Wild Card Weekend in the National Football League certainly did not prevent yet another tremendous turnout for Hersheypark Pass night at GIANT Center! The reigning Western Conference Champions and newest members of the Eastern Conference, Utica Comets paid their visits to Chocolate Town for a 5 PM tilt.
Just 3:22 in, the large crowd had an early reason to cheer thanks to Chris Bourque. Bourque fired a shot from the center point through a screen and into the net. Hanging on to a lead and keeping the foot on the gas pedal has to be an absolute key to this game. The Bears surrendered a 3-1 lead in Friday’s loss to the Rochester Americans, and two, one-goal leads the next night in Syracuse.
But, the top development club of the Vancouver Canucks responded 3:08 later. Mike Pereira tallied his first goal of the season on Dan Ellis. Hershey successfully killed off two Utica power plays before first intermission.
With 8:43 to play in the middle stanza, Utica grabbed their first lead of the night. Ellis left a juicy rebound right on the door step for an easy finish by Hunter Shinkaruk. The Comets’ first lead of the night, however, would only last a dozen seconds.
Sean Collins stormed down ice on an odd-man rush and buried a shot past the glove hand of Joe Cannata. Bourque picked up the lone assist for his second point of the night.
Back to the glove side is where the Bears found more success, and it came via a power play goal by Christian Djoos. On the transition with 3:01 left in the frame, Djoos received a drop pass and blasted the puck home to make it 3-2 Chocolate Town.
A late Hershey penalty would give Utica a carry over man-advantage to start the third period, and they capitalized. 1:14 in, Joseph LaBate tied the game at three goals apiece. The Comets would head to the power play again with 3:28 remaining in regulation, and it again appeared Hershey had their backs pressed against the wall.
Until with 2:41 left, Collins finished a shorthanded, 2-on-1 rush after a perfect centering pass from Dustin Gazley. That proved to be the decisive strike, as the Bears added a pair of empty net goals by Bourque and Garrett Mitchell in the final minute.
Bottom line, it was a game Hershey needed to win. They needed to come away with two standings points on home ice after dropping two tough tilts away from GIANT Center. Mission accomplished.
See you next week!
Submitted by intern Matt Trust