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The Bridgeport Sound Tigers (15-26-4-1), American Hockey League affiliate of the New York Islanders, returned from their All-Star break with a 4-1 loss to the Hershey Bears (28-14-2-3) at Webster Bank Arena on Friday.
Kieffer Bellows scored his team-leading 16th goal of the season early in the second period after Shane Gersich put Hershey on top just 37 seconds prior, but Gersich added two more for his first career hat trick. Kody Clark also had a three-point effort for the Bears (one goal, two assists).
It was Bridgeport’s fourth consecutive setback overall and its fourth straight loss to Hershey. The Sound Tigers are 1-4-0-0 in the season series.
Despite no goals in the opening frame, the action was some of the best all night with both teams finishing checks and asserting big hits in transition. Hershey goaltender Phoenix Copley made two big saves directly in the blue paint on Steve Bernier, while the Bears outshot Bridgeport 9-5 in the first.
Early in the second period, Hershey broke through with a redirected goal from Gersich on a lengthy shot from the point. Clark sent a hard blast towards Christopher Gibson from the blue line and Gersich was there to quickly change its trajectory in front.
Bellows answered less than a minute later on a quick release from the left circle. Oliver Wahlstrom broke up a Bears’ possession in the neutral zone and skated the other way before finding Bellows on the wing for the tying goal at 2:52. Bellows filtered a wrist shot inside the near post and Copley’s blocker.
Hershey immediately battled back and continued to pressure Gibson over the next few minutes. They regained the lead at the 6:38 mark when Gersich let one rip from above the left circle to capture his second of the contest, past Gibson’s glove with traffic in front to earn a 2-1 lead.
Clark made it 3-1 in the final minute of the second just as a penalty to Cole Bardreau for delay of game ended. The Bears forward forced a turnover deep in Bridgeport’s zone, moved to the low slot and fired it above Gibson’s shoulder. Clark also had the secondary assist on each of Hershey’s first two goals for his first multi-point game of his young AHL career.
The Sound Tigers tested Copley just six times in the third period but couldn’t break through again. They also pulled Gibson for an extra attacker in the final three mintues, but Gersich added an empty-net tally at 17:55 for his first professional hat trick.
The contest also got more and more heated in the third period, culminating with a scrum at the 6:00 mark that led to a fight between Parker Wotherspoon and Colby Williams. Wotherspoon was accessed a 10-minute misconduct for instigating and an instigating minor, which ended his evening.
Bridgeport finished the game 0-for-3 on the power play and 4-for-4 on the penalty kill. Gibson (5-5-3) made 31 saves on 34 shots, while Copley earned his fourth straight win and 10th victory in his last 11 decisions. He made 19 saves.
Next Time Out: The Sound Tigers return to action tomorrow night with a 7:05 p.m. matchup against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza. It’s the fourth of six meetings between the division rivals and second of three in Wilkes-Barre. Fans can follow all of the live action of the Sound Tigers Radio Network and AHLTV, beginning with the pregame show at 6:45 p.m. ET.