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Game Preview: Bears at Phantoms, 7:05 p.m.

March 17, 2023

The Hershey Bears continue the 2022-23 season, presented by Penn State Health, as they head back up I-78 for their final visit of the regular season to the PPL Center as they face the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Hershey Bears (35-16-5-2) at Lehigh Valley Phantoms (31-23-3-3)
March 17, 2023 | 7:05 p.m. | Game 59 | PPL Center
Referees: Riley Brace (90), Jack Young (24)
Linespersons: Colin Gates (3), J.P. Waleski (14)

Broadcast Information
Voice of the Bears, Zack Fisch on the call
RADIO: WFVY-100.1 FM, Fox Sports 1460-AM
LISTEN LIVE: Fox Sports AM-1460 Stream
Radio pre-game coverage starts at 6:35 p.m.

Hershey snapped their three-game losing skid with a 6-3 triumph over Lehigh Valley on Wednesday. Connor McMichael opened the scoring at 1:54 of the first period, but Garrett Wilson scored his first of three goals on the night at 7:59 to tie the game. The Phantoms then took a 2-1 lead at 7:28 of the second period with another goal from Wilson, but the Bears responded at 12:01 when former Phantom Matt Strome buried his first of the season with Hershey to level the score at 2-2. Julian Napravnik gave the Bears a 3-2 lead just 36 seconds later at 12:37. Shane Gersich netted the eventual game-winner at 5:38 of the third period, but Wilson completed his hat trick at 9:31. Napravnik bagged his second of the evening at 10:58 during a 4-on-4 sequence, and Bobby Nardella capped the scoring with an empty-net goal at 17:10. Zach Fucale went 18-for-21 in net for Hershey to pick up his 19th win of the season, while Samuel Ersson took the loss on a 24-for-29 effort.

The Bears
enter tonight three points back of Providence for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand. The Bruins are idle until tomorrow, when they play the first match of a home-and-home series with Springfield. As of this morning, the Magic Number for the Bears sits at 10 points; Hershey’s Magic Number can be reduced to six points with a win at Lehigh Valley and a Hartford loss against Springfield. The Bears are 9-2-0-0 against the Phantoms this season.

Bears captain Dylan McIlrath is enjoying a resurgence this season offensively – the veteran blueliner’s 11 assists match a career-high, and his 11 points are his most since the 2017-18 campaign. The Winnipeg native has feasted particularly on the Phantoms; seven of his assists have come against Lehigh Valley, which is tied for the team lead. He is also tied with Mike Sgarbossa for the team lead in plus/minus against the Phantoms with a +8. McIlrath’s play has also resulted in six games with the Washington Capitals, where he’s picked up one assist.

Hershey forward Ethen Frank enters tonight’s game with a team-leading 25 goals, a mark that is tied for the top spot among rookies in the AHL. The last time Hershey had a rookie that scored more than 25 goals in a season was the 2015-16 campaign when Riley Barber struck 26 times, a mark that equaled rookie totals compiled by the likes of Andre Faust (1992-93) and Len Barrie (1990-91). With two more goals, Frank would have the most goals by a Hershey rookie since Craig Fisher scored 43 times for Hershey in 1990-91, which established the current franchise rookie goal-scoring record. In head-to-head games versus the Phantoms this season, Frank has scored five goals and added 12 points. 

Forward Sam Anas is approaching his return to the lineup for the Bears after missing the last 29 games with a lower body injury, and could possibly play as early this weekend. The forward sustained an injury during Hershey’s game at Lehigh Valley on Dec. 21; at the time, Anas was sixth in team scoring with 15 points (7g, 8a) in 28 games. The seventh-year pro subsequently underwent successful abdominal surgery on Jan. 6. The former AHL scoring champion’s next point will be the 300th of his pro career (103g, 196a). Hershey has posted a record of 20-6-2-1 with Anas in the lineup, and 10-2-0-1 when he finds his way onto the scoresheet.

Mike Vecchione is four goals away from 100 pro goals…Zach Fucale is tied with Lehigh Valley’s Samuel Ersson for second in wins among Eastern Conference netminders with 19; Fucale is 7-1-0 against the Phantoms since this season…The Bears are second in the American Hockey League with 38 first goals, and are also second with 26 victories after scoring first...Both of Matt Strome’s two points this season have come against the Phantoms; Strome previously played for Lehigh Valley for parts of the previous four seasons.

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