HERSHEY, Pa. – The Hershey Bears honored their past and celebrated their present on Saturday night as the team inducted nine names to the team’s Hall of Fame and downed the Rochester Americans by a 2-1 score before a sold-out crowd at Giant Center. The two oldest teams in the American Hockey League met up for the first time this season in a tightly contested affair in which Ethen Frank’s second period milestone goal stood up as the game-winner. Hunter Shepard made 22 saves in his second appearance in as many games, while Michael Houser took the loss with 30 saves.
The Bears added new names to their Hall of Fame with two classes of inductees being immortalized in Giant Center for the first time since 2019. Familiar names like Calder Cup winners Keith Aucoin and Frederic Cassivi joined other off-ice personalities like newscaster Gregg Mace, whose first broadcast covering the team happened to be a matchup between the Bears and the Americans back in January of 1979. The inductees and the family members representing them for the ceremony enjoyed a luncheon prior to the game and signed autographs on the concourse following the on-ice festivities before puck drop.
Proud to honor the legacy of our past tonight as we look towards our future! pic.twitter.com/MxdGS3XNvN
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) March 19, 2023
Both teams valued the points available in this game, leading to a spirited first matchup of the season. The Americans opened the scoring early when Michael Mersch found himself alone to the left of Shepard and ripped a shot off a feed from Mason Jobst by the goaltender to make it 1-0.
The public address didn’t have time to announce the goal, however, as the Bears tied the game in short order. Connor McMichael took an errant pass to the point and blew by the Americans’ defense, beating Houser to tie the game at one. It’s the 14th goal of the season for Hershey’s number 14 and extends his point streak to five games. McMichael has seven points in his last eight games to help power the Bears’ offense.
The game hinged on Frank’s goal, his 27th goal of the campaign, as he helped keep the puck in the zone and beat Houser over the shoulder on a quick shot to take the lead. Frank’s tally marks another milestone as he has scored the most goals by a Bears rookie since Craig Fisher tallied 43 during the 1990-91 campaign. Frank leads the AHL in goals scored by a rookie, trailing the league-leaders in goals scored overall by just two. Defender Benton Maass earned his first AHL point with a secondary assist on the goal.
Hershey’s special teams had another memorable outing, as the Bears followed up a perfect night on Friday with another clean sheet on Saturday with some timely saves by Shepard to preserve the lead. The netminder stopped a cumulative 45 of 47 shots across two games.
Shepard was pressed into action for the second straight game after the Washington Capitals called up Zach Fucale due to an injury in their morning skate.
A big win on Hall of Fame Night! Take a look back at the tonight's highlights from a 2-1 victory over Rochester in front of a sold-out GIANT Center. pic.twitter.com/Eg5nOUO26L
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) March 19, 2023
The Bears doubled up the Americans in shots on goal by a 14-7 count in the third period, and although they didn’t score an insurance goal, the effort caught the eye of head coach Todd Nelson, who praised his team’s desire to put the game out of reach.
“What I was happy with was that we had a killer instinct,” Nelson said. “We had some really good, quality chances in the third period to put the game away. It’s a good mentality to have versus just sitting back and waiting for something bad to happen. Any time you can develop that this time of year going into the playoffs, it’s beneficial.”
The last two games were reminiscent of games this Bears group won earlier this season with a smothering defensive effort and a desire to take the win by force.
“We played good enough to win, better than we did last night, which is positive. It seems now that, when we get scored on, our reaction on the next shift, we’re going after them. It’s great to see, it happened the same way in Lehigh Valley on Wednesday night. The guys are learning through these situations.”
The two points helps the Bears keep pace with the first place Providence Bruins and third place Charlotte Checkers, who both earned wins Saturday. It helps move the Bears two points closer to clinching a playoff spot as their magic number entered the day in single digits. The two teams will have a rematch in Rochester Friday night, with the Americans first returning home to host the Syracuse Crunch Tuesday.
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