HERSHEY,PA – Vitek Vanecek had been injured and out of the Bears lineup since mid-September and was finally able to start on Sunday. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was set on giving Vanecek a rude welcome to the season. It was a night that he and his teammates will want to forget as the Penguins scored early and capitalized on the few chances they had to route Hershey 5-1.
Just 1:41 into the game a Colin Smith pass found Jarred Tinordi breaking into the Bears zone. His shot beat Vanecek through the five-hole for his second goal of the season.
Zach Aston-Reese was the beneficiary of textbook puck movement on the Penguins first and only power play. As the puck arrived to him to Vanecek’s left, he spun himself around and fired the puck five-hole on Vanecek for the 2-0 Wilkes-Barre lead.
Hershey looked out of sync early, overskating pucks and overpassing. The final five minutes of the first belong to Hershey as they generally maintained possession in the offensive zone. Casey DeSmith managed to keep them off the board and the score remained 2-0 after one.
The game remained relatively quiet until a fight by Tyler Lewington and Garrett Wilson right in front of Vanecek. The action really picked up when Dustin Gazley was in perfect position to bury the bounce to cut the lead to 2-1. It snapped a lengthy goal-scoring drought to start the season for Gazley.
The goal was just finished being announced when the Penguins responded. Tomas DiPauli, once a Capitals draft pick, scored to restore the two-goal lead. One minute later, Daniel Sprong escaped behind the Bears defense and was in alone. He outwaited Vanecek to make it 4-1 Penguins just two minutes after Gazley made it 2-1.
Sprong got a similar play to his goal early in the third. This time Hershey was forced to foul him and he was awarded a penalty shot. Vanecek was beaten but Sprong hit the left post.
The story of the third period was how the Bears had almost complete control of the puck for large blocks of the frame. The only problem was they couldn’t get the puck on net. Lots of solid looks were fired wide or over the net. Time running out and the Bears on the power play with four minutes to go, Troy Mann elected to go with the empty net. The gamble was unsuccessful as Colin Smith sealed the deal with the empty net goal. The goal was the Penguins second shot of the period which came at the 15:10 mark. The result would not change as the Penguins finished out the game 5-1 victors.
The score was deceiving to the play in this game. The Penguins were ultimately the more opportunistic team. Scoring on their only power play opportunity and eating up a rusty Vanecek. The 13 shots by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was the second fewest shots Hershey has allowed in franchise history.
Pheonix Copley also had a rough return from injury when he allowed six goals against Rochester back in November third. Copley quickly righted the ship and has looked great since. Bears will have to hope that Vanecek does the same after allowing four goals on 12 shots.
Hershey looks to bounce back at home on Wednesday against Syracuse. Stay tuned to The Sin Bin for the latest.