HAMILTON, ON – The Hamilton Bulldogs’ welcome home from a 4-0-0 road trip wasn’t a happy one Saturday, dropping a decision to the Rochester Americans, but the warriors from the Hammer got back in the win column Sunday by outworking the Iowa Wild. Goals from Gabriel Dumont, Nathan Beaulieu, and an empty netter from Nick Tarnasky supported a strong night of work from Dustin Tokarski to earn a 3-1 victory.
The Bulldogs started the night off on a strong note when the initial shift by the line of Christian Thomas, Maxime Macenauer, and Louis Leblanc drew a penalty to Hamilton-native Marc Hagel (brother of former Bulldog Kyle Hagel). The powerplay buzzed for the first minute, with Sven Andrighetto getting the best chance on a deflection of a Martin St. Pierre centering pass, but Johan Gustafsson resisted and the game remained scoreless.
Hamilton continued to press as the far better team in the opening stanza. A strong forecheck from Thomas created a turnover, and the winger himself narrowly missed tapping in the rebound of a Louis Leblanc half-pass half-shot.
One of the few Iowa scoring chances in the first came with the man advantage while Macenauer sat in the box for interference. A miscue between Greg Pateryn and Jarred Tinordi left former Bulldog Tyler Murovich alone in the slot, but his one-time attempt was stymied by a sprawling Dustin Tokarski. The Wild carried the momentum through the rest of the powerplay, and moments later captain Jake Dowell‘s shot beat Tokarski but found pipe.
With the penalty killed, the Bulldogs returned to the attack. Martin St. Pierre led a rush that drew a Corbin Baldwin hooking penalty, and early on in the powerplay, it was St. Pierre again spotting Gabriel Dumont at the side of the goal. Dumont showed quick hands, spinning around and flipping the puck over to his forehead before lifting a shot over Gustafsson for a 1-0 lead – a deserved advantage as the home side led 18-8 on the shot clock.
The Bulldogs looked to continue their dominance in the second, and it was again the line of Thomas, Macenauer, and Leblanc that almost extended the lead. Thomas picked off a puck behind the Wild net and spotted Leblanc all alone in front of Gustafsson, but the winger fanned on his wide-open scoring attempt.
That same shift, Macenauer picked up his second minor penalty of the game, this one in the offensive zone for a trip, in a moment that seemed to swing the game’s momentum around a bit. Iowa’s puck movement on the powerplay was again crisp, and a perfectly-executed give-and-go between Warren Peters and Marc Hagel left the latter with an easy tap-in for a tie game, drawing applause from his hometown friends and family in the crowd.
Key for the Bulldogs was to not fall into the same trip they had a night before, being to play a strong first half, but then sit and watch as the visitors slowly took over after the midway mark. Sven Andrighetto showed there was still fight in the ‘Dogs on this night, as he and Patrick Holland battled hard on the forecheck, before Andrighetto himself worked magic with the puck, weaving around the offensive zone and firing a hard shot from just inside the blueline. His attempt was stopped by Gustafsson, but the rebound came right out to Nathan Beaulieu who ripped it over falling bodies and just under the bar to restore the lead.
A scary moment shortly after the go-ahead marker, as Jim McKenzie boarded Patrick Holland from behind in the Hamilton end. Holland lay on the ice for about a minute following the hit, as Beaulieu was quick to drop the gloves with McKenzie in his defense. Holland was eventually able to get up, leaving the ice under his own strength and returning to action in the third period, while for Beaulieu, the fight completed a Gordie Howe Hat Trick.
The period’s final minute saw the Bulldogs with another penalty to kill as Joonas Nattinen was given the only minor from a large scrum. Heavy pressure from the Wild forced Tokarski to be on top of his game, and the 24-year old was up to the task with numerous key pad saves.
The first half of the third saw both sides squander powerplay opportunities after looking so sharp in periods one and two. During one Bulldog kill, Gabriel Dumont blocked a heavy point shot with his foot and retreated to the dressing room under great distress. He would return to the bench minutes thereafter sporting a noticeable limp, and remained seated there the rest of the night.
Hamilton had a glorious chance to put the game away late in the period, as Nick Tarnasky and Joonas Nattinen swarmed the crease with the puck behind a fallen Gustafsson, but somehow the pair was unable to find the vacated cage.
Tarnasky would redeem himself in the game’s final minute, however. After two key face-off wins from Martin St. Pierre, the hulking forward pressed the Iowa defense with a forecheck, scooping a bobbled puck into the net with the goalie out for an extra attacker. Tarnasky’s ninth drew him even with Louis Leblanc for the team lead in goals.
Coach Sylvain Lefebvre indicated post-game that the Dumont shot block was a big lift to his players that helped carry them through the final minutes. “We know what Dumy’s all about. He’s an inspiration to all the players here. He plays hard every night. To block that shot, sometimes you like to think it’s a game changer. It’s as big as a goal sometimes,” credited the team’s bench boss.
“Yesterday we let the game slip away from us, so today we were on a mission,” summarized one of the night’s heroes, Nathan Beaulieu. Beaulieu has now amassed two goals and three assists in five games in the month of January, and he owes his personal success to satisfaction with his defensive game, which has allowed him to open up his play on a more regular basis. “The first half of the year, I was focused on the defensive half of my game. Now I can jump in a little more and start putting up some numbers.”
Hamilton’s star offensive rearguard came out post-game wearing some unusual headgear. When asked about it, he explained that it was awarded every game to the team’s best player, chosen by its previous wearer. His claim that the tradition had been going on for two years was met with skepticism from the assembled journalists, which led him to clarify, “I’m the only one that actually wears it cause it only fits my head. I have a small head.” Ironic if you consider what some in the media have made of Beaulieu, but he has been nothing but a professional on and off the ice of late as a key contributor to the Bulldogs’ current run.
With the win, the Bulldogs improved to 7-1-1 in their past nine games and avoided the plague of their early season: following up every win streak with a slide of equal length. The team begins the second half of their 2013-14 AHL season at home next Saturday, January 18th, against the Utica Comets.