CHARLOTTE, NC — Janne Kuokkanen had five points (three goals, two assists) to help the Charlotte Checkers pull away from the Hershey Bears, 7-3, on Saturday night at the Bojangles' Coliseum. Charlotte's win clinched the Checkers a spot in the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs. Hershey was led by Chris Bourque, who scored his 194th and 195th career goals as a member of the Hershey Bears to move into sole possession of seventh place all-time in goals scored in franchise history.
A back-and-fourth first period saw the game even, 2-2, through 20 minutes. Kuokkanen and the Checkers drew first blood, scoring on a 2-on-0 just 1:01 into the contest. However, Bourque responded for the Bears, scoring on the power play at 6:05 to make it 1-1. The Hershey forward beat Charlotte goaltender Jeremy Smith with a slap shot inside the near-post for his 15th goal of the season. Connor Hobbs assisted on the marker.
After Charlotte retook the lead on a Julien Gauthier power play goal at 11 minutes, Bourque responded with another power play goal at 17:30. The future Hall of Famer walked to the high slot and took a slap shot that beat Smith over the blocker. The goal was Bourque's 195th in his career with Hershey, moving him past Mitch Lamoureux (194) on the franchise's all-time goal leader list. Hobbs and Langlois assisted on the historic marker.
In the second period, Charlotte struck twice to take a 4-2 lead, courtesy of goals by Aleksi Saarela, who scored on the power play at 3:31, and Marcus Kruger who tallied on a delayed penalty at 5:34.
The Bears had an answer again as Zach Sill redirected his seventh goal of the season past Smith at 12:58 of the middle stanza to make it a one goal game. Aaron Ness barley held the puck in at the left point and sailed a shot to the net. With his stick parallel to his body, Sill deflected the shot over Smith's right shoulder to make it 4-3 Charlotte.
Charlotte would pour it on in the third period, scoring three times to pull away. Kuokkanen scored two goals in 12 seconds to complete the hat trick. The forward beat Hershey netminder Vitek Vanecek over the catching glove, scoring off the face-off at 8:15. After the puck dropped, he won a race and beat Vanecek on a breakaway over the blocker at 8:27.
Gregg McKegg added a power play goal at 13:19, scoring on a rebound to seal the 7-3 victory for the Checkers. Charlotte finished 3-for-5 on the power play while Hershey was 2-for-8. The Checkers out shot the Bears, 29-17, in the win. Hershey's record fell to 29-35-4-5 on the 2017-18 campaign.