Phantoms Erupt in Third to Halt Hershey

Sandstrom Sensational in 4-1 Triumph

February 2, 2024

Allentown, PA – Sweet revenge! The Lehigh Valley Phantoms bounced back to claim a 4-1 win over the AHL-best Hershey Bears on Friday night at PPL Center and earn a split in the two-game series this week between the I-78 rivals.

A three-goal explosion in the third period broke a 1-1 tie as Jacob Gaucher (5th) blasted home the winner with 10:13 left on an impressive assist by Bobby Brink.  That triggered the scoring surge who connected for a trifecta of lamplights in under three minutes as Brendan Furry (2nd) and Samu Tuomaala (13th) also scored for the Orange and Black. Wade Allison (9th) tallied in the first period and Elliot Desnoyers notched a pair of primary assists in the game. Felix Sandstrom earned first-star honors with a terrific 29-save performance.

But the turning point in the game might have come before that go-ahead goal for Gaucher. Facing a 5-on-3 power play for Hershey that would last for 94 seconds, Sandstrom came through with several strong stops during the key stretch late in the second period and the Phantoms penalty killers gained momentum for the team heading into the locker room with some impressive blocks and deflections throughout the vital kill.

Hershey (35-8-2) boasts the best record in professional hockey but sustained just it’s fourth regulation loss in the last 32 games thanks to a solid, all-around effort from the Phantoms. The complete effort from his entire team is what pleased Phantoms head Ian Laperriere the most.

“From everybody. It was from everybody,” Laperriere said. “Felix (Sandstrom) was solid. The other guy (Clay Stevenson) was solid too on the other side. And I can’t emphasize enough you can’t beat a team like that without having everybody on board.”

Wade Allison sparked an early advantage for Lehigh Valley (18-17-7) at the net-front as the Phantoms took a 1-0 lead while racing out to a 9-3 shots advantage. A strong presence in the offensive zone paid dividends at the 8:44 mark. Furry won a 50-50 puck battle in neutral ice before jetting north into Hershey territory along the right wing. From the goal line, Desnoyers set up Allison in the low-slot for the prime scoring chance flipping the puck to the upper-right corner past Stevenson.

The Phantoms lead was short lived as Ethen Frank for Hershey scored a power-play goal just 59 seconds later to equalize at 1-1. His deflection at the net from from Joe Snively at the 9:43 mark of the first period would forge the scoreboard gridlock for the next 40 minutes as both teams traded opportunities.

Both teams had surges and several chances throughout the high-energy opening frame that saw 30 total shots on goal as Lehigh Valley out shot Hershey 16-14.

In the middle frame, Lehigh Valley’s penalty kill stole the show with a miraculous 5-on-3 kill for more than 90 seconds. Jacob Gaucher won multiple key face-offs in his defensive zone and put his body on the line with hard-nosed shot blocks. Sandstrom, cool, calm and collected, stonewalled various Hershey attempts from the face-off circles to preserve the 1-1 score. A cross-ice feed for first-rounder Ivan Miroshnichenko forced Sandstrom to move laterally to his right but he had enough coverage still on the vacated side to get a left shoulder on the Hershey forward’s powerful blast aimed for the upper-right corner.

Rhett Garnder, Ronnie Attard and Jacob Gaucher all had big tips and blocks and deflections as the PPL Center crowd roared for the team’s hard-nosed effort in the long 5-on-3 kill.

“I think that block with Gauch started it off,” Sandstrom said. “Just gave us energy to keep doing that work. I think the guys held them to the outside really well which made it much easier for me. There were a couple nice shots they got but at the same time I had time to see it too because the ys did such a good job. So it’s good for momentum and to get it going in the third period too.”

Earlier in the period, it was Sandstrom who helped himself out with a tremendous kick save with the right pad to deny hard-shooting Ethen Frank up the middle on a a 3-on-2 rush. It was probably Sandstrom’s best ave of the night but there were several contenders.

After locking all windows and doors in the middle frame, it was all Lehigh Valley in an impressive third-period display. A trifecta of goals on eight shots put the Phantoms in the driver’s seat. Only fitting after an A+ penalty kill to conclude the second period, Gaucher scored the eventual game-winning goal at 9:42 into the final frame. The first-year Phantom raced off the bench during a quick change and charged into the zone as Bobby Brink held off Vincent Iorio below the line and behind the cage. Somehow, Brink saw Gaucher speeding across the blue line and perfectly connected with his teammate who was ready to offer a powerful blast past Stevenson between the pads, low to the ice to give the Phantoms a 2-1 lead.

Only 31 seconds later, Furry put forth an incredible individual effort and scored a dazzling goal to make the score 3-1. With a burst of speed, Furry undressed a Hershey defender with a nifty move and still had enough to tuck the puck around Stevenson for his first-ever goal at PPL Center and his second of the season. Desnoyers pulled the puck away from the right boards and sharply connected with the speedy Gaucher while Wade Allison recorded his second point of the night with an assist on the play as well.

Samu Tuomaala capped the scoring at 12:35 into the third on a terrific assist from Cooper Marody from the right corner who spotted the opening in the low-slot following some high-low work along the right wing with Emil Andrae. Tuomaala deflected Marody’s pass to the upper left-corner for his sixth power-play goal and 16th power-play point of the season.

The 21-year-old rookie is second among AHL rookies with 35 points and also is tied for second with six power-play goals and is third among rookies in power-play points. Tuomaala leads active Lehigh Valley Phantoms players with 13 goals and will represent the Phantoms at the AHL All-Star Classic in San Jose this Sunday and Monday.

For Marody, his team-leading 37th point of the season came in the form of his 27th assist which is fourth-most among all Eastern Conference players. Marody’s 16 power-play assists is tied for second-most in the league.

The Phantoms continue their celebration of 10 years in The Valley on Saturday night against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the last game before the AHL All-Star Break. Saturday’s game also features a Phantoms alumni reunion with Colin McDonald, Samuel Morin and more available for autographs on the concourse before 7:00 p.m.

1st 8:44 – LV, W. Allison (9) (E. Desnoyers, B. Furry) (1-0)
1st 9:43 – HER, E. Frank (21) (J. Snively, M. Sgarbossa) (PP) (1-1)

3rd 9:42 – LV, J. Gaucher (5) (B. Brink, V. Mete) (2-1)
3rd 10:13 – LV, B. Furry (2) (E. Desnoyers, W. Allison) (3-1)
3rd 12:35 – LV, S. Tuomaala (13) (C. Marody, E. Andrae) (PP) (4-1)

LV 37 – HER 31

LV 1/3, HER 1/5

LV – F. Sandstrom (W) (8-6-2) (30/31)
HER – C. Stevenson (L) (16-6-1) (33/37)

Lehigh Valley (18-17-7)
Hershey (35-8-2)

Saturday, February 3 (7:05) – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at Lehigh Valley – 10th Anniversary Celebration Weekend – Alumni Reunion with Colin McDonald, Sam Morin and More!

Sunday, February 4 and Monday, February 5 – AHL All-Star Classic in San Jose, Cal. Samu Tuomaala will represent the Phantoms on the Atlantic Division All-Stars.

Friday, February 9 (7:05) – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at Lehigh Valley

Saturday, February 10 (7:00) – Lehigh Valley at Bridgeport