An identity crisis had Niagara wondering what breed of dogs they were when the Ontario Hockey League Canine Cup rivalry resumed Saturday night at the Meridian Center in St. Catharines.
Instead of competing like the IceDogs, a rebuilding team that prides itself on being tough against, the hosts started the game emulating the visiting Bulldogs, a team that bet everything on a Memorial Cup run.
The result was disappointing as Hamilton cruised to a 6-3 win, moving to 6-0 head-to-head against Niagara this season.
“We did not play on our identity. It’s almost like we want to play like Hamilton,” IceDogs head coach Billy Burke said. “We’re not Hamilton, we can’t play that way.
“They can play that way and be successful.”
After heading into the first intermission trailing 3-0, the IceDogs were told in sometimes “stern” conversation between periods to forget the score. Burke urged his players to “keep going”.
“It’s not about what happened, it’s about what’s to come,” he said. “Try to chase that next goal, try to get out of the first half and not have it too ugly on us.”
The fourth-year coach thought Niagara Dog was a “good job” to regroup and get back into the game.
“We played a much better second and third,” Burke said. “There were no retirements, there were no retirements on our bench.
“Guys thought they were in. It was nice to capitalize and get breaks and earn breaks.
Not enough breaks for the IceDogs who lost their second game in a row.
“An unfortunate goal in the third went over our guy’s knee, but you have to earn your breaks,” Burke said.
“They were winning theirs early for sure, and maybe we won ours a bit later.
“It’s definitely a lesson for us on how we should play our structure.”
Hamilton outscored Niagara 19-7 in the first period and took a 3-0 lead on goals from George Diaco, Ryan Humphrey and Jan Mysak.
Avery Hayes added the Bulldogs lead with a power play goal. His teammate, Giordano Biondi, had a chance to add his name to the scoresheet, but Niagara goaltender Josh Rosenzweig made a pad save on a penalty shot.
The shots were 12 from the side in the second period.
In the final quarter, the IceDogs needed just 17 seconds to halve their visitors’ lead with former Bulldog Liam Van Loon on the power play and Dylan Roobroeck finding the back of the net.
Power play Mysak and Niagara’s Alec Leonard traded goals before Mysak completed the scoring with an empty net for the hat trick.
Shots in the third were 19-10 in favor of the Bulldogs who outscored the IceDogs 50-29 overall.
Hamilton finished the game 2-3 on the power play; Niagara, 1 for 6.
Hamilton entered Saturday night’s game leading the regular season series five wins to nil. Eight games in all are scheduled in the Eastern Conference Canine Cup rivalry.
Niagara was hoping to bounce back from a 4-3 loss to the Erie Otters. In their last game, the Bulldogs doubled Ottawa’s 67 mark 4-2 at home.
It was Niagara’s last home game without fans. Starting Tuesday night, when the IceDogs host the Mississauga Steelheads, a maximum of 500 fans will be allowed at the Meridian Center, which has a hockey capacity of 5,300.
Imposed by the Ontario government, this attendance cap will remain in place for games against Ottawa on Thursday; and the Sudbury Wolves, Sunday, February 20; also. After that, if all goes well and no further restrictions are needed to contain the spread of COVID-19 and its variants, the capacity will be increased to 50%.
Tickets for 50% capacity games are awarded to season ticket holders through a lottery.
Left wing Danil Gushchin, Niagara’s leading scorer and the team’s only prospect in the National Hockey League, was absent from the roster to serve Game 2 of a four-game suspension. He was penalized four games after the league reviewed a play in which North Bay Battalion goaltender Dom DiVincentiis was eliminated from Tuesday night’s game in St. Catharines following contact with Gushchin.
At the time of the offense, Gushchin received a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
‘Dog Biscuits Sami Douglas-Najem, D; Gushchin RW; were the scratches of Niagara. Brenden Anderson, C; Colton Kammerer, D; Mason McTavish, C; Lucas Moorem D; Logan Morrison, C; Noah Nelson, C; Noah Roberts, D; Noah VandenBrink, RW; were out of Hamilton’s roster… There are five National Hockey League draft picks on the Bulldogs’ roster: Artem Grushnikov, D, Dallas; Jan Mysak, C, Montreal; Ryan Winterton, C, Seattle; Arber Xhekaj, D, Montreal; McTavish, Anaheim;. Gushchin, San Jose; is the only NHL hope on the IceDogs… Center Ethan Sims, a Hamilton native, spent part of three seasons with the IceDogs before moving to the Bulldogs at the OHL trade deadline this year… Hamilton rookie left-winger Braeden O’Keefe hails from St. Catharines.
Ice dogs 3
Niagara Dailies Three Stars of the Game Hamilton, Jan Mysak, 3 goals, 6 shots on goal; Hamilton, Nathan Staios, 3 assists, 5 shots on goal; Niagara, Dylan Roobroeck, 1 goal, 6 shots on goal
Score for the Hamilton Bulldogs George Diaco (14), Ryan Humphrey (10), Jan Mysak (19), (20) PP (21) EN, Avery Hayes (21). Score for the Niagara IceDogs Liam Van Loon (10) PP, Dylan Roobroeck (4), Alec Leonard (4).
Goalkeeper, shot-stops Hamilton, Matteo Drobac, 29-26; Niagara, Josh Rosenzweig, 49-44
Power play, goal chances Hamilton, 2-3; Niagara, 1-6
Penalties, in minutes Hamilton, 16; Niagara, 12 years old
Presence at Meridian Centre, St Catharines No spectators under the current phase of the provincial pandemic reopening plan
Upcoming games for Niagara Sunday at Mississauga Steelheads, 2 p.m.; Tuesday, home of the Mississauga Steelheads, 7 p.m.; Friday, home of the Ottawa 67’s, 7 p.m.; Saturday, at Peterborough Petes, 7:05 p.m.; Sunday, February 6, at the Ottawa 67’s, 2 p.m.