HAMILTON, ON – Tuesday marked the twelfth (no, that’s not a typo) and final meeting between AHL rivals Hamilton and Toronto, and in a season series that has seen a lot of one-sided contests, this one was a dog fight right down till the final minutes. With numerous scoring chances throughout the night, it was the line of Gabriel Dumont, Mike Blunden, and Joey Tenute that ultimately took charge, and a revived Bulldogs powerplay gave the team a 3-2 victory late in the third period.
The flow wasn’t in the game from the outset, however. A choppy first period saw six minor penalties called, and despite a strong defensive effort by the ‘Dogs in killing off all four infractions against them, they fell behind 1-0 on a Will Acton converted pass from a tough angle.
In the team’s best period in quite some time, Hamilton would first even the score at 13:48 of the second when a brutal Toronto turnover shorthanded bounced off Joey Tenute and right to Gabriel Dumont. While his shot was stopped, Stefan Chaput was able to cash in his third of the year on a rebound, and the Bulldogs had a rare powerplay goal on the board.
Toronto kept things tight, regaining a lead on a man advantage of their own when an open Joe Colbourne snapped a shot top corner beating a slightly off-angle Robert Mayer. But it would take less than a minute and a half for the ‘Dogs to draw even once again. Dumont sent a hard centering pass across the ice, which bounced off the opposite board and on to the stick of Joey Tenute, whose blistering shot was tipped by Mike Blunden on the way in. The goal was a nice reward for Blunden who has been one of Hamilton’s top forwards consistently of late and had numerous chances in this game.
The Hamilton powerplay – in addition to the gift of a goal – looked as dangerous as it has all season, and Louis Leblanc had a few cracks at beating Jussi Rynnas on centering passes with one such advantage in the final ten minutes of the third. Leblanc’s play has greatly improved since the start of the New Year, and while his production is only slowly coming along, Habs fans should be encouraged that after a summer to fully recover, he should be ready to challenge for an NHL roster spot again in the Fall.
But it would be the Blunden line again converting on a powerplay with 2:46 to go that gave Hamilton its first lead of the night. A Nathan Beaulieu point shot appeared to be tipped by Gabriel Dumont who was battling in front, and Dumont even reacted by dropping to a knee with an exuberant fist pump. But Beaulieu was officially credited with his fourth of the season.
“It went off my shaft, but then the ref was like, “I gotta give it to Beaulieu because I’m a little bit worried about the height of your stick,” so you know, I didn’t want to ruin that one, didn’t really care, it’s a big win,” joked (I think) Dumont post-game.
Toronto was handed a bench unsportsmanlike minor after the goal, and that was where things got strange. Moments into the Hamilton powerplay, the referee signaled a second call against the Marlies and Mayer took off to the bench for an extra skater. Yet when play resumed, it remained a 5-on-4 advantage. The situation was clarified with the official announcement, that Toronto head coach Dallas Eakins had been assessed a game misconduct, obviously not to fond of the goaltender interference call that led to what would stand-up as the game’s winning goal, and having thrown his clipboard to the ice.
With the win, Hamilton finishes the season with a 5-5-1-1 record against the Marlies, impressive considering the significant gap between the two squads in the standings. The Bulldogs still sit in 30th place in the AHL, but they’ve won two in a row and three in the last four. Beaulieu attributes both his own personal recent successes (being used in all situations and playing close to 30 minutes a night) and those of the team to guys becoming more comfortable at the professional level.
“We sat down and want to take it one game at a time. We got a big win in Toronto and I think it kind of sparked our team. We’re comfortable and we’re playing without fear. We’re not scared to make the plays we have before in different leagues. [Greg Pateryn, his defense partner] has a couple of years on me, so he definitely knows a lot more than I do. We play really well together. I’m comfortable with him and he helps me a lot.”