HERSHEY, PA- For the second time in the history of the franchises, the Phantoms and Bears met outdoors. Amid the fanfare and excitement, it was a game Hershey could really use. On this night, however, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms with the help of superb goaltending, spoiled the party.
The Phantoms got off to a quick start with an early goal 2:59 into the game. Oskar Lindblom picked up the puck in the right corner and threw it on goal. It hit Bears defender Tyler Lewington and sat loose. Colin McDonald mopped up the loose puck for his second goal of the season. Samuel Morin also picked up an assist.
Alex Krushelinski added to lead about six minutes later. Radel Fazleev found Krushelinski open in the high slot. Krushelinski’s shot hit Copley and bounced high above the Bears netminder and as he scrambled to find it, the puck went up, over and in for the goal. Greg Carey was also credited with the assist on the goa.
Despite trailing, the Bears seemed to have the better of the play outshooting Lehigh 12-8. As has been noted in previous games, the Phantoms showed their aggression on the puck while on defense in their own end.
In the second, the Phantoms started out with lengthy pressure in Hershey’s zone. Copley was on task stopping the chances he faced. Both sides traded power plays but neither could score.
Hershey gradually began to tilt the ice until it finally paid dividends. Late in the period the Bears finally got on the board. Nathan Walker scored his first goal of the season with a strong net-front presence. Aaron Ness set up Travis Boyd for a one-timer to Lyon’s left but his shot was stopped. Walker was right there to pounce and pot the rebound.
Phantoms quickly restored their two-goal lead in the dying seconds of the period. The Bears turned the puck over attempting to leave their zone. Chris Conner marched the puck in and beat Copley with seven seconds left making the score 3-1 after two.
Hershey turned up the heat in the final frame. The Phantoms and Lyon were under siege but did a good job of keeping Hershey to the outside. Similarly to the second, Hershey found the back of the net late. Troy Mann gambled with over three minutes left pulling Copley. Travis Boyd was in the perfect spot and he scored cutting the lead to 3-2.
Copley was pulled once again only this time it failed. TJ Brennan fired the puck down the ice pushing it to a 4-2 lead. Conner scored another for good measure giving Lehigh the 5-2 victory.
Both Garrett Mitchell and Travis Boyd stressed it’s still not the time to hit the panic button for Hershey.
“We hit the reset button coming into the new year and have played some really good hockey… We’re having our chances and our chances just aren’t going in the way want. When those chances aren’t there, that’s when you really want to panic,” said Mitchell.
“Realistically since we’ve come back from our new years break, we’ve played super well. Unfortunately, there’s been two or three games where we really should’ve won the game and we didn’t. We’ve got a long way to go, there’s so much divisional play that we can make up the ground. If we can just get a bounce or two each night and maybe start burying a couple more of our chances there’s no reason why we cant rattle off five or six games and get right back into this,” said Boyd.
Chris Bourque fresh off watching his father Ray Bourque wear his number 17, celebrated another major career milestone: 700 career AHL games. He capped it off by picking up his 30th assist of the season on the Boyd goal.
Alex Lyon earned the first star of the game with his masterful performance in goal. He stopped 41 of the 43 shots he faced. Chris Conner (two goals) and Nathan Walker (1 G, 1 A) round out the second and third stars respectively.
The Bears fall below .500 at 17-18-3-4 while Lehigh improves to 24-13-2-3. The Hershey will remain at home on Wednesday to take on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Lehigh is next in action on Wednesday as well as they’ll host Providence.