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Bears Drop Checkers in Season Opener

Bears Drop Checkers in Season Opener

HERSHEY, Pa. – The Hershey Bears returned to regular season play at Giant Center in a big way before a crowd of 7,588 fans, defeating the visiting Charlotte Checkers by a 5-2 count for their first opening day win since 2015. The Bears had a little bit of everything against a new group of Checkers skaters that entered play, not having skated in a preseason game yet this season. Garrett Pilon and Mike Sgarbossa led the way with a goal and two assists each, and Pheonix Copley made 13 saves on 15 shots, while Chris Gibson made 29 of 34 stops.

The Bears opened the scoring less than four minutes into the game when Pilon fired a cross-ice pass to an open Lucas Johansen, sneaking in off his defensive position for his first goal since April 13, 2019. The Checkers responded rapidly when Aleksi Heponiemi broke through the Bears defenders on a rush on the power play and lifted the puck past Copley to equalize less than three minutes later. Despite incurring the game’s first three minor penalties, the Bears held together nicely and responded on a power play of their own when Brett Leason found a rebound in front of Gibson and stashed a backhand past him to claim the lead once more.

In the second period, the teams traded goals once more when Kody Clark made a subtle but perfect deflection of a Mike Vecchione shot for Hershey’s second power-play goal of the contest. Clark now has goals in each of Hershey’s last two season openers and found some success driving the net-front on the power play. Charlotte responded with a goal from Alexander True on a shot that seemed to knuckle a bit on its way past Copley to draw the visitors back to within a goal. The most impressive statistic of both the second and third periods was the shot differential, as the Bears outshot the Checkers by a 13-2 count in each of those stanzas. The final count was 34-15 in favor of the home team.

With the game still in reach for the visitors, the Bears turned up the heat in the third period starting moments in with Sgarbossa’s first goal of the season. His shot seemed to drop just a bit on its way to Gibson but gave the Bears a two-goal cushion to work with. Hershey’s forechecking pressure gave Charlotte fits in the final frame, as much of the period seemed to take place in the visiting team’s zone. The hard work eventually culminated in a gritty goal for Pilon, who jabbed a rebound of Sgarbossa’s shot past Gibson to open up the largest lead of the night that stood as the final count.

“It’s a full buy-in right now,” Bears head coach Scott Allen said after his first win behind the bench in Hershey. “Our guys from day one talked about the importance of building our foundation and how we want to play our game the right way, no cheat, and it’s a tough way to play night in and night out with that kind of pressure, but certainly it’s three-zone pressure, and our guys’ sticks were tremendous.”

The Bears won without the services of captain Matt Moulson, who was unable to play due to a suspension he incurred at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season. One key area Allen pinpointed during his postgame media availability was their discipline, where the Bears did not take a penalty for the game’s final two periods. Hershey struck twice in six tries, while Charlotte had one goal on three opportunities. The Bears return to action on Sunday afternoon in a matchup with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms at Giant Center, while the Checkers travel to battle the Penguins at Mohegan Sun Arena.

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