HERSHEY, Pa. – The Hershey Bears and the Bridgeport Islanders met up at Giant Center for the first matchup between the two teams since February of 2020, but it was business as usual between the teams on a very even contest that went beyond regulation in a 3-2 overtime win. Hershey forward Shane Gersich provided the heroics, beating Islanders goaltender Ken Appleby on a partial breakaway to give the Bears the extra point. Zach Fucale earned the win in goal for Hershey with 22 saves on 24 shots.
It was a tale of three periods at Giant Center, with Hershey owning the advantage in the opening frame posting a 10-1 shot advantage and jumping out to the lead when Gersich scored the first goal. Hershey’s strong forecheck forced a Bridgeport turnover, and Gersich poked the rebound of a Drake Rymsha shot past Appleby as the two combined with Mason Morelli to draw first blood. Although the Islanders would only get one shot on goal, it was as good as the team could have hoped for as Otto Koivula spotted one of the AHL’s leading scorers in Chris Terry on a breakaway, and he’d make no mistake in evening the score at one apiece. The goal was Terry’s 11th of the season and gives him points in four of his last five games.
The middle stanza was the most even of the game, as the teams were nearly even in shots with a slight edge to Hershey. The Bears would get the only goal of the middle frame when Garrett Pilon scored his ninth of the season in his return to the lineup, carrying the puck and firing a laser past Appleby to give Hershey the edge. Pilon had missed time due to COVID protocols along with Kody Clark, and Mike Vecchione returned to the lineup after missing time with an injury to bolster Hershey’s forward group after a difficult December.
Bridgeport continued the momentum built in the second period into the third and established its game, outshooting Hershey 13-4 and evening the game on Erik Brown’s second goal of the season. Felix Bibeau made an excellent centering pass to get the puck to Brown in front of Fucale, and he buried the shot that would ultimately get Bridgeport a point a night after dropping an overtime decision in Lehigh Valley. Fucale settled in and battled well in his first start for the Bears since December 12, particularly after allowing a goal on one shot in the first with a few quality saves.
The two teams battled beyond 60 minutes, and it was a blast of deja vu for Bridgeport in a number of ways in the extra session. With a lot of flowing play and good action, Gersich would win the game on a smart poke check at the Hershey blue line, rushing ahead with pressure by Samuel Bolduc and beat Appleby low through the pads to end the game. The goal was reminiscent of Brian Pinho’s overtime winner in Game 5 of the 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinal between the two teams and was the second straight overtime loss for the Islanders and fourth straight loss overall.
Shane Gersich scored twice, and we started 2022 with a 3-2 overtime win versus Bridgeport. Here are the highlights from today's thriller. pic.twitter.com/vSeDB4xkl3
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) January 2, 2022
“Second period, we knew they would be better, they were and we weren’t,” Bears head coach Scott Allen said after the game. “They scored that goal early in the third and for whatever reason, our back end tightened up a bit and played a little nervous, we didn’t play the way we needed to play. At that point, I’ll be honest with you, I was just looking to get it to overtime because I knew we’d generate and get that second point and that’s what we did.”
Gersich’s two-goal effort continues his recent hot streak after recording three assists in Hershey’s last outing in defeating the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The forward has six points in his last four games and is one point away from matching his season output in the 2020-21 season. On a night where the Providence Bruins dropped the Springfield Thunderbirds and the Rochester Americans edged the Hartford Wolf Pack in regulation, the extra point makes the Atlantic Division race all the more interesting as the Bears and Bruins are both 7-3-0-0 in their last ten games to draw the top four teams to within 0.061 of each other in terms of points percentage. Hershey eclipsed Hartford in points but trails just slightly in terms of percentage as the battle for the division crown heats up in 2022.
Bridgeport will return home to host the Providence Bruins on Wednesday, while Hershey remains at home to take on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. After a tough start to the season, Lehigh Valley has been hot of late with points in seven straight and bringing in a record of 6-0-0-1 in that span, as both teams put a winning streak on the line at Giant Center.
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