HERSHEY, Pa. – It was the final matchup of the season between the Charlotte Checkers and the Hershey Bears before a solid crowd at Giant Center on a Tuesday night with both teams seeking valuable points. Special teams were the name of the game as both teams tallied multiple power play goals, but the Checkers were one better by dealing the Bears a 4-3 loss on home ice. Cameron Morrison tallied two goals including the eventual game-winner as the top star of the night. Hunter Shepard took the loss in goal with 20 saves while Mack Guzda recorded a win with 24 saves.
With the unusual day of the week for the game and heavily different rosters in contrast to what will likely be fielded in the Calder Cup Playoffs next week, the two teams were searching for chemistry in much of this game. Morrison, who only had five goals in 33 games played this season, got the party started with his first of the game by deflecting a shot past Shepard from point blank range. Hershey countered with only seconds to spare in the first as Matt Strome fed Aaron Ness sneaking in from the blue line for his fifth goal of the year to send the teams to intermission even at one.
Charlotte would tally its only even-strength goal in the middle stanza when Cory Conacher found himself alone at the side of the net and slammed home a pass across the top of Shepard’s crease to re-establish the lead. The Bears would once again counter early in the third with Mike Vecchione making quick work of his team’s second opportunity on the advantage for his 23rd of the year, but the game took a turn for the worse when Hendrix Lapierre stepped into Logan Hutsko from an unsuspecting angle, bloodying the Checkers skater and ending his night early with a five-minute major and a game misconduct. A second penalty put the Bears in deep trouble with a lengthy two-man advantage, and Charlotte would tally twice including Morrison’s second of the game to earn a 4-2 edge.
The Bears would rally to the best of their ability, cashing in on a power play off the stick of Garrett Pilon finishing off a perfect passing play to cut the lead to one and pressuring hard in the game’s final moments. However, the tying goal would elude them, and they’d suffer the 4-3 final score in this game. Charlotte officially finished with three goals in four tries on the power play while Hershey converted on both of their opportunities. Hershey head coach Todd Nelson was frustrated by the calls as well as the unfortunate ending.
“Very disappointing,” Nelson said after the game. “Especially this time of year when you’re fighting for first place. There was an incident that happened right in front of our bench that did not get called that should have evened things up as far as I’m concerned, but ultimately we let some points slip away from us tonight.”
Nelson mentioned the points left on the table by the Bears, which impacts their hunt for first place. Hershey still leads the Providence Bruins by a single point for first place, but Providence ultimately controls its destiny as they have a game in-hand to try and snag the lead back. If the Bruins can win all three games in a set of three games in as many nights this weekend, they’ll claim first place regardless of if the Bears can win both of theirs. That means the race for the top spot could ultimately be decided in the final day of the season with only a couple games to be played.
Charlotte, meanwhile, earns two points to jump back into third place in their hunt for home ice in the play-in round of the postseason. Due to the distance the Checkers travel to face teams in their division, it may be the difference between seeing their home fans again or not with their home schedule complete going down to the final days of their season. Earning two more points guarantees they cannot be caught by the Hartford Wolf Pack at least, so their destiny is very much in their own hands at this stage. Charlotte faces off with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in pivotal action on Friday while Hershey visits the eliminated Bridgeport Islanders on the same day for their next game.
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