HERSHEY, PA – A pair of struggling teams provided a wildly entertaining and hard fought battle on Saturday night. Hershey in the midst of a nine-game losing streak facing a Checkers team that had lost three in a row and eight of their past 11. Something had to give and boy did it ever. It took 65 minutes, a shootout and 11 total goals to find a winner and end a streak.

Something the Bears sorely needed and lacked during the majority of the losing streak was a fast start. Nathan Walker made sure they would get just that tonight. John Albert gave a perfect feed to Walker in the high slot and the Australian snapped it to the top corner on Hershey’s first shot of the game 49 seconds in.

The first of the game’s three fights occurred nearly eight minutes later when Riley Barber looked to break out of his own zone and absorbed a big hit by Brenden Kichton.

Bears defender Connor Hobbs saw the play and immediately confronted Kitchton and away the went. Hobbs was given the extra minor for instigating putting Charlotte on the power play. They failed to convert on that opportunity keeping the game 1-0 Bears.

Later with the Bears power play, a breakdown led to an open lane for Warren Foegel to take a pass from Clark Bishop and fire a shot on Vitek Vanecek while shorthanded. Vanecek was prepared and made the stop on Foegel who has four shorthanded goals this season. It proved to be a big save later on.

While Hershey failed to convert on the initial power play just mentioned, the next opportunity they got paid off. Great passing all around from Walker to Travis Boyd to Barber made the goal. Barber’s 14th goal of the season pushed Hershey into the second with a 2-0 lead.

Things began looking pretty peachy for the Bears early in the second. Captain Garrett Mitchell picked up a drop pass from Zach Sill just inside the Checkers zone. Mitchell wound up and blasted a slapper from the point and in pushing the lead to 3-0.

Three-goal leads are trending to becoming the most dangerous lead in hockey and Charlotte made sure that would be the case as they began chipping away.

“We just were turning way too many pucks over in the second and they are a top two/three team in goals for. I wasn’t comfortable at 3-0,” said Hershey coach Troy Mann.

A cross-crease passing play on a 4-on-3 rush put the checkers on the board from Roland McKeown at 7:47 of the second. Lucas Wallmark and Valentin Zykov added the assists.

Exactly three minutes later, Charlotte struck again while on the power play. Andrew Poturalski won the faceoff immediately following the penalty right to Trevor Carrick who one-timed a rocket last Vanecek and it cutting it to a 3-2 game at 10:47.

A little more than four minutes later Charlotte completely erased the lead. Shortly following a play that may have been offside, Charlotte sent a puck behind the net to Warren Foegele. He centered almost blindly hoping it would find somebody in the slot and Wallmark did and scored evening the game at 3-3 at 14:54.

Hershey was not happy surrendering a three-goal lead and responded by fighting. Garrett Mitchell first dropped the gloves with Clark Bishop and took him down.

Immediately following that fight, Garrett’s linemate, Mason Mitchell (no relation) dropped the gloves with Trevor Carrick. Trevor and Mason were both tossed from the game for the secondary altercation penalty. Hershey would gladly trade Mason Mitchell for one of Charlotte’s top defenders.

On a late second period power play, Riley Barber briefly restored the lead for Hershey with his 15th goal of the season. A rare multi-goal game for the Bears power play.

The lead lasted all of 19 seconds when Charlotte forced a turnover and Julien Gauthier potted a rebound past Vanecek tying the game at 4-4. Charlotte had outshot Hershey 17-3 in the second and outscored them 4-2 in the frame. Despite heavily outshooting the Bears, Charlotte’s goalie Jeremy Smith gave up two goals on just three shots.  He would be replaced to start the third period by Alex Nedeljkovic.

Aleksi Saarela scored a hat-trick in the previous meeting against the Bears and he burned them again in the third period. Off a faceoff win in their defensive zone, the Checkers rushed up ice. Janne Kuokkanen sent a puck down to Patrick Brown who chipped it back to Kuokkanen. the Finn spotted his fellow countrymen Saarela to his right and fed him the puck which he promptly buried giving Charlotte its first lead at 5-4 with 9:17 to go in regulation.

Third periods have been a nightmare for Hershey this season with a -29 goal differential in losses this season. The goal might have been a dagger in previous games but it was not to be this time. On a power play, Travis Boyd faked a slap shot on point, delayed as he skated a stride and wristed a shot through traffic to tie the game at five apiece.

Vanecek may have given up five goals but he saved the Bears bacon with 2 minutes left in regulation.

Overtime power play opportunities for both teams failed to yield a winner and the game required a shootout. In a game filled with drama, the shootout was no exception. Charlotte’s Zykov gave the road team the edge through the five-hole after the first round. Chris Bourque followed and appeared to hit the post and missing. The Bears asked for a review and it was ruled a goal. Both goaltenders stood tall until the fifth round and Travis Boyd.

Vanecek denied Kuokkanen to give the Bears the 6-5 shootout win. Vanecek stopped 29 of 24 shots he faced but made saves at key points of the game to give his team a chance to win.  Charlotte starter Jeremy Smith stopped 11 of 15 in two periods while his relief, Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 7/8 shots in the loss.

THREE STARS

1. Travis Boyd (1 G, 2 A)

2. Riley Barber (2 G)

3. Vitek Vanecek (29 Saves, Win)

 

NOTES:
Garrett Mitchell’s second-period goal, his sixth of the season is the first goal he’s scored since December 9 against Lehigh Valley.  Some Much needed secondary scoring for Hershey.

With three power-play goals, the Hershey’s power play registers its first multi-goal game since November 11th when they went 2/3 against Lehigh Valley en route to a 6-1 win. They sit at 16th in the AHL at 16.6% effective with the extra man.

Riley Barber’s two goals put him ahead of his 13 goals from last season.  At 15 goals on the year, Barber is 11 goals away from his career high of 26 which he set during his rookie season in 2015-2016.

The two teams will get another crack at each other back at Giant Center Super Bowl Sunday at 2 pm.  Hershey will look to extend Charlotte’s losing streak to five games.

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