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Bears Deliver Christmas Win Over Phantoms

Photo courtesy of Carl Minieri

Bears Deliver Christmas Win Over Phantoms

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – It was the final game before the Christmas break for the Hershey Bears as they played the back half of a home-and-home series against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms for the fifth of 14 meetings in the season series. The Bears were looking to make some history with this season’s squad with the opportunity to collect their 20th win in their 29th game of the 2022-23 slate, which would be the fastest path to the mark in franchise history, besting the 2009-10, 2008-09, 1996-97, 1946-47, and 1941-42 teams, all of whom went on to win the Calder Cup.

Much like the previous matchup between the two teams, the Bears overcame a deficit to win the game as Ethen Frank tallied two goals including the game-winner to lift Hershey to a 4-2 win. Hunter Shepard made his first start since November 29 and made 27 saves in the win while Pat Nagle took the loss with 19 stops.

The Bears took the lead in the first period with Frank’s first of the game, burying a rebound from a shot by Jake Massie. Despite the early momentum, the Bears faltered a bit in the back half of the period, surrendering two goals late and getting outshot by a 15-6 margin. The Phantoms got goals from Artem Anisimov and Elliot Desnoyers separated by only 24 seconds to take a lead into first intermission.

Hershey refocused in the second period, playing a much more even game and found the only goal, with Connor McMichael scoring his sixth of the season on a nice move and a perfect shot reminiscent of the goal he scored on Sunday between these same two teams at Giant Center. Goals in back-to-back games have helped McMichael heat up of late in just his 15th game of the season. Forward Matt Strome earned his first point as a Bear against his former team with the primary assist.

Lehigh Valley tried to retake the lead in the second and third periods but missed out on three straight power play attempts, and it would fall to the Bears to take the special teams edge in this game. Frank scored his second goal of the game and tenth of the season with a rocket of a one-time shot served up nicely by Aaron Ness to put the Bears in front, and an empty net goal by Mason Morelli sealed a 4-2 decision at PPL Center. Shane Gersich earned his 100th professional point with a primary assist and is one away from hitting 100 points in a Hershey uniform.

The win was not without its price as Hershey forward Sam Anas left the game in the second period due to injury. Hershey’s point lead on second place Providence extends to five with this win, although the Bruins will attempt to shave that margin down by playing a pair of their games-in-hand while the Bears hit the holiday break. Hershey is the first team in the American Hockey League to hit 20 wins this season.

The Phantoms were without goaltender Samuel Ersson for Wednesday’s game after being recalled by the Philadelphia Flyers earlier in the day. Ersson had started all four previous games against the Bears.

The Phantoms will be in action on Friday when they visit the Springfield Thunderbirds in their final game before the holidays while the Bears will be off until December 27 when they visit the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

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