Carter Hart earns first pro shutout as Phantoms edge Hershey

Connor Bunnaman heard opportunity knock and answered the door.

Bunnaman scored from the doorstep in the first period and fellow rookie Carter Hart made 26 saves for his first professional shutout as the Lehigh Valley Phantoms edged the Hershey Bears 1-0 at PPL Center on Friday night.

The win snapped a two-game PPL Center losing streak for the Phantoms (14-7-1-1) who are in third place in the Atlantic Division while the Bears (10-13-0-1) sit in last place.

Bunny Hopping

Bunnaman picked up his third goal of the season with 3:09 left in the opening period. Greg Carey passed from behind the net to David Kase between the hashes on the left for a shot. Hershey goalie Vitek Vanecek made the save but couldn’t control the rebound as it drifted into the crease. An alert Bunnaman pounced on it to put the Phantoms ahead 1-0 on their 11th shot of the night.

He did not play two of the previous three and three of the previous five after playing a season-high four games in a row.

Bunnaman centered a line with leading goal scorer Carey on the right and fellow rookie Kase on the left.

Kase, 21, also played a solid game with plenty of weaving in and out.

Playing With Hart

Hart (8-4-2-0) robbed Ryan Sproul on 2-on-1 across the crease, first playing the shooter coming down the right wing, and then making a whip-fast save on a wide-open Sproul with the right leg pad on the left side of the crease just over five minutes into the game.

The 20-year-old rookie continues to make progress. He wisely froze the puck twice on breakaways whereas early in the season he was trying to play it out. His glove hand was very sharp, but so was his movement to close space on either side of the cage.

He also came up big with a 5-hole save on a Beck Malenstyn breakaway at the start of a 4-minute power play for the Phantoms.

AHL MVP Gets A Call (Up)

During morning skate, Phil Varone, the reigning Les Cunningham Award winner as the AHL’s MVP, took shifts practicing the power play.

By the afternoon, the parent club Philadelphia Flyers recalled the Phantoms scoring leader, giving him the opportunity to play his first game as a Flyer in new general manager Chuck Fletcher’s first move.

He will wear No. 44 for the Flyers when they kick off their five-game road trip in Buffalo 1 p.m. Saturday.

Varone leads the Phantoms in scoring (28 points) and assists (17) this season.

He also led the team in scoring last season with 23 goals and 47 assists for 70 points.

Fletcher was at PPL Center last Wednesday night to witness the Phantoms loss to Cleveland, when Varone was shut out from the scoring register, but he did have seven goals and five assists in his last nine games with Lehigh Valley.

Varone, originally from Vaughan, Ontario, has played in 50 NHL games split between the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators, but this is his first call-up with the Flyers, who signed Varone to a two-year contract on July 1, 2017.

During training camp this summer, Varone had to be placed on waivers on Sept. 21 and was loaned to Lehigh Valley the next day after clearing waivers.

True center

With Varone called up, the Phantoms were down to just two true full time centers in Mike Vecchione and Cole Bardreau.

Mikhail “Misha” Vorobyev, who had been sent back to the Phantoms in November after making the Flyers’ season-opening roster, skated on his own following morning skate, usually indicating some sort of injury for a player. He was scratched from the lineup against Hershey.

That left Bunnaman and Radel Fazleev. Both have been in and out of the lineup all season.

The Phantoms didn’t even have the opportunity to call up anyone from the Reading Royals, like Steven Swavely. The Royals are playing in Newfoundland today and tomorrow.

Deuces wild for Aube-Kubel

Nic Aube-Kubel continues to exert his influence since being returned from his stint with the Flyers.

Aube-Kubel, 22, has been playing with an increased physical edge the past few games and unleashed his inner beast 2:22 into the second period by dropping the gloves to fight Hershey’s Colby Williams. Aube-Kubel got in a pair of rights to start, and landed three lefts before the two wrestled each other to the ice.

Gary R. Blockus is a freelance writer.