HAMILTON, ON – If the expectations of this year’s Hamilton Bulldog team is to bring a more exciting brand of hockey to Copps Coliseum than the squad that finished in the American Hockey League’s basement last season, consider opening night a success. The Bulldogs took an aggressive style of play to the St. John’s IceCaps right from the start, skating to a 3-2 win on the strength of two shorthanded goals in the team’s season and home opener.
The Bulldogs started their season on a strong note as, while killing a penalty, Mike Blunden and Greg Pateryn broke in on a 2-on-1. The former set one on a tee for the latter, who put his full weight into blasting one past veteran netminder Eddie Pasquale. But the IceCaps would battle back on another man advantage, when an Andrew Gordon point shot found its way through a maze of bodies and beat Dustin Tokarski cleanly.
Hamilton’s lead was restored early in the second. Fresh out of the box, Blunden again joined a rush of a very aggressive Bulldog penalty kill, receiving a feed from Joonas Nattinen and firing a wicked wrister just under the bar from the top of the face-off circle. Nattinen – starting the season on Hamilton’s fourth line – had a good hard-working game, engaging physically and generating offensive chances.
A ‘Dogs powerplay generated multiple chances for the home team to extend their lead, and a Magnus Nygren rocket beat Pasquale, but found post and stayed out. After a Joel Chouinard shot met the same fate, a gassed unit was left to defend against Ryan Schnell joining a counterattack out of the box, and defenseman Ben Chiarot was allowed to skate right in on goal to shelf a backhander over Tokarski’s shoulder.
Nygren had another chance to bag a goal in his North American regular season debut, when he charged the net out of the box, but his redirection of a Patrick Holland centering dish met Pasquale’s extended pad. It seemed Nygren barely left the ice in the second, playing eleven minutes attributed to strong performance, a Nathan McIver misconduct, and getting caught on a couple of long shifts.
Another shorthanded rush in the third period’s opening minutes saw Holland break in one-on-one. A slick move around the Ice Caps defender gave him an open shot on Pasquale, who only managed to get a piece of an off-speed snap that trickled into an empty cage.
The Bulldogs looked to be in good position to hold on to their advantage heading to a powerplay with just over six minutes to go, but it proved fruitless, and Mike Blunden was guilty of a lazy accidental hook at centre ice moments after its expiry. During the delayed call, Tokarski was forced to stretch out the left leg to rob a St. John’s skater on the doorstep, one of his 33 stops on the night.
Hamilton’s penalty killers would do the work from there, aggressive and on puck carriers throughout the night. Gabriel Dumont first killed significant time skating the puck around the neutral zone, and then Justin Courtnall picked off an Ice Caps’ pass, driving hard to the net and forcing Will O’Neill to take a hooking call. With the net empty for an extra attacker, St. John’s did buzz at 5-on-5, but Tokarski was again solid in preserving the opening night victory.
The Bulldogs return to action right away Saturday night, as they host the defending Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins at Copps Coliseum.
Hamilton Bulldog lines:
Sven Andrighetto – Martin St. Pierre – Patrick Holland
Mike Blunden – Gabriel Dumont – Louis Leblanc
Erik Nystrom – Ben Duffy – Akim Aliu
Justin Courtnall – Joonas Nattinen – Nick Tarnasky
Joel Chouinard – Greg Pateryn
Drew Schiestel – Darren Dietz
Magnus Nygren – Nathan McIver
1. Mike Blunden
2. Patrick Holland
3. Eddie Pasquale
Hardest Working Bulldog: Greg Pateryn
Honourable mentions to Magnus Nygren, Dustin Tokarski, and Joonas Nattinen