HERSHEY, Pa. – Hershey Bears head coach Todd Nelson dressed the same lineup as he did in the team’s 7-3 loss to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for Tuesday night’s game against the Charlotte Checkers to see how the team would respond to the challenge of bouncing back. Although the coach was far from pleased with his team’s performance, they showed plenty of character in handing the visiting Checkers a 4-2 loss to keep an Atlantic Division foe at bay in the standings. Zach Fucale, who was chased halfway through the previous game, was named the first star of Tuesday’s game with 34 saves while Alex Lyon suffered the loss with 19 saves.
It was a fairly even start to the first period, with both teams nearly even in shots on goal but no scoring until the second period. Hershey jumped out to the lead when Hendrix Lapierre drove to the net and tapped in a feed from Henry Rybinski to open the scoring. The goal is Lapierre’s seventh of the season, continuing a great pace for Hershey’s top rookie scorer. The Bears doubled their lead with a pair of fortunate bounces as Sam Anas scored his sixth of the season by throwing the puck to the net from the corner, glancing the shoulder of a Charlotte defender and beating Lyon. Less than twenty seconds later, Bobby Nardella tallied his third goal of the season on a point shot that hit a defender’s shin pad to open up a 3-0 Hershey lead after two periods.
However, longtime viewers of the Bears and Checkers games in recent times know that a 3-0 lead is not only the worst lead in hockey, but the worst lead for the Bears to have in this matchup as the Checkers have already come back from a 3-0 deficit against the Chocolate and White in the current season series as well as another time in the calendar year of 2022.
It seemed to be following that same script as the Checkers got two goals in the third, the first coming just 18 seconds in on a shorthanded goal for Connor Bunnaman, set up nicely by Riley Nash. The Checkers pulled to within a goal at the seven-minute mark with Nash’s seventh of the season, burying a rebound in front of Fucale to put the fans at Giant Center on edge. Nash’s performance netted him the third-star honor for the game.
This year’s Bears team put a stop to the story, as the team survived a late penalty kill and buried the game as Shane Gersich unselfishly opted to feed Mike Vecchione for an empty net goal to make it 4-2. Among Bears players to chip in, both Mason Morelli and Rybinski tallied a pair of assists, with the latter grabbing second star honors with Hershey’s keeper earning the top honors in an impressive bounce-back performance.
“Tonight’s game, we got some breaks and scored some goals and I thought Zach Fucale played a great game for us and got us two points,” Nelson said after the game. “We were able to score into the empty net. You have to give Charlotte a lot of credit, they worked extremely hard and won the lion’s share of puck battles tonight, we addressed it, but you gotta give them credit, they played a heck of a hockey game. We got them down 3-0, they never quit, and suddenly it’s a 3-2 game. I’m happy and relieved that we got the two points tonight. We found a way to win, but we could be a lot better.”
“I wanted to see how that group reacted after they were challenged yesterday,” Nelson said of his group. “We’ll talk as a staff, figure there will be some changes going into next game. Let’s face it, Lapierre’s line was really good tonight, the other lines, they’re okay, so we want four lines firing on all cylinders and right now we don’t have that. So, we’ll talk about it as a coaching staff and see what our best lineup is for our team going into Bridgeport.”
The win gives the Bears a five-point lead over the Checkers in the standings and adds a bit of extra intrigue to Friday’s matchup in Bridgeport as Hershey holds a two-point lead over the Islanders heading into the game. The weekend features a home-and-home set between the Islanders and Providence Bruins once Friday’s matchup is history, making the points available to the Bears essential as they look to climb back into first place in the Atlantic Division. Charlotte looks to continue to play catchup with two games at PPL Center against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms as divisional play heats up this weekend.
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