By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine
POST-GAME AUDIO: Nathan Beaulieu | Patrick Holland | Sylvain Lefebvre
HAMILTON, ON – The Hamilton Bulldogs continue to put their struggles of the first half of the 2012-13 season behind them, as goals from Stefan Chaput, Joe Stejskal, and a pair by Nathan Beaulieu powered the club to a 4-3 victory over the St. John’s Ice Caps – their sixth win in the past eight outings.
“We weren’t really happy (with the way we played) to be honest. In the second intermission we talked about it. But you gotta grind out wins. You gotta battle back. We’re not used to playing with the lead, so tonight we showed a little bit of character keeping the lead and never giving up,” summarized Beaulieu, the star on the night.
As Beaulieu alludes to, it wasn’t always pretty. Two face-off losses drained a Bulldog 5-on-3 in the first, but Hamilton managed to convert before the second penalty ended when Stefan Chaput picked a corner from a tough angle. Some stellar goaltending from Robert Mayer ensured the ‘Dogs would take 1 -0 lead into the intermission despite being outshot 13-11 in the period.
The Ice Caps tied the game early in the second when a Jason Gregoire wraparound beat Mayer – a shot he’d likely want a second look at. Jarred Tinordi was slightly late getting to Gregoire on the goal, allowing the winger to take an extra step out front and improve his angle.
But Hamilton would show resiliency – or “battle back” as Beaulieu put it. After buzzing on some unsuccessful powerplay chances, a Joe Stejskal point shot squeaked through Mark Dekanich, with Patrick Holland standing all over him at the top of the crease. It looked like Holland may have earned the goal with a deflection, but it was awarded cleanly to Stejskal.
“It hit me in the shin pad, but that’s between us. I’ll let Joe keep it. It was his first,” joked Holland at game’s end.
Nathan Beaulieu added to the Bulldogs’ lead with a quick move at the offensive blueline and firing of a quick accurate wrist shot into the corner of the net. Michael Bournival initially got credit on a tip, but it was later corrected to have officially gone in cleanly off Beaulieu’s stick. Not an easy night to be a scorekeeper, no doubt.
And if those scorekeepers were busy trying to figure that one out, they may have missed the next goal, as the Ice Caps didn’t waste time clawing back to within one less than a minute later. Mayer was unable to control the rebound of a Derek Meech point shot and Aaron Gagnon was first on the loose puck, beating the fallen netminder.
A Louis Leblanc slashing penalty put the ‘Dogs in some danger early in the third period, but big shot blocks in succession from Gabriel Dumont, Joe Stejskal, and Mike Blunden got the team out of trouble. The team carried the momentum through to another offensive burst from Beaulieu, who with time and space at the line, was able to fire a shot just inside the post for the second time of the game, extending the lead to 4-2. Patrick Holland collected his second assist of the night on the goal, and that’s with no point on the team’s first goal that he very well may have scored.
In a season where nothing has come easy for Hamilton, we were in for another struggle to the finish, as Leblanc’s second penalty of the period proved more costly than the first. Raymond Sawada‘s 10th of the season beat Mayer for his third point of the night, as the never-say-die Ice Caps made it 4-3. But that was all the Ice Caps could muster, and the Bulldogs posted their sixth win in the last eight games, pulling within a point of visiting St. John’s in the basement of the AHL standings.
After the game, Holland was quick to clarify a Tweet he put out earlier in the day, alluding to an epic battle between he and a zipper.
“Ellis would probably know better. He’s my roommate and I was screaming. I had something in my coat pocket and I couldn’t get it open. It was hooked on the inside like everybody’s dealt with before. But I just couldn’t get it. And it’s so frustrating. Cause you can’t calmly just open it, you have to like… and it starts to build rage. And it’s not against another person, so there’s nothing you can do to retaliate. It’s a coat. What am I gonna do to it? It doesn’t care!”