ALLENTOWN, PA – Lehigh Valley started their season off on a high note in the same building last seasons ended bittersweetly. They earned a hard fought 7-2 victory over their rival the Hershey Bears, the same team that ended their playoff run back in April. Animosity and energy ran high throughout the entire night, with Lehigh Valley able to feed off their home crowd for the win.
The Phantoms decided to start their first game of the 2017-18 off the way they started most of last season’s games off, by scoring early and applying pressure throughout the first period.
Danick Martel converted on the Phantoms first goal of the year just 2:19 into the opening frame, off a crazy net-mouth scramble. Hershey goalie Parker Milner had plenty of opportunities to freeze the loose puck, but could not. Mike Vecchione eventually ended up with it and took it behind the cage. He centered a pass to Martel, who had a wide open crease to blast home the opening tally to make it 1-0.
The Phantoms kept up the pressure despite going on the penalty kill once, outshooting the Bears 14-5. Using their power play, Lehigh Valley pinned Hershey into their own zone for minutes at a time, with Milner and the goal posts being the only thing standing between the Phantoms and increasing their lead. They would head into the intermission knowing all of the momentum was on their side.
Hershey gained some of that momentum back to start the second with an early power play, but were unable to score. They would tally at the 9:54 mark, however, tying the score at one. Colby Williams saucered a pass from circle-to-circle for Chandler Stephenson to bury to make it a 1-1 game.
The Phantoms responded quickly, taking their lead back just about two minutes later. A point shot from Reese Willcox ended up getting tipped in front by Martel, giving the speedy young forward his second tally of the night. Hershey would capitalize on a Corban Knight penalty at the 17:34 mark, tying the game back up at 2. A nice tic-tac-toe play from Williams to Wayne Simpson to John Albert got finished once Albert put home his second attempt on a rebound off Lyons pad.
Nick Aube-Kubel made sure to give Lehigh Valley the lead back to head into intermission for the second straight period, deflecting home a TJ Brennan wrister that got through traffic past Milner to make it 3-2 Phantoms at the 18:51 mark of the second.
The Phantoms kept their scoring barrage coming, with Phil Varone scoring his first as a Phantom just 33 seconds into the third. Willcox got the puck to Varone along the far boards. Varone used his speed and strength to split two defenders and get off a weak shot. That shot fooled Milner, beating high to make it 4-2 Phantoms.
Martel and Tyler Lewington would ramp up the intensity even more at the 1:51 mark, dropping the gloves for the first fight of the season between the two clubs. Martel held his own against the much bigger Lewington (Martel is 5’8″ 167 lbs, Lewington is 6’2″ 202 lbs), and sent the PPL Center into a frenzy by wrestling the big man to the ground.
Each team got another chance on their man advantage before the game wound down to its last five minutes. Despite great opportunities for both teams, neither would end up scoring. Heading down to the wire, Lehigh Valley held on to their 4-2 lead.
Greg Carey extended the Phantoms lead to 5-2, beating Milner high to his glove side on Lehigh Valley’s 28th shot of the night. An empty netter would be added by Wilcox, making it seem like the Phantoms were done for the night, up 6-2. They would not be, as Martel scored his third of the night for the hat trick with 1:29 left to play. Giving the Phantoms three goals in less than a minute, and sealing the victory for Lehigh Valley.
Martel’s hat trick, along with a stellar performance in goal by Alex Lyon lead the way for the Phantoms. TJ Brennan (3 assists) and Reese Willcox (1 goal, 2 assists) had three-point nights, Nick Aube-Kubel (1 goal, 1 assist) added a pair, and five other Phantoms added points to fuel the thrashing over there archrival. The Phantoms get right back into action tomorrow against the Hartford Wolf Pack in Hartford.