HERSHEY, Pa. – In the lone matchup at Giant Center between the Hershey Bears and the Belleville Senators this season, it’d be hard to suspect it was the first matchup between the two squads since November 30, 2019. The two teams scrapped their way in a back-and-forth contest that saw the Bears erase a Senators lead in the third period and take a 5-4 decision. Special teams factored in heavily in this one as the Bears went three for five on the power play while the Senators scored twice on five opportunities. Hunter Shepard earned the win with 26 saves while Mads Sogaard suffered the loss with 30 stops.
The drama built early in the first as the Bears scored on a two-man advantage as Mike Vecchione scored his 11th of the season, but the Senators would respond with a power-play goal of their own from Hugo Roy, who buried a one-timer with seconds to spare on the man advantage. Hershey would regain the lead with a nifty deflection goal from Marcus Vela just past the halfway point, but controversy struck when Dylan McIlrath was tossed from the game with a five-minute major and game misconduct for slashing Jake Lucchini. The Senators struck once on the extended power play with Egor Sokolov doing the honors and evening the score at the first intermission.
— Jon Sorensen (@jon_m_sorensen) February 13, 2022
Bears head coach Scott Allen declined to discuss the penalty during his postgame press conference but called it a rallying point for his team particularly after a lackluster effort on Friday.
“Dylan McIlrath is the type of guy who puts it on the line every night,” he said. “Not only for himself, but for every single one of his teammates and that Hershey Bears logo that he wears so proudly. So I truly think our guys rallied around and wanted to pick him up and let them know that they weren’t going to let this one slip away even when we fell behind in the third period there, we found a way to tie the game and get the eventual game-winner. Certainly very proud of our guys, the way they responded.”
After trading goals in the middle stanza between a power-play goal for Aliaksei Protas in his second game since returning from the Washington Capitals and a goal from Chris Wilkie, the Bears found themselves behind early in the third when Logan Shaw created a turnover in his own zone and beat Shepard through the blocker side to give the Senators a 4-3 lead. The Bears tilted the ice, taking a 12-6 shot advantage in the third, and broke through when Mason Morelli slid a loose puck through Sogaard’s pads to even the score at four. Just under two minutes later, the Bears seized the lead when Cody Franson scored his fifth of the season from the point through traffic on the power play, and Hershey made the lead stand up despite a late penalty kill.
Allen emphasized a character win for the Bears after a disappointing game on Friday that he called imposters in Bears uniforms. The Bears are set for a quick turnaround to cap the weekend with another trip to Lehigh Valley, where the Chocolate and White have yet to win a game in three tries. Protas, Vecchione, Franson, and Vela all finished with a goal and an assist in this game and helped keep pace in the tight divisional standings that saw Springfield pick up a win over Providence and Hartford snagging an overtime decision.
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