HAMILTON, ON – The Hamilton Bulldogs came home from a four-game road trip riding a six-game win streak, but a strong first period was insufficient to extend the streak to seven Saturday night against the Rochester Americans. It looked through twenty minutes as though the ‘Dogs might continue the dominance they displayed on the road, but the visiting Amerks got revenge from the first half of the teams’ home-and-home, slowly taking control starting at the game’s halfway point, and then controlling the flow in the final minutes to secure a 3-1 victory.
The game marked Robert Mayer‘s first start since winning the Spengler Cup during a brief loan to Genève-Servette. Mayer was phenomenal in the tournament’s final, particularly as Genève-Servette held on under siege during the third period.
Mayer’s shaky confidence has often been a knock against him throughout his professional career, so the hope was that the championship might give him something to build on back in the American Hockey League, but the extended time off between games saw him look hesitant off the bat. The first shot his way – coming from the blueline – squeaked through him, but fortunately trickled just wide of the cage.
From there, the Bulldogs took over the first period. On the team’s first powerplay at the midway mark of the period, Greg Pateryn took a feed from Christian Thomas along the blueline and took a few strides in from the point before firing a hard wrister past Nathan Lieuwen for a 1-0 lead. The goal was Pateryn’s seventh of the season, putting him just two behind Louis Leblanc‘s team leading nine. As much as Pateryn could help the Montreal Canadiens as an upgrade on D immediately, he has been Hamilton’s MVP through the first half of the season, and would be an enormous loss for the ‘Dogs.
Nathan Beaulieu and Sven Andrighetto had quality scoring chances looking to extend the Hamilton lead before 20 minutes were through. Beaulieu accepted a drop pass and displayed soft hands in weaving through the Amerks’ defense before firing a shot that rang off the post. A few shifts later, Andrighetto’s stickhandling ability allowed him to find open ice in the offensive zone, but his shot was narrowly wide.
The Bulldogs picked up right where they left off in the second period. Gabriel Dumont battled hard in front of Lieuwen on an early powerplay, finally leaving the puck for Mike Blunden to crash the goal and try to sneak one through the Rochester netminder, but to no avail.
After successfully killing ten penalties in Rochester the night previous, Hamilton was again set on not making the night an easy one for themselves. The Americans – who began to find their legs as the period moved on – hemmed the ‘Dogs in their own end for an extended period of time, eventually earning a powerplay thanks to a Christian Thomas failed clear attempt that sailed over the glass. Mayer was forced to make a big save lying on the ice in snow angel formation to help his ‘mates survive the kill.
But Rochester’s momentum only grew from there. Mayer – who also settled down as the game wore on – made the initial stop on a rush, but kicked the rebound all the way back to the point where Chad Ruhwedel was waiting. The blueliner’s shot would be tipped in front by Brandon MacLean to tie the game before Mayer could recover.
The third period started with both teams afraid to make mistakes. The biggest moment in the early-goings was a successful Hamilton kill of a Greg Pateryn penalty. It took till the midway point of the frame for the first real scoring chance, when Maxim Macenauer and Louis Leblanc broke in on a two-on-one. Macenauer opted to keep the puck and identified the nearside top corner, but Lieuwen got the blocker up in time.
Seconds after the unsuccessful rush, Luke Adam – always a thorn in Hamilton’s sign – deftly stickhandled inside the Bulldogs blueline to create room before spotting Johan Larsson alone in the slot. Larsson – acquired from Minnesota as part of last season’s Jason Pominville trade – quickly redirected the pass into an empty net as Mayer attempted to slide cross-crease, giving Rochester its first lead of the night.
By this point, the Americans had taken control of the flow of the game, and coasted the rest of the period with Hamilton unable to generate much in the way of chances to tie the game. Mayer skated to the bench following a Bulldog dump-in, but Rochester recovered, and Luke Adam – yes, him again – lobbed a puck into the empty cage with just under a minute to play, sealing the Amerks victory and ending Hamilton’s run.
“That first goal was really big for us, and I thought we were going to be able to feed off that, but we played one and a half periods of hockey, and that third period we gave the game away,” summarized the night’s second star, Greg Pateryn. “It happens sometimes. We have to break away from it.”
Pateryn was perhaps the biggest reason outside of Dustin Tokarski for Hamilton’s recent success, having found solid chemistry on a pairing with Jarred Tinordi after spending much of the early season beside Nathan Beaulieu. The 23-year old believes he and his new ‘mate can make a solid shutdown duo. “We’re starting to really build some chemistry. We’re talking out there, always trying to get better with the little things. He’s a really good player and I’m really happy to play with him.”
Critical for the Bulldogs is not to fall into the same trap they have earlier this year, where multi-game win streaks were essentially negated by extended losing streaks. They’ll have a chance to put tonight’s loss behind them quickly, as they hit the season’s official halfway point with a home date against the Iowa Wild Sunday. In the words of Pateryn: “We need to not let this loss get to us and take the positives from it. There are a lot of games in the season.”