HERSHEY, Pa. – The Hershey Bears returned to action at the Giant Center for the first time in nearly five months with a preseason matchup with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms Sunday afternoon.
The Bears scored the game’s first three goals, while the Phantoms had the last two en route to a 3-2 decision for the Chocolate and White before a crowd of 4,143. Eddie Wittchow‘s second period marker proved to be the difference-maker in the game. The Bears had a massive shot advantage throughout the contest, finishing 36-12 in favor of the home team.
Although both teams were icing rosters with a few players on camp invites and bubble players trying to make an impact, the game had a very real feeling down to regular jerseys and a lot of combinations of players that will likely be seen when these two teams rematch for real in a week’s time for the second game of the regular season.
One combination that paid immediate dividends was Hershey’s power play, which struck on its first opportunity to open the scoring. Quick puck movement led to a pair of newcomers in Mike Vecchione and Cody Franson finding a wide-open Mike Sgarbossa for the early goal. A few minutes later, on a delayed penalty, another new Bear in Dylan McIlrath found twine with a perfect shot to the top corner past goaltender Felix Sandstrom to double the Hershey lead. The Bears finished the opening frame with a 22-1 shot advantage, another stat that showed how tilted the ice seemed at times.
The second period featured more rough stuff, as the frame opened with McIlrath squaring up with Brennan Saulnier. There were more power play opportunities and seemed to open the ice a little more for the Phantoms, but the Bears extended their lead when Wittchow picked up a pass at the net front and maneuvered his shot past Sandstrom to make it 3-0 Hershey. The Phantoms found the net towards the end of the frame when Wyatt Wylie fired a laser past Hershey goaltender Pheonix Copley on a delayed penalty. The Phantoms got the only goal of the third period when Linus Sandin buried the rebound of a Tyson Foerster shot on a 5-on-3 power play to bring the score to 3-2. The two-man advantage was a result of penalties to Kody Clark and Kale Kessy, the latter of whom instigated a fight with Lehigh Valley’s Connor Bunnaman.
It might just be preseason, but it's good to be back at GIANT Center and earn a win in front of our fans! We took down the Phantoms 3-2 tonight, and here are the highlights. #HBH pic.twitter.com/MUEuCL5LmH
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) October 11, 2021
Phantoms backup goaltender Samuel Ersson stopped five shots playing the third period. The two teams are set to rematch in the preseason finale on Wednesday at PPL Center, and will meet for the first regular-season matchup on October 17 in Hershey.
Both teams should be gaining some additional reinforcements as their NHL affiliates look to make their rosters compliant for the start of the regular season this week, but Sunday’s tilt proved the teams will have plenty of animosity to spare for 14 matchups throughout the new year.
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