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AHL Game Recap/Analysis

Fucale, Bears Blank Comets

Fucale, Bears Blank Comets

UTICA, N.Y. – Going into Friday night’s game between the Hershey Bears and the Utica Comets, it was a big game for Hershey goaltender Zach Fucale. After struggling a bit and losing his last four starts, and the Bears looking to get back into the win column after losing five of their last six games, he stood on his head with 34 saves while Hershey lit the lamp four times on the way to a 4-0 win over host Utica. Akira Schmid suffered the loss in goal with 21 saves, and it was the first time all season that an opponent shut Utica out.

The Bears tallied in all three periods in this one, starting early with a power-play goal from Aliaksei Protas. The “Viper” got the puck from Cody Franson in the right faceoff circle and fired a laser past Schmid that ultimately stood up as the game-winner. Hershey struck again early in the second period when Lucas Johansen sent a perfect pass to Mike Vecchione, celebrating a birthday on this day, and beat the goaltender with a perfect shot. Brian Pinho capitalized on a perfect passing play from Johansen with a sharp shot, the first of two goals. He buried the empty netter as the Comets pulled their goaltender with over six minutes left to seal the deal.

Fucale made 14 saves in the first period and 13 in the third as the most formidable stretches for him to earn his first clean sheet of the season. The difference in this one was that every time the Bears scored a goal, it seemed like Fucale made an incredible save to keep the Comets from potentially changing the game. He stopped Utica’s leading scorer Chase De Leo with key saves several times, most notably in the third period on a great centering feed that saw Fucale go right to left to get an important stop. Hershey got key performances from Vecchione, Protas, Johansen, Pinho, and Mason Morelli, who finished with two points each. The two teams are set to rematch at the Giant Center on Sunday evening, and while the Bears are off on Saturday, the Comets will be playing the Syracuse Crunch.

The win for Hershey helped them in getting back into the Atlantic Division standings race that’s becoming the toughest battle in the American Hockey League for positioning. Hartford earned a win over Springfield in regulation to tighten up the race between two strong teams while Providence earned a 5-1 victory over the Charlotte Checkers, which helped Hershey not only stay pace with the top three but reclaim the fourth spot from Charlotte in the process. The standings look to be as tight as ever, but the win Friday night helped drastically and is the best road performance by the Bears this season.

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