HERSHEY, Pa. – It was a matchup of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference at Giant Center on Friday as the Hershey Bears played host to the Toronto Marlies. The Bears scored three times in the first two periods and held off a surge from the Marlies to secure a 4-3 win on home ice. Mason Morelli’s pair highlighted the scoring outburst from Hershey, and the team overcame some adversity with lineup changes for a 4-3 win. Zach Fucale earned a win that goes beyond the stat line a bit with 22 saves, while Keith Petruzzelli made 27 stops in the loss.
The Bears opened the game with a different look to their blue line with some recalls from their National Hockey League affiliate, the Washington Capitals, who were forced to recall both Vincent Iorio and Gabriel Carlsson to replenish their defensive group in San Jose. That left the Bears to insert their available defenders as well as Michael Kim on recall from their ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays, in addition to regular depth defenders Logan Day and Jake Massie, who continue to be invaluable to the team.
Aaron Ness breaks up a two-on-one down low and sends the puck the other way for Mike Sgarbossa to bury his 19th of the season! #TORvsHER pic.twitter.com/avSeQSrddN
— Bears Hockey Nation (@HBHNationBlog) March 4, 2023
Hershey did an excellent job dictating the pace in the opening stanza, outshooting Toronto 11-4. Mason Morelli tallied his first goal of the game, tucking a rebound of a point shot from Day in on the backhand to make it 1-0. The Bears would score again only 31 seconds later, courtesy of a great defensive play by Aaron Ness, who broke up a two-on-one rush in his own zone and fired a lead pass up to Mike Sgarbossa, who beat Petruzzelli to make it 2-0. The Bears capped off an excellent middle stanza with Mike Vecchione’s 19th goal of the season, burying a feed from Joe Snively to give the home team a 3-0 edge after 40 minutes.
However, the Marlies would make a hard push in the third period, starting with Marc Johnstone capitalizing on an errant clearing attempt and burying the puck top shelf to cut into the lead. Hershey would seemingly put the game out of reach when Morelli deflected a shot from Connor McMichael on the power play to make it 4-1. The penalty itself was an unusual one on Toronto as Marshall Rifai retaliated on a hit by Sgarbossa by launching the Bears’ scorer into the open bench door, which would be ruled as a game misconduct. The Bears would get three minutes of the five-minute major where Morelli scored.
Replay of the dangerous hit by Rifai on Sgarbossa. #TORvsHER pic.twitter.com/5wsZrlIXcl
— Bears Hockey Nation (@HBHNationBlog) March 4, 2023
The Marlies edge closer, thanks to goals from Pontus Holmberg and Johnstone’s second of the game with only eight seconds to spare in regulation. The third goal appeared to have been hit with a high stick on the way in, but it was ultimately ruled a good goal, bringing the final score to 4-3 Hershey. The stat line on Fucale’s night was misleading in that he made quality saves over quantity, most notably a penalty shot save on Kyle Clifford and more than one breakaway save.
Among other noteworthy accomplishments in the game, Vecchione’s multi-point night helped him eclipse his previous single-season best set with the Bears a year ago with 45. Two more goals and two more assists will even Vecchione up with his previous highs in both categories, and his production with the Bears no doubt helped the two-year American Hockey League extension for the forward an easy choice. Morelli is only one point away from matching his career-high point production set a season ago, and Sgarbossa continues to be red hot with five points in his last two games.
“I thought we played a pretty good game,” Bears head coach Todd Nelson said. “The first 40 minutes was really strong for our hockey team. We played with emotion and intensity and I liked that quite a bit. The third, once again, Fucale made some unbelievable saves for us tonight.”
The scene shifts for Hershey to the last game in their homestand against the Providence Bruins in a matchup of the top two teams in the Atlantic Division. Two points for the Bears gave them a three-point edge over the Bruins for first place and further increases the importance of the point swing in Saturday’s contest, which will mark the first of three straight games between the two foes before shifting to Providence next weekend. The two teams split a pair of games to end December, and it figures to be a playoff-like atmosphere at Giant Center tonight.
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