HERSHEY, Pa. – The Hershey Bears and the Providence Bruins met up with both seeking to finish 2022 on a high note on Saturday. For the second straight game, it was a playoff-like atmosphere inside of Giant Center as the two teams found a bit more scoring, but ultimately Chris Wagner’s third-period goal stood up as the winner in a 4-3 decision. Keith Kinkaid earned a steak dinner to start 2023 with 38 saves, while Hunter Shepard suffered his first regulation loss of the season with 17 stops.
The Bears opened the scoring quickly with their fastest goal of the year, with Ethen Frank swatting a rebound past Kinkaid only 27 seconds into the game. Hershey has had a knack for scoring quick goals, but none were faster than Frank’s 12th of the year. Mike Sgarbossa and Mike Vecchione registered assists to continue their recent hot streaks in points.
Providence weathered the storm and was opportunistic, tying it at one with Luke Toporowski’s tenth goal of the season as he’d chip a backhand shot from the blue line that floated through the defense and eluded Shepard to even the count at one. It was a trend of unusual goals as Jakub Lauko tallied his fourth of the year on a bizarrely accurate shot that hit Shepard in the side of the mask and dropped in for the goal. Just two minutes later, Providence took the lead with two players downed in the crease, preventing Shepard from seeing Marc McLaughlin’s shot. Since the Bears initiated the contact, the goal stood and suddenly the visitors sported a 3-1 lead.
Hershey battled back, starting with Frank’s second goal of the game on the power play as he’d be the recipient of a fortunate bounce to find himself alone with the puck to cut the lead to one. The Bears tied the game with Kevin O’Neil burying a Sgarbossa feed on the power play in the third for his first American Hockey League goal in just his second game in a Bears uniform. Sgarbossa registered assists on all three of Hershey’s goals in another impressive performance.
Sometimes in hockey, it’s not how much a team’s power play performs, but what it does when it matters most. The Bruins got a chance shortly after the tying goal and buried Wagner’s ninth of the year that, ultimately stood up as the winner. Providence snapped Hershey’s five-game winning streak and pulled to within four points of first place in the Atlantic Division with a solid end to their road trip.
Ethen Frank struck twice and Kevin O'Neil scored his first AHL goal, but Providence posted a 4-3 victory tonight at GIANT Center. Here are the highlights. pic.twitter.com/RicFi8LOYY
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) January 1, 2023
“I think we played a pretty good hockey game,” Bears head coach Todd Nelson said after the game. “We had a couple bad breaks around both nets, the first goal was a seeing-eye shot from the blue line. The second goal was a shot from below the goal line off our goalie and in the net. Those things happen, right? We thought we scored a goal in the third but the referees waved it off and it’s one that we can’t challenge. We put up 41 shots against a pretty good hockey team, and I’m happy with the way the guys played.”
“He’s a smart hockey player, he’s skilled,” Nelson said of O’Neil. “From watching him the last time he was called up, I liked what I saw in practice. His goal is a nice goal, nice feed from Sgarbossa and as you said, Kinkaid is playing so well that it was a really nice shot to beat him. Kinkaid was the difference-maker tonight, but it’s nice to know that guys can come into our organization and play twell.”
The Bears will enjoy a full week away from game action to hopefully try and get healthy again. Hershey’s list of players affected by injury and illness has been extensive, and with players set to potentially return to their National Hockey League affiliate in Washington, Hershey’s situation should hopefully improve in the midst of a season-high save game home stand. As Nelson mentioned, the Bears had plenty of chances and a lot of shots but fell short by a shot. Factoring out the fluke goals, this very well could have been a Bears win. Hershey is in action on Saturday when they host the Charlotte Checkers.
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