PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Another day, another matchup between the Hershey Bears and the Providence Bruins as the two Atlantic Division rivals finished off a weekend set of games between the two at Amica Mutual Pavilion, and it was another debacle for the visiting Bears. The Bruins tallied four goals in just over half of the first period and were led by a hat trick and a five-point effort from Vinni Lettieri in taking a 5-3 decision and extending their point lead to three for first place. Hershey drops its third straight game in another debacle as Hunter Shepard was pulled after four goals, taking the loss with four goals against on nine shots with Zach Fucale stopping all 28 shots the rest of the way. Kyle Keyser won with 32 saves.
The story of the game was, of course, Lettieri. One of Providence’s top scorers and major factors in Providence’s success this season as a whole, the forward has been out with injury since the end of January, making his return in Friday’s loss to the Springfield Thunderbirds and missing Saturday’s tilt. Lettieri went to work immediately, scoring six seconds into Providence’s first power play and following up on it less than three minutes later, then getting the primary assist on John Beecher’s seventh goal of the year. Lettieri sent the hats flying before the first period was scarcely halfway over, moving his goal total up to 19 on the campaign and scarcely missed on scoring with three goals on five total shots on net.
A Vinni Lettieri (@AHLBruins) hat trick all in the first period of #HERvsPRO 🤩 pic.twitter.com/S9IPdHzY2v
— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) March 12, 2023
Hershey would make a game of it despite the horrendous start, with Mike Vecchione striking for his 20th of the season on a well-executed power play. Vecchione, a native of Saugus, Massachusetts, had plenty of family in attendance for the game and rewarded them with the finish on another quickly executed power play. Hershey got the last goal of six in the opening period when Aaron Ness swatted a rebound past Keyser after the Providence keeper made the initial save for his third of the season. Ness spent last season in a Bruins sweater and found the back of the net against his old team.
Mike Vecchione scores his 20th of the season with family in attendance. #HERvsPRO pic.twitter.com/eLP2ch0x80
— Bears Hockey Nation (@HBHNationBlog) March 12, 2023
The visiting Bears made a game of it early in the third period when Henry Rybinski fired a rebound of a smart shot by Shane Gersich to cut the lead to just one goal, but that’s as close as they’d get with the Bruins adding an empty net goal for a successful home weekend sweep. It’s the third straight loss for the Bears, who are now in danger of being surpassed by the Charlotte Checkers for the second-place spot in the Atlantic Division if they can’t muster up some points down the stretch. It’s a far cry from the team in December that led the entire American Hockey League at the time. Among notable performances by the Bruins, former Bear Connor Carrick had three assists while three others had two-point games.
Hershey still has 15 games remaining on the schedule to try and sort things out, including one more matchup in Providence where the team hasn’t won since late January of 2020. That schedule includes a pair of games against the Charlotte Checkers at Giant Center, three matchups of the slate that are important measuring-stick games for the Bears. The tests continue for the Chocolate and White on Wednesday and Friday when the Bears face off with the hot Lehigh Valley Phantoms, who have won four straight games going into the week. The Bruins host the Syracuse Crunch on Wednesday night in another important divisional tilt as the battle for the playoffs continues.
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