HAMILTON, ON – Military Appreciation Night won’t go down as one to remember in Hamilton. Despite the Bulldogs playing the defending Calder Cup champion Grand Rapid Griffins relatively evenly most of the night, a total defensive and goaltending collapse midway through the second period saw the visitors deposit four pucks into the ‘Dog net in a 1:13 span to take over the game en route to an easy 6-1 victory.
The Bulldogs had generated the better early-game chances when a harmless looking shift in their defensive end saw a puck pop up to Cory Emmerton. The long-time veteran of the Detroit organization caught the puck, dropped it and fired a quick shot with perfect accuracy, wringing off the post and in past a slow-to-react Robert Mayer.
In an ironic twist on Military Appreciation Night, it was a lack of discipline that then got the home team in further trouble, as first a Greg Pateryn board and then a Maxime Macenauer high stick left Hamilton two men short. A unit of Gabriel Dumont, Nathan Beaulieu, and Jarred Tinordi collapsed tight to the net to protect Mayer, but after Dumont took a shot off the right hand leaving him hobbled, AHL superstar Gustav Nyquist found 22-year old Swede Calle Jarnkork at the top of the face-off circle to blast a one-time shot to the back of the net.
There was reason to suspect another comeback effort may have been in the cards for the Bulldogs as they buzzed out of the gate to start the second period. One wraparound chance looked like it may have crossed the goal line, but video review could not conclusively prove that the puck had gone in under Petr Mrazek.
Truthfully, there was no reason to suspect the meltdown that would occur next, starting at the 10:52 mark of the middle stanza. In fact, while it didn’t entirely reflect the balance of play, Hamilton led 22-10 on the shot clock at that point. But then, just after the ‘Dogs had failed to draw within one on a powerplay opportunity, a harmless looking wrister from just inside the blueline off the blade of Andrej Nestrasil somehow went right through Mayer. And the Griffins were hardly done there. Twenty-three seconds later it was Jarnkrok, again on a Nyquist feed, firing his second past the ‘Dogs starter. If that wasn’t enough, a quick rush off the ensuing face-off saw Mayer leave a Nestrasil rebound just outside the blue paint where Mitch Callahan was able to tap it in past the floundering keeper. Three goals in 33 seconds made it a 5-0 game and ended the night for Mayer, paving way for Dustin Tokarski.
Even if a 5-0 game seems out of reach, sometimes changing netminders can help to settle a side down, but that wasn’t the case on this night. The Bulldogs would surrender their fourth goal in a 1:13 span as Teemu Pulkkinen got his stick on a Ryan Sproul shot off the rush on the first shot Tokarski would face.
Typical of a blowout, the third period was a penalty-filled affair as refs kept whistles in their mouths to keep things in check. Despite the numerous powerplays, there were few chances either way, until Sven Andrighetto spoiled Mrazek’s shutout bid with the man advantage on a shot from just inside the blueline in the game’s final minute.
Post-game, captain Martin St. Pierre was at a loss to explain how this game got away from his troops. “It was just a mental breakdown. There’s no fatigue or anything else to blame. It doesn’t matter who’s on the ice after a disallowed goal or after they score one or two really quick. It’s just a matter of bouncing back and forgetting about that. But we just dwelled on it and we shot ourselves in the foot. There’s no one else to blame except us.”
The Bulldogs will take what they can out of this one with less than 48 hours to think about it before they are back in action at home again Sunday against the struggling Utica Comets – a perfect opportunity to rebound.