HAMILTON, ON – The 2013-14 Hamilton Bulldogs are proving weekly that the epitomize a “never say die” attitude. While their comeback efforts fell short a week ago, on this night they managed to complete the reversal over those same rival Toronto Marlies, erasing a 1-0 third period deficit in taking this season’s third Battle of Ontario by a 2-1 score in overtime.
The Marlies were responsible for Hamilton’s only two regulation losses, and the early game looked like we’d be heading towards a third. Less than five minutes in, a Morgan Ellis defensive zone giveaway bounced out on to Josh Leivo‘s stick with only an empty cage in front of him, and he had no trouble putting the puck past Dustin Tokarski. While the ‘Dogs would put in a solid effort the rest of the first, their chances came largely on pointshots with little traffic in front of Drew MacIntyre, leading to a high shot total but not an overly difficult night for the former ‘Dog and current Marlie netminder.
On some nights, Hamilton’s effort in the first half of the second period might have been enough to draw even, but despite his side being dominated, the savvy veteran MacIntyre kept the Marlies ahead long enough for the team to wake up and balance play out for the final ten minutes of the middle stanza. In fact, the period’s most dangerous chance again came off Leivo’s stick, finding iron behind Tokarski.
But the Bulldogs would find a way to break through in the final frame. After failing to get bodies in the Toronto blue paint for most of the night, a Hamilton powerplay with under nine minutes to go saw the team do just that. A Magnus Nygren point shot bounced off the scrum at the top of the crease and back out on a tee for Martin St. Pierre who one-timed his first of the season to the back of the net to knot the score.
If it’s indiscipline that killed the ‘Dogs on many nights in this early season, it favoured them on this night. Another Marlies penalty shortly after the equalizer could have ended the game in regulation, but it was an overtime (very) high stick on Jarred Tinordi that would give the home team the chance they needed. The 4-on-3 advantage produced a similar set-up to the first Hamilton goal, with Nathan Beaulieu feeding Nygren along the point, and a rebound bouncing to captain St. Pierre once again, making no mistake in burying his second of the night and season.
“We don’t want to have to come back all the time. It’s hard. It’s not fun. But it shows a lot of character. And we’ve got guys who you don’t notice because they’re not on the scoresheet all the time, like Courtnall, but they were probably our best players tonight,” said Beaulieu after the game, a thought echoed by his head coach.
“We want better starts. But we had Nattinen’s line going real well tonight and I played the hell out of them. It gave us momentum all night long, and through two periods, we did everything but score goals,” added Lefebvre. The line of Joonas Nattinen, Justin Courtnall, and Steve Quailer started all three period, playing simple, physical, north south hockey, as they have done from the start of the season. While he may be the fourth line center on paper, Nattinen has been an extremely important role player throughout the first month of the year, utilizing his size to play a physical brand of hockey, winning key face-offs, and working hard on the penalty kill.
But while the fourth line contributed energy, the hero on the night was the squad’s captain. “It’s frustrating to go five games with no goals, but I’m (back at) 100%, and it’s good to get some goals and get going. I take a lot of pride (in being captain). It’s a challenge to me. It’s a young team that learned a lot from having a bad year last year, and the management expects me to take what I learned from Toews and Kane and those guys and apply it here,” summarized an obviously relieved St. Pierre.
The Bulldogs won’t have long to celebrate their comeback win, as they are right back at it Saturday night, home to the Abbotsford Heat and looking to extend the lead they captured Friday night.