HERSHEY, Pa. – It was game one of 14 between the Hershey Bears and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms as the season series got underway at Giant Center on Sunday afternoon. The series played out as advertised, with the two teams playing a gritty, hard-nosed contest full of vitriol with goals at a premium from the talented youngsters on both sides. In the end, a late power-play goal from Mike Sgarbossa proved to be the difference as the Bears skated off with a 2-1 win. Zach Fucale earned his second win in the last 24 hours with 14 saves on 15 shots, while Samuel Ersson suffered the loss after being returned from the Philadelphia Flyers with 26 saves.
The Phantoms, fresh off of an exhilarating win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Saturday, matched the Bears early in the game but ultimately fell behind for the first time in the season. Rookie forward Hendrix Lapierre tallied his first AHL goal just over a year after tallying his first NHL goal in a brief stint with the Washington Capitals, skating to the top of the right faceoff circle and firing a shot perfectly past Ersson to open the scoring. Fittingly, fellow rookie and close friend Vincent Iorio grabbed his first AHL point on the assist alongside Gabriel Carlsson’s first point as a Bear as another set of players made their impact in Hershey uniforms.
Fittingly, the duo celebrated their first AHL points together in photos posted by the Bears on social media after the game. The second period featured the widest margin of shots on goal for the game, with Hershey firing 12 shots on Ersson to Lehigh Valley’s four, but it’s often the quality chances that outweigh the quantity in hockey, and much as they did on Saturday, the Phantoms took advantage. Rookie forward Elliot Desnoyers used his speed to capitalize on a turnover created by Zack MacEwen, bursting through the Bears defense and beating Fucale with a quick move to even the score at one each. Desnoyers is off to a strong start, tallying his second goal in as many games for the Phantoms while MacEwen has three points in two games.
Both teams were looking for a goal to take the lead in the final frame, and special teams would once again come up large for the Bears along the way to the win. On its sixth power play of the night, Hershey would capitalize at long last when Sgarbossa would be the beneficiary of a double deflection that found its way past a sprawling Ersson. Mike Vecchione would take the original shot that first bounced off of Garrett Pilon and then Sgarbossa at the side of the net. The goal was hardly how new Hershey Bears head coach Todd Nelson would draw it up in his second game but getting the goal after a plethora of beautiful chances gone awry was all that mattered to him after the game.
“It was a constant message on the bench to stick with what we’re doing and stay with it,” Nelson said after the game. “Especially the power play. We had some really good grade-A chances, we hit the post on one with the wide-open net, we had a back-door play that we missed. We could have had at least three power play goals, easy, and then all of a sudden we score on a power play with a goal like that. It’s funny how it works out, right? Once again, if you throw pucks at the net, good things are going to happen.”
“I thought we played a fuller sixty minutes (Sunday). (On Saturday), I thought our second period was not very good at all. Today, we talked about managing the puck at the blue lines, we still had some turnovers at the blue lines that we have to get better at that, and it was better today. We talked about reloading off the puck, basically when we’re in the [offensive zone] when there’s a change of possession, we have to get on our horse and come back and make sure we’re helping our defense. That was better tonight. We saw some improvement, but there’s a way to go yet.”
Nelson credited new goaltending coach Juha Lehtola on the decision to play Fucale in the second game in two days. The coaches consulted with the goaltender and decided to go back to him in a situation where a coach may typically put the second goaltender in.
“He played a great game again. They had flurries right at the end and he stood tall for us. It was a tough game for him because there were parts of the game where he didn’t see a lot of shots, and he had to mentally stay in the game. Those are very tough games with goalies, so it’s a great game for him.”
The Bears had to rely on their penalty kill towards the end of the game as the other half of Hershey’s special teams came up large after not being called upon for the duration of the game, and then spending a large portion of the last three minutes of play down a man. In the end, the Bears held the Phantoms at bay and took the first game of the season series. The two teams are set to duel again in two weeks’ time at the Giant Center on October 30 as the final game of the month. Meanwhile, the Phantoms will be off until Saturday when they open the PPL Center with a pair of games against the Cleveland Monsters, and the Bears will hit the road for a pair of games on Friday and Saturday against the Charlotte Checkers at Bojangle’s Coliseum.
- Rolling Thunder Podcast Episode #11: Kicking Off Season 2
- PHOTOS: Michael King’s Best Photos from the 2022-23 Season
- PHOTOS: (Rookie Faceoff) San Jose Sharks vs. Vegas Golden Knights – 09/16/2023
- PHOTOS: (Rookie Faceoff) Anaheim Ducks vs. Vegas Golden Knights – 09/15/2023
- Andrew Lord Reunites with Former Player in Recent Signing
- PHOTOS: Andrew Fielder’s Best Photos from the 2022-23 Season (Part One)
- The Coast Cast Episode #1: The Maiden Voyage
- PHOTOS: RJ Forbus’ Best Photos from the 2022-2023 Season
- PHOTOS: Héctor Urcia’s Best Photos from the 2022-23 Season
- Greenville Brings Back Former Defenseman