their final visit t0 the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in an important Atlantic Division tilt. Anas made an immediate impact, hitting a milestone with his 300th professional point, breaking a 1-1 score on the power play to lift the Bears to a 2-1 decision. Hunter Shepard earned the win in goal with 21 saves while Samuel Ersson took the loss with 17 stops.
Hershey had some lineup drama ahead of puck drop, as top scorers Mike Sgarbossa and Mike Vecchione were both unavailable due to injury and illness, respectively. This made Anas’ return, as well as Joe Snively‘s return from the Washington Capitals a day prior, essential to icing a complete lineup. After leaving their fingerprints all over the team’s 6-3 win on Wednesday, Hershey’s bottom six went unchanged while the top two lines saw significant overhauls. The Phantoms, meanwhile, got Elliot Desnoyers back into the lineup after missing Wednesday’s contest, seeing a more complete lineup for this game.
It was a very measured, tightly contested game that had a playoff-like intensity between the perpetual foes in the 12th matchup of 14 in the regular season series. The Bears got on the board late in the first period, forcing a turnover in the neutral zone with Snively firing a shot low at Ersson’s left pad, leaving a juicy rebound for Ethen Frank to fire top shelf for his 26th goal of the season. His tally is the most by a Bears rookie since Riley Barber scored 26 in his rookie season back in 2015-16.
Nice step up by Bobby Nardella leads to Ethen Frank’s 26th of the season on a rebound of a Joe Snively shot! pic.twitter.com/Yt491sfnNd
— Corey Swartz (@FPHBears) March 17, 2023
The Phantoms had been on a hot streak against some pretty good teams prior to their loss to the Bears on Wednesday, and with a hearty crowd of 6,019 on-hand on St. Patrick’s Day, they wouldn’t go away quietly in this one. In the second period, defender Ronnie Attard took some space that was given to him at the point, skating the puck in and firing a shot over Shepard’s shoulder to even the count at two. Attard and Frank, who were both All-Stars this season, played together in college at Western Michigan University and both ended up making an impact on Friday’s final score.
Huge for the program! #LVvsHER | #OurValleyOurHome pic.twitter.com/wKBoHj4Ink
— Lehigh Valley Phantoms (@LVPhantoms) March 18, 2023
This game hinged on special teams, with a decisive win for the visiting Bears. Their penalty kill unit was pushed to the limit, but they rose to the occasion and then some, with five penalties successfully killed. Hershey only had two opportunities on the power play, and with some of their missing personnel key figures on those units, it was a bit of mixing and matching. The Bears made it work as Julian Napravnik tallied his third point in the last two games by feeding Anas at the top of the right circle, and he made no mistake wiring a shot past Ersson’s stick side.
Sam Anas scores in his return to the Bears’ lineup! #HERvsLHV pic.twitter.com/qmZzZDWbyE
— Corey Swartz (@FPHBears) March 18, 2023
The goal is the eighth of the season for Anas, who was brought in on an American Hockey League contract over the summer as a big-time addition to this Bears group. Last season he helped the Springfield Thunderbirds reach the Calder Cup Finals following a regular season scoring title in 2019-20. His return is a key one for the Bears, who could use his scoring touch going down the stretch and into the postseason.
The Bears clamped down the rest of the way thanks to a big bounce-back game for Shepard in his first appearance since being pulled early in action last Sunday against the Providence Bruins. Anas was given the team’s bear head for his big performance with the goal.
Welcome back, 7️⃣❕ pic.twitter.com/8AlcCPQCdN
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) March 18, 2023
The win helps pull the Bears back to within a point of the idle Bruins on Friday while keeping pace with the Charlotte Checkers, who occupy third place and look to close the gap towards one of the byes in the first round of postseason action. It’s a major point swing for the Phantoms, who lost an opportunity to close the gap on the Bears for one of those positions, and also fell behind the Springfield Thunderbirds for home ice in the play-in round. The Phantoms will look to get back in the win column on Sunday when they host the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, while the Bears will close out their weekend on Saturday when they host the Rochester Americans and pay tribute to the latest inductees of the Bears Hall of Fame.
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