HERSHEY, PA- The Hershey vs. Lehigh Valley rivalry so far has seen a few lopsided results. Tonight was not one of those nights as the teams battled each other hard with the Bears ultimately landing the final blows late in the third to get the win.

The start of the game had to be delayed because Lehigh Valley has troubles due to the snowy weather. Despite their late arrival, Lehigh had an early jump drawing a five-on-three power play. But Vitek Vanecek and the Bears stingy penalty killers kept them off the board.

Hershey would also get two separate power plays of their own. They failed to convert on the first and looked to be stymied on the second when Lucas Johansen got loose. Heavy pressure by the Phantoms penalty killers in the corner of their own zone saw Johansen all alone in front. When the puck came out to the rookie defenseman, he instinctively swatted it right in between the five-hole of Dustin Tokarski for the 1-0 Bears lead. Riley Barber and Mathias Bau picked up the assists.

Despite playing 32 minutes in relief of Pheonix Copley on Friday night, Vanecek looked very sharp in the first. Facing nine shots, a few of which were grade-A chances including big save on Danick Martel who was all alone. Vanecek and his team went into the locker room after one up 1-0.

Vanecek was once again up to the task early in the second making a couple of tough saves like this one on Mike Vecchione.

The Bears added to their lead less than five minutes into the second. Aaron Ness slapped a pass down to Wayne Simpson to Tokarski’s right. Simpson deflected the pass to Chris Bourque who chopped the puck in making for his 11th goal of the season.

Tempers flared late in the second period when Jonas Siegenthaler threw a hit sending Vecchione into the boards. Nicolas Aube-Kubel took exception and dropped the gloves with Siegenthaler. Few punches were landed and then the much larger Siegenthaler wrestled Aube-Kuble down none the worse for ware.

Hershey had a much stronger period in terms of offensive zone time, puck possession and shots. The Phantoms were able to get a few odd-man rushes and puck on net but Vanecek was again on task. Shots were 7-6 in the second in favor of Lehigh and 16-9 overall.

Lehigh Valley started the third off exactly the way they needed to: with a goal. Mikhail Vorobyev with an odd-looking shot where he jumped into it from long range was shouldered by Vanecek. Unfortunately for the Bears, the puck bounced right to Oskar Lindblom who fired it home for his sixth of the season.

Hershey would briefly restore its two-goal lead on a rush up ice. Garett Mitchell passed cross-ice to Dustin Gazley. Gazley tried to put a puck on net but it bounced back to Mitchell who put the puck off Tokarski and in to give Hershey a 3-1 lead.

Before Mitchell’s goal could even be announced, the Phantoms answered right back. Bears defender Colby Williams got caught too far in the Lehigh zone as the Phantoms rushed up the ice. Vorobyev, Williams’ man was left all alone and he brought Lehigh back to within one at 3-2.

Back and forth the momentum swung and again the ice tilted back to Hershey. An aggressive forecheck by Riley Barber on defender T.J. Brennan led to a turnover. Barber had just enough as he fell to get the puck to Tyler Graovac who was open in the slot. Graovac roofed the puck on Tokarski extending the Hershey lead to 4-2. It was the second goal Riley Barber created by forechecking pressure.

Lehigh Valley was afforded their best chance to get back even with 1:25 remaining in regulation. Colby Williams was whistled for tripping and Phantoms coach Scott Gordon elected to pull Tokarski. Vanecek stood strong and shut down the power play to give the Bears a 4-2 win.

Post-Game Notes

Vanecek was outstanding stopping 24 of 26 shots. He has won three consecutive starts allowing two or fewer in all three. Bears head coach Troy Mann was asked about Vitek after the game.

“You always want competition in all areas of your lineup and I think Vitek right now after tonight’s performance is certainly gonna push (Copley) for more ice time as we get into tomorrow and then next week as well.  A Very likable kid, he works very astute with (associate goaltending coach Alex Westlund) in terms of what needs to be done to become a better goalie and his teammates love him,” Mann said.

Aaron Ness now has points (2G, 3A) in four consecutive games since he’s been reassigned by Washington. Lucas Johansen now has a goal in two straight games. Bears coach Troy Mann in the postgame presser likened Johansen’s play to Christian Djoos.

“He’s got a little bit of (Christian) Djoos in him.” Troy Mann on Johansen.  “That goal he scored (Friday) where he changed the angle to get us back in 5-2 was a little bit of a Djoos type move… There’s a lot of work to do from the defensive side of things and that’s just normal with any young defenseman. But we need our defense contributing from the back end of we’re going to get to four or three (goals),” Mann said.

The Phantoms power play failed to score tonight and hasn’t scored a goal in six games. Conversely, the Bears penalty kill was a perfect 5/5 and hasn’t surrendered a goal in five consecutive games.

Scoring first has been a major part of the Bears wins this season. Hershey is now 7-1-0-3 when scoring the game’s first goal.

Hershey (12-11-0-3) finishes off the three-in-three weekend at home against the sputtering Penguins (13-7-1-1). The Phantoms (15-8-1-2) meanwhile, are off until Tuesday when they travel to take on red-hot Charlotte (16-8-0-1).

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