CHARLOTTE, NC – Wearing jerseys inspired by Carolina Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton, the Checkers put up a touchdown on Hershey. Football night benefiting the Cam Newton Foundation gave Charlotte all the good karma it needed to get some revenge on Hershey as they won 6-0 over the Chocolate and White.
It was highly unlikely the Bears would repeat their five-goal first from the night before. They did, however, show a renewed sense of confidence in the offensive zone at least early on. A fast first ten minutes though yielded no scoring.
Then the Bears failed to get a puck in deep and turned it over. After holding Valentin Zykov off the scoreboard for the first time in five games last night, he was due. Rushing into the Bears zone, Zykov backed off the defenders all the way below the circles and fired the puck past Pheonix Copley to give the locals the 1-0 lead.
Hershey responded by putting together consecutive shifts hemming the Checkers in their own zone. It seemed like only a matter of time before a goal came. Instead, they took an offensive zone penalty.
On the ensuing power play, the Checkers high powered power-play unit made them pay. A puck battle along the half wall drew all four Bears to that side of the ice. When the puck got free to Aleksi Saarela, he had plenty of space to walk in and blast a water bottle shot home making it 2-0 under two to play in the first.
The Checkers extended the lead after the midway mark of the game. With the bears sending a puck into the zone and chasing after it, goalie Alex Nedeljkovic aggressively stepped out and played it. His feed bounced around and Patrick brown gathered it in. He rushed up in a two-on-one with Saarela. Saarela got the pass and went to the roof for his second of the game and tenth of the year making it 3-0 Charlotte.
After an uneventful late second and early third, Charlotte applied the icing on the cake to the game. First, Sergey Tolchinsky blew through the Bears defense with a nice move and beat Copley for the 4-0 lead. Next, Julian Gauthier fluttered a shot from the point that eluded traffic and Copley and found its way in for the 5-0 lead. Finally, with Saarela sitting on two goals in the dying moments, Charlotte looked to get him the hat trick. Hershey was unable to clear and turned a puck over in their own zone. Roland McKeown got the puck to Brown who found Saarela in the slot to get the hat trick over Copley’s blocker and the 6-0 lead. Even Cam Newton who was seated next to the glass tossed his hat on the ice.
The score remained 6-0 giving Alex Nedeljkovic his first shutout of the season. He made 19 stops in the win for his team. Copley stopped 24 of the 30 shots he faced though has as been the story for him all season, not all were his fault.
Bears rookie defenseman Connor Hobbs made his return from a broken injury suffered on November fourth. He had a couple shots and looked okay in the loss. He was on the receiving end of a big hit by Zack Stortini early but was none the worse for ware. Hobbs replaced Hubert Labrie on the backend for the Bears meaning five of the six defenders were aged 23 and under. A tough spot to put the young guns in against the league’s top offense. Development will have its growing pains, as is becoming all too clear in Hershey.
The Bears at the start of the third period had already matched their shot total from the night before with 18 shots. Despite trailing 3-0 at the time it was somewhat of a bright spot. Unfortunately for them, all they could muster in the third period was two shots for a grand total of 20. The issue of looking for the perfect play and shot once again reared its ugly head and plagued the Bears as they missed quality looks.
On Wednesday, the Washington Capitals re-claimed Nathan Walker off of waivers from the Edmonton Oilers. Due to an NHL roster freeze for the holidays, he is unable to be assigned to Hershey at this time. Should the Capitals decide to send him to Hershey, he would not require waivers. The Bears would benefit from his presence if he’s sent down as they need a spark and are looking for answers.
Hershey returns home to Giant Center Saturday for a matchup with the Binghamton Devils at 7 PM. Then after the Christmas holiday, they’ll head up to New Engeland to take on the Sound Tigers on Wednesday and Springfield on Friday.