Allentown, PA- Friday night the Lehigh Valley Phantoms closed out their six-game homestand with a win over the Hershey Bears. The game saw two of the AHLs top scorers faceoff, with Chris Bourque(HER) who had 30 points(10G,20A) in 24 games taking on Phil Varone(LV) who had 26 points(7G,19A) in 24 games played. The interstate rivalry was set for another big clash, and boy was there drama throughout.
The Phantoms used their home ice advantage, which they benefited from to the tune of a 7-2 victory over Hershey last Friday, to open the scoring early. Lehigh Valley always comes with an extra edge inside PPL Center, and their “hit first, ask questions later” mentality directly lead to their first goal. Phantoms captain Colin McDonald created the play, hitting Bears defender Jonas Siegenthaler off the puck in the corner of the offensive zone. McDonald ended up with the puck and spun a centering pass toward Tyrell Goulbourne. Goulbourne then tried to shoot, but whiffed on his chance, still sending the puck forward. Phoenix Copley, the Bears netminder, never moved out of his upright position, so Goulbourne’s failed shot attempt still got through his five-hole to open the scoring.
It took Hershey almost the entire period, but they finally responded and tied the game. A four-player scrum behind the Phantoms net led to Anthony Peluso poking the puck out to John Albert. Albert made a spin move out from behind the net to the nearside, and he picked a top corner behind Dustin Tokarski. The tie would only last a little less than two minutes, with more crazy bounces leading to the Phantoms taking their lead back.
A pile of bodies came together along the farside boards in the Bears end, and the puck snuck out to Nic Aube-Kubel. Aube-Kubel fell, but not before setting up Adam Comrie with a pass to the slot. The big blueliner walked in with the puck and snapped home a wrister to give the Phantoms back the one-goal lead with just 58 seconds left in the first period. The assist was Aube-Kubel’s first of three on the night, and the start of him taking over the game.
4:13 into the second, Aube-Kubel would get his second assist, and effectively help chase Copley from the game. Aube-Kubel came flying down the wing on the opposite side of the ice with Mike Vecchione and Danick Martel with him. Martel, the leagues leading goal scorer, drove the middle of the ice, but Aube-Kubel elected to go all the way across the ice to Vecchione. Vecchione accepted the pass but was drifting closer and closer to the end boards. He quickly snapped off a shot that just barely snuck in over Copley’s glove side shoulder, giving the Phantoms 3 goals on 14 shots against the Bears top goalie. Hershey Head Coach Troy Mann decided he had seen enough of number 31 and elected to roll out Vitek Vanecek to finish the game.
Vanecek would not make it out of the second without giving up a goal himself, as again Aube-Kubel would set the table for one of his teammates. This time, however, the assist was more accidental. Another Phantoms rush seemed perfectly defended by Hershey, with Lucas Johansen all over Aube-Kubel at the Bears blueline. he peeled off the forward for some reason, who moved toward the right side of the ice. Colby Williams came and took over duties on Aube-Kubel, but left the middle of the ice open for Varone. Aube-Kubel ended up attempting a pass that banked off Williams skate and to Varone, who beat Vanecek short side just inside the post to make it 4-1.
It was more of the same odd man rushes for the Phantoms in the third, who seemed determined to put up another touchdown on Hershey at home this season. Greg Carey finished off a 3-on-1 where everyone got to touch the puck with a one-timer that Vanecek never had a chance on, with the assists going to James de Haas and Varone. The goal and assist for Varone, his 27th and 28th points on the season, moved him into a tie with Jack Roslovic of the Manitoba Moose for second place in the AHL in scoring.
Hershey, seemingly fed up with being pushed around in downtown Allentown by the Phantoms, responded 30 ticks later with a goal of their own. It was Johansen, who blew a defensive coverage earlier in the game, who got the tally, firing away a shot from the point that got through traffic and up and over Tokarski to make it 5-2. Then, another pass from below the goal line to the side of the net would benefit the Bears, with Wayne Simpson setting up Mathias Bau for his 8th of the season. Hershey had cut the Phantoms lead to just 2 goals, completely flipping the script on the two teams previous meetings in Allentown.
Hershey started coming in waves and pressing the issue, trying to get back to within a goal. They pulled Vanecek with under four minutes to go, needing two goals to tie. At the 17:32 mark of the third, off another point shot, they would get to within one. Bourque would go point to point to Aaron Ness, who also used the screen of traffic in front of Tokarski to hit twine from out high and make it a one-goal contest. Bourque’s assist added to his league lead in points, giving him 31 on the year.
Heading down the stretch into the final minute of play, it looked like the Phantoms shot themselves in the foot in this one. Varone went off for kneeing with just 54 seconds left, giving Hershey a 6-on-4 power play to close out regulation. This would not be their night though, as Tokarski and the Phantoms PK held on to close out what looked to be an easy win earlier in the night.
Lehigh Valley took the first of two meetings between these two rivals this weekend on Friday night, finishing off two straight Fridays playing the Bears at PPL Center. They were able to outscore Hershey 12-6 over those two games, asserting their dominance over their enemies from Chocolate Town. The win also made the Phantoms 4-1-1 over their six-game homestand from November 25th-December 8th, which also included a shutout victory over their other big rival, the Wilkes-barre/Scranton Penguins.
3rd: HER 18 Wayne Simpson= 3 assists, +3
2nd: LV 40 James de Haas= 2 assists, +3
1st: LV 16 Nic Aube-Kubel= 3 assists, +2
The Phantoms finish out their home and home with Hershey Saturday at the Giant Center, with puck drop set to take place at 7:05. Then, the Phantoms will make their first-ever trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, to take on the Charlotte Checkers for two games next Tuesday and Wednesday.