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Bears Outlast Monsters For Stevenson’s First AHL Win

Photo courtesy of Carl Minieri

Bears Outlast Monsters For Stevenson’s First AHL Win

HERSHEY, Pa. – It was a night of overcoming adversity for the Hershey Bears Saturday night against the Cleveland Monsters. Hershey had to return home after their trip to Bridgeport the day prior, and the fatigue may have impacted their start. The Bears found themselves down a few key players on the blue line before the puck dropped and lost more during the game, but a gutsy effort from the group, and a 25 save effort from goaltender Clay Stevenson in his American Hockey League debut, lifted Hershey to a 3-2 win on home ice. Daniil Tarasov took the loss in goal for the Monsters with 22 saves as Cleveland dealt with losing one of their top goaltenders in Jet Greaves after Friday night’s game in Wilkes-Barre.

Cleveland’s league-leading power play broke through Hershey’s strong power play unit with Trey Fix-Wolansky’s 11th goal of the season as he ripped a quick shot past Stevenson. Fix-Wolansky picked up right where he left off after spending time with the Columbus Blue Jackets for just under a month with his first goal since his return, having collected 14 points in four games prior to the callup.

The Bears responded with Mike Sgarbossa’s seventh goal of the season, as a slap-pass from Mason Morelli hit Sgarbossa’s skate at the back door to even the score at one apiece. Sgarbossa registered a multi-point game, and the former 30 goal scorer in Hershey has four goals and nine points in his last five games in an impressive stretch.

The teams weren’t done as Cleveland found the next goal, on the power play once again, with Josh Dunne finishing off a slick passing play from Robbie Payne and Samuel Knazko to jump out in front. The rookie Knazko leads the Monsters’ defense with ten assists while Dunne potted his second goal of the season.

Hershey responded with only 25 seconds to spare in the first period when Aaron Ness scored his first goal in a Bears uniform since March of 2019, letting a shot fly from the point that appeared to change direction and fool Tarasov, sending the teams to the locker room even at two.

The teams traded blows throughout the remainder of regulation, nearly equal in shots on goal, with a slight advantage to the Monsters at 27-25, but the difference-maker came on a review that gave fans about three minutes of inconsequential hockey due to a review. Sam Anas would ultimately score his seventh goal of the season as his shot popped in and out of the netting behind the crossbar and was awarded after a review.

The Bears locked down the rest of the game, killing off two penalties and withstanding a late Monsters push to secure two important points to stay ahead in the Atlantic Division standings with Providence also securing a win.

“This was a hard-fought battle tonight,” Bears head coach Todd Nelson said after the game. “Cleveland was a hungry team that got beat pretty good by Wilkes-Barre last night, they meant business right off the start so we knew there was going to be a push and there was. Once we got into the game it was a very even game, they’re a very good team on the power play and we saw that tonight. You’ve gotta give them credit, they really pushed us back on our heels a bit but then when our guys dug in it was a pretty even game, we got the eventual game-winner in the third. I’m happy for our guys that we pushed through it, we’re pretty fatigued from playing in Bridgeport last night with the longer trip, but the guys found a way and that’s a good sign.”

“We were joking in the coach’s room, I said to the goalie coach Juha [Lehtola], ‘Don’t worry, our team has a tendency of getting our goalies into the game early, we were giving up some pretty big chances early and he was tested early. He allowed two power play goals tonight, five-on-five he had a shutout, I think it was a great first outing for him. It was nice that we got the win to give him confidence but he looked really confident in net. He’s a big body that stops pucks.”

Nelson revealed that scoring defenseman Bobby Nardella exited with an upper-body injury and doesn’t expect him to play on Sunday, adding a cherry on top of a wild night in which the team lost two top defenders prior to the game with Lucas Johansen and captain Dylan McIlrath not present for the game. Although it was not confirmed prior to puck drop, it appears that the duo of defenders is on the way to join the Washington Capitals in Winnipeg for their game on Sunday after former Bear Alex Alexeyev was sidelined on an elbow to the head in Washington’s last game. The loss of Nardella sees injuries and recalls beginning to stack up for the Bears, who lost goaltender Hunter Shepard on a similar incident, and are suddenly without three blue liners.

Hershey continues to find their way with different players stepping to the forefront both on and off the score sheet. One line seems to score when another might cool down, and Hershey’s total team effort has gone a long way to securing wins in tough games like Saturday’s. The Bears are in the midst of a stretch in which they play five games in eight days, with the set coming to a close in Sunday’s rematch between the two teams.

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