HERSHEY, Pa. – Wednesday night hockey in Hershey had a little bit of everything between the Bears and the visiting Lehigh Valley Phantoms as two teams put their winning streaks on the line in the fourth matchup of the season. The Phantoms rallied from a 3-0 deficit to send the game to overtime, but leading Bears scorer Joe Snively put a halt to the comeback with his second goal of the night to give Hershey a 4-3 win. The win is Hershey’s fourth straight and lifts them into second place in the Atlantic Division, within striking distance of first place.
The Phantoms were playing a very different roster after key players like Isaac Ratcliffe, Cal O’Reilly, and Maksim Sushko out of the lineup at the last moment due to COVID-19 protocols. Lehigh Valley would dress just nine forwards, with Mason Millman and Ryan MacKinnon playing forward to give the Phantoms a full lineup. Although goaltenders Kirill Ustimenko and Felix Sandstrom were assigned to Lehigh Valley from Philadelphia, neither were available for the game and instead left the crease to Pat Nagle opposing Zach Fucale for the Bears.
The odd lineup seemed to have an effect, as Hershey scored just 17 seconds in with Snively’s ninth of the season. Hershey’s top trio of Snively, Garrett Pilon, and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby did the damage on the play to extend Snively’s incredible scoring streak, extending his scoring streak to four games. Pilon had an excellent saucer pass to spot Snively on the back door. Hershey doubled the lead minutes later when Shane Gersich scored a nearly identical goal to his opening tally on Sunday, chipping a rebound of Drake Rymsha’s shot past Nagle. The Bears took a 15-4 shot advantage after one period and seemed to be in control. Dylan McIlrath recorded his 100th AHL point on the assist.
A difference-maker in the game happened to be a highly irregular goal that Bears head coach Scott Allen attributed to the team’s strong forechecking mentality rather than any kind of fluke. Jonsson-Fjallby was rewarded with his seventh goal of the season when Nagle’s clearing attempt struck defender Cooper Zech in the head, and instead shot straight back between Nagle’s pads and on a platter for the Swedish Hershey forward to slide into the net. The very unusual goal put the Bears up by three, a mark they have not attained in the season series to this point.
— Bears Hockey Nation (@HBHNationBlog) January 6, 2022
“No disrespect to the word fluke, but it’s not a fluke goal,” Allen said when asked about the goal. “We forecheck a certain way when the goalie’s got the puck, and that’s what Axel did, and he was rewarded for playing the right way.”
However, much like Lehigh Valley did to the Utica Comets on New Year’s Eve, the Phantoms simply kept playing and chipped away Hershey’s lead. Linus Sandin got the ball rolling by burying a perfect pass by Matthew Strome for his first goal of the season, and Charlie Gerard would score his second of the season only 42 seconds into the final frame to bring the Phantoms to within one. Just when it seemed like Hershey would run the visitors out of time, Egor Zamula scored his third goal of the season through traffic off a quick setup with 16 seconds left to send the game to extra time. Much like the game on Sunday against Bridgeport, it seemed like Hershey played its best hockey in the first half of the contest and didn’t bring the same energy to the back half of the game.
One big key to Hershey’s success this season has been the team’s ability to find wins in the three aside extra session, and that lifted them to the win for the second straight game tonight. Snively found his tenth goal of the season, collecting a loose puck off the rush and burying it past Nagle less than a minute in to send the Hershey faithful home happy in this one. The Phantoms continue to earn points, now 6-0-0-2 in their last eight games while the Bears earned their fourth win in a row.
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) January 6, 2022
“We knew what we were getting,” Allen said after the game. “Sure enough, they didn’t quit. Would I like to have seen a better end result and win that game in regulation? 100%. Again, we’re going to continue to learn from these situations and will learn from it.”
Allen gave the Phantoms a lot of credit for their performance in the game. “I certainly give credit to that team, they’re tough to play against. They play a certain way, they actually play similar to how we play, and when two teams that play a similar style go up against each other, that’s usually your toughest opponent. We wanted to up the ante, and play closer to a complete game, and I thought we played closer but there’s still room for improvement, no doubt about it.”
The win for Hershey evens the season series at two wins apiece through four games, with ten still to be played between the two rivals. Hershey certainly has gaps to be corrected heading into three games in as many nights this weekend, including two games at home against the rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
The Phantoms could easily have won the game had the unfortunate third goal not gone in, and getting a point isn’t quite the result they would like, it still speaks to the team’s resilience into a potential playoff spoiler in the spring. Hershey will travel to Syracuse on Friday before hosting the Penguins on Saturday and Sunday, while Lehigh Valley plays a pair of games in Providence against the Bruins on Friday and Sunday.
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