HERSHEY, Pa. – It wasn’t your typical ending to a set of three games in as many nights for both the Hershey Bears and the visiting Cleveland Monsters. Both teams put on some miles and saw plenty of lineup changes going into this game, but both teams got to show off their potent offensive capabilities in this one. Despite a 5-1 lead for the Bears on home ice, where the Chocolate and White have rarely lost, the Monsters chipped away at the lead and sent the game into overtime and eventually a shootout. Josh Dunne had two goals and the shootout winner. Zach Fucale suffered the loss in goal with 29 saves while Pavel Cajan earned the win with 28 stops.
All told, it was an offensive explosion for the Bears in the first twenty minutes with a pair of enforcers getting on the board for both teams. Kale Kessy opened the scoring with his second goal of the season, chipping a loose puck past Cajan for the opening strike. Hershey followed that one up less than a minute later with Mike Vecchione’s tenth goal of the season as the Bears seemed to be pushing the play.
Hershey scored another pair of goals in rapid succession as Ethen Frank jumped on a loose puck before Cajan could cover it for his eighth goal of the season, followed up by Connor McMichael’s third goal of the season on a slick move in front of the net. What could be seen as a turning point of the game came late as the Monsters got on the board with a fortunate bounce to Dunne for the first goal of the night for Cleveland.
The Bears seemed intent on putting the goal behind them as McMichael scored another laser on the power play early in the second to make it 5-1. The Monsters rattled off four straight goals after McMichael’s tally, starting with David Jiricek’s fourth goal of the season, which was followed quickly by a goal from longtime tough guy Brett Gallant, his first of the season.
Gallant and Kessy dropped the mitts in an old-fashioned fight in the same building that Gallant once fought former Bears enforcer Joel Rechlicz during the 2010-11 season.
Brendan Gaunce would continue the scoring with his seventh goal of the season, swatting a rebound past Fucale to make it 5-4 seconds into a power play. Cleveland tied the game after Owen Sillinger’s point shot hit Dunne in the backside to even the score at five.
The two teams tightened up for the final frame, with no goal scored between the two teams after five in each of the preceding two periods. The game eventually fell to a skills competition after neither team scored in overtime, and Cleveland won the game in the fourth round of the shootout.
It’s the latest in a bizarre series of breakdowns by the Bears recently, only a week after the team allowed seven goals in a loss to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. This time, the Bears did earn a point at the tail end of a set of five games in eight days. When combined with their personnel losses and the way the weekend has been, it put the loss in perspective a bit to head coach Todd Nelson.
Connor McMichael had two goals and one more in the shootout as we grab a point, but Cleveland took this one, 6-5, on Sunday at GIANT Center. pic.twitter.com/JKfXDYgLOw
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) December 12, 2022
“I thought we had a great first period and then we stopped playing,” Nelson said after the game. “It’s starting to sound like a broken record to me. It’s up to the guys in the room, especially our leadership group, to take control of that situation and we keep on playing. Give Cleveland credit, we had them down by three, four goals and they storm back and end up getting two points. That’s something that [the players] have to handle in the room, as coaches you can talk about it, it’s up to them to work on it. Other than that, we got a point, seven out of eight points this week is not a bad thing. We’re disappointed, but I think Providence lost so we’re at the top of the standings, so things could be a lot worse.”
“Teams that are championship teams, they keep playing because they want more. That’s our goal here is to win a championship, but it’s human nature sometimes to think it’s going to be easy for the rest of the game, but it’s not. All you did is woke up a lion because we let up a late goal that gave them life, and I guarantee that their coach probably ripped them a new one in there. We knew they were going to come, we talked about it with the guys and they just outworked us. The one power play goal ricocheted off of something, but that’s karma. If you cheat the game, it’s going to hurt you. The bottom line is that it’s disappointing, we put ourselves in the driver’s seat in the first period and stopped working. That’s what it came down to. There’s 31 teams looking up at us, so things could be a lot worse, we got seven out of eight points, but it’s the way that the game went tonight, that’s the disappointing thing.”
“We need to learn from it, and we have to. I talked to the guys in the room and said it’s a losing [formula] for a first-round knockout in the playoffs. It really is. We have to overcome that. The leadership group has to hold guys accountable in the room and move forward.”
As Nelson mentioned, the Bears did get some help out of town to maintain their positioning at the top of the Atlantic Division, and the American Hockey League as a whole, as the Providence Bruins lost to the Bridgeport Islanders in regulation to allow the Bears to technically gain ground in the race despite only picking up a point. Hershey did get some good news, although it did not impact the game, as captain Dylan McIlrath was reassigned to the Bears after the briefest of stints with the Washington Capitals, giving the team a valuable addition back on the blue line that’s been decimated by injury and recall.
The Bears will be idle until a pair of games on Friday and Saturday in Wilkes-Barre before hosting the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Sunday, while the Monsters host the Laval Rocket for a pair of games on Saturday and Sunday.
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