HERSHEY, Pa. – Down three critical players in the third period of a scoreless game against the Bridgeport Islanders, the Hershey Bears dug deep and secured a pivotal pair of points in the Atlantic Division race.
Mike Vecchione scored on a power play in overtime to cap a comeback effort for the Bears, who lost Garrett Pilon, Mike Sgarbossa, and Alex Alexeyev over the course of the contest. Pheonix Copley earned the win in goal with 26 saves, while Jakub Skarek suffered the loss with 33 saves.
The contest was scoreless through two periods, with the teams trading close chances. Hershey lost several key players over the course of the game, including Sgarbossa, who returned to the lineup for the first time in two months after being swapped for Joe Snively by the Washington Capitals. Sgarbossa left after taking a tough check from behind into the boards, holding his shoulder and collar area, while Pilon initially returned to play after sustaining a big check in front of the Hershey bench. Alexeyev did not return to the game in the third period, leaving the Bears without two-thirds of their top line and one of their top defensemen.
Bridgeport opened the scoring in the third period on what has quickly become a standard type of matchup between these two teams over the past few years. Thomas Hickey opened the scoring after a hard forecheck, and a few good chances left him alone in the slot to tally his third goal of the season. Hershey countered on the power play when Shane Gersich rifled a blast from the right circle that Skarek mostly stopped but slid through to even the score at one. Jake Massie earned his first AHL point with an assist as he joined the power play unit missing a big piece like Alexeyev. The big night on special teams continued overtime with Vecchione’s winner in a similar type of play, with the right-handed shooter firing from the left circle to end the game in the extra session.
Shane Gersich tied the game in the third period, and Mike Vecchione struck for the overtime winner to lead us to a 2-1 win over Bridgeport tonight. #HBH pic.twitter.com/QpzCobC4EI
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) January 30, 2022
“That might have been our best win of the season, all things considered,” Bears head coach Scott Allen said after the game. “What we had to go through, we started the game with a lineup and ended up with a much different lineup with some significant players lost throughout the course of the game. Bridgeport came into this weekend with one game to play, so it’s usually pretty easy to rally the troops and get a full buy-in for 60 minutes and know the intensity they’re capable of playing. They threw the kitchen sink at us, Pheonix Copley was en fuego, it was unbelievable, and it gave us a chance. A tremendous, gutsy performance from our guys.”
Allen did not have an immediate update on the three injured players but named them as “more than day-by-day” injuries, meaning the Bears will likely throw a much different lineup on the ice on Sunday. Allen was pleased with his team so far as Saturday’s game marked the midway point of the season but feels there is room for improvement. The Bears combined their win with a regulation loss for the Hartford Wolf Pack to rotate into first place in the tight Atlantic Division race, but now face a Lehigh Valley group at PPL Center on Sunday evening.
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