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Gersich’s Pair Lift Bears Past Penguins

The Hershey Bears and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Saturday night at Giant Center, with two old rivals fighting it out with more complete rosters in this edition of the season series

Gersich’s Pair Lift Bears Past Penguins

HERSHEY, Pa. – It was matchup six out of 12 between the Hershey Bears and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Saturday night at Giant Center, with two old rivals fighting it out with more complete rosters in this edition of the season series. The Bears scored once in each period and goaltender Hunter Shepard posted 20 saves for his second AHL shutout for a 3-0 win. Shane Gersich continued his hot play with two goals while Mike Vecchione and Mason Morelli each posted a pair of points in the win. Hershey has won all six of the matchups between the two teams this season.

The Bears came into play missing a number of lineup regulars following Friday night’s loss in Syracuse. Lucas Johansen, Bobby Nardella, and Kale Kessy were all unavailable after sustaining injuries in the game, according to head coach Scott Allen, along with Ryan Dmowski missing Saturday’s contest. In their absence, Macoy Erkamps and Jake Massie jumped into the lineup as a duo while Colby McAuley made his Bears debut alongside the return of Christopher Brown to game action.

On the other side, Wilkes-Barre came to town fresh off of taking the Eastern Conference-leading Utica Comets to a shootout on Friday, with new trade acquisition Alex Nylander posting a pair of assists in that game and Radim Zohorna supplying extra offensive punch for the Penguins.

After a strong opening for the Penguins, it would be the Bears turning the tide with Gersich’s first of the game and seventh of the season. Vecchione and Morelli teamed up with the former making a centering feed to Gersich at the side of the net where he’d lift the puck past Alex D’Orio to open the scoring. The right-wing side of the net has become Gersich’s office at Giant Center of late, as a number of his goals have come from that spot recently. Shepard did his part to keep the Penguins off the board as the visitors fired a team-best 11 shots in the opening period of play, and came up large when needed with a great diving glove save to preserve the clean sheet. Hershey fired 36 shots at D’Orio in the game.

Both teams saw plenty of chances on special teams, as each team had six power-play opportunities, but the lone goal to be cashed in was Vecchione’s fourth of the season. Vecchione controlled a great pass by Joe Snively at the back door on a two-man advantage to double Hershey’s lead. The helper for Snively was his 19th of the season and extends his point streak to six games, and gives him points in 13 of his last 15 games, good for ten goals and 16 assists in his last 19 games. The Bears would blank the Penguins on six opportunities in the game.

To Hershey’s credit, the Bears really clamped down and played a full 60-minute game in this one. At times, the team has seen games lost in subpar stretches of games, with Friday’s loss an example of how that can be lethal. Saturday’s game was anything but, with the Bears outlasting a Penguins team that put in a strong effort.

Gersich would reap the rewards of the strong play with his second of the game when he and Morelli teamed up once again to put a third shot past D’Orio on the rebound with a little help from the glove of defender Chris Bigras to seal the win for the Chocolate and White. The goal continues a hot streak for Gersich, who has struck for five goals in four games and has eight points in his last five games. The forward has already surpassed his totals from 2020-21, and is eight assists away from matching his single-season best from his rookie season in 2018-19 at 24 points.

“I thought it was a great bounce back win for us,” Bears head coach Scott Allen said after the game. “Last night, we had a hard fought, tough, unfortunate loss for us, not only the two points but lost three players due to injury. For us to regroup, have four new guys in the lineup tonight…I thought they came out in the first few minutes and we had to settle in, but then after that, we did what we needed to do to take over the game. Telltale was they had nine shots between the second and third period, Shane Gersich himself had eight shots on net, pretty impressive performance.”

Allen also addressed the improvement in team discipline since their return from the COVID shutdown:

“When we came back from the COVID shutdown that we had, we really addressed a lack of discipline. We weren’t a very disciplined hockey team and were taking some bad penalties. We talked lots about it, we did a project with the team, and to their credit, they’ve stuck to their guns. You’re going to have one-offs every once in a while, and hopefully, tonight was that case, certainly don’t want to take six penalties.”

The two teams will rematch this evening at Giant Center for the seventh matchup of the season. Hershey will be wrapping up a stretch of four games in five nights dating back to Wednesday’s win over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and includes their furthest travel in January to Syracuse on Friday.

In news related to the Bears, goaltender Zach Fucale made NHL history for the Washington Capitals in his second start to set a new record for shutout streak to start his NHL career. The streak had an oddity involved as the Capitals scored on themselves with the net empty, not counting against Fucale but would have prevented him from recording a second shutout.

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