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AHL Debut Memorable for Bears’ Shepard

AHL Debut Memorable for Bears’ Shepard

HERSHEY, Pa. – In a nationally televised game for the Hershey Bears hosting the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the story quickly became about the AHL debut for Hershey goaltender Hunter Shepard. It was a hotly contested game between two rivals fighting it out for the top spot in the AHL’s North Division, and Shepard stopped all 28 shots he faced to give the Bears a 2-0 win on home ice. Brett Leason scored the eventual game-winner, with Axel Jonsson-Fjallby providing insurance with an empty-net tally in the win.

The Bears came out flying in the first period, outshooting the Phantoms by a 17-3 count in the first period, and were it not for some brilliance by Lehigh Valley netminder Felix Sandstrom, the score easily could have been much higher. Sandstrom was nearly perfect, making 40 of 41 saves for the game as the busier of the two goaltenders, but Shepard had his fair share of big saves to make including this breakaway save to preserve the score for Hershey.

Leason’s goal came at about the halfway point of the second period, where the forward fired a puck home off a faceoff through a bit of a screen to open the scoring. The goal, Leason’s seventh of the season, officially put him past his point total in his rookie season with 15 points in 28 games. In his rookie season, the forward had 14 points in 50 games with Hershey.

Hershey was able to hold onto the lead and extend it when Axel Jonsson-Fjallby tallied on the empty net in the late stages of the third. Shane Gersich had assists on both goals and was the only player to have a multi-point game. The win is Hershey’s 20th of the season, owning a 20-6-2-0 record through 28 games played.

“These were two hard, playoff-style games,” Hershey head coach Spencer Carbery said. “Today got a little away from us, I thought, last night we were excellent, but I don’t see a foot-off-the-gas, finish line in sight to coast through this and it gets me energized and fired up. No matter what we’re at, our guys have a pretty solid approach to play a game and want to win and score three goals. I like the mindset of our group as we get close to the finish line.”

The win was also a milestone night for Carbery, who picked up his 100th win as the Bears’ bench boss. Carbery deflected praise in his postgame press conference, instead, drawing attention to having strong lineups in his three seasons with the Chocolate and White:

“I’ve been very fortunate,” Carbery said. “I was lucky enough to receive the extension with this organization and I’m very fortunate that I’ve had three great groups to coach in three great seasons and the wins are a byproduct of that.”

The two teams have not seen all that much of each other of late this season, having not played since April 21. The two teams lost three matchups due to COVID-19 protocols, but will renew rivalries as the teams battle for the top spot in the division. The Bears were able to extend their points percentage lead to .750 while the Phantoms fell to .673 after the Sunday contest. Hershey has a 4-3-2-0 record against Lehigh Valley through nine games played this season.

The teams will see a lot of each other this week as they rematch at PPL Center on Wednesday followed by the current regular-season finale on May 8 at Giant Center.

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