By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine
HAMILTON, ON – There are some things more important than hockey. Around North America, at virtually every level below the National Hockey League, teams organize annual Toy Toss evenings, where fans are encouraged to throw a stuffed animal on the ice following the home team’s first goal. The toys are then collected and donated to needy kids. A year ago in Hamilton, Steve Quailer dramatically snapped a scoreless tie with a highlight-reel breakway marker that sent plush creatures to the Copps Coliseum playing surface. Unfortunately in 2013, while the toys amassed will serve as great a purpose, they came under far lress happy circumstances, with the visiting Toronto Marlies spoiling the party, carrying the majority of play en route to a 4-1 victory.
The Bulldogs had a couple of chances to get the Toy Toss night monkey off their back early. Just thirty seconds in, Joonas Nattinen collected a Marlie turnover in the slot, but his quick wrister was turned aside by former Bulldog netminder Drew MacIntyre. Next it was Patrick Holland, attempting to complete a three-way passing play with linemates Martin St. Pierre and Gabriel Dumont that he himself had started with a nifty deke, also meeting the outstretched pad of MacIntyre.
As tends to happen in hockey, missed opportunities at one end eventually led to a conversion at the other. Just past the midway mark of the first, a Andrew MacWilliam point shot went well wide of the net, but Robert Mayer was slow to recover, and Spencer Abbott was able to corral the puck off the endboards and one-time it into an empty cage before he could get back across the crease.
Hamilton was given a gift of a powerplay late in the period, as Mayer misplayed a puck behind his net, and then attempted to throw a hit on Kory Nagy to stop him from getting to the loose disc. Instead, it was Nagy charged with goaltender interference on the play, and though the man advantage carried over into the second period, the home side failed to capitalize.
From there, the Marlies blew the game open. A strange goal on Robert Mayer served to open the floodgates, as a harmless looking centering pass by David Broll was tapped in the the outstretched stick of Kory Nagy, leaving the Bulldog pair of Jarrred Tinordi and Darren Dietz looking awfully soft on the play. Seconds after the goal, the situation went from bad to worse as Gabriel Dumont was assessed a minor for kneeing. On the ensuing a powerplay, AHL scoring phenom T.J. Brennan would let go an off-speed point shot that deflected off Mayer’s pad and up into the net, stretching the Toronto lead to three. It was a debatable coach’s choice to give Mayer a third straight start following two wins, even after Dustin Tokarski had seemingly earned the “No. 1” title through his far superior play,and the goaltender did little to reward his coach’s confidence.
Though fans itched to toss their stuffed animals to the Copps Coliseum ice, they’d have to wait and watch the visitors add a fourth marker before having the chance to do so. A minute and a half after Brennan’s marker, Brad Ross was left completely alone at the lip of Mayer’s crease, and deftly lifted a Tyler Biggs cross-ice pass over the sliding Hamilton netminder.
It’s rare to get a crowd on its feet when their home team trails by 4, but it’s a feat that Louis Leblanc accomplished just past the middle frame’s halfway mark. The winger went to the front of the net, and buzzing by Martin St. Pierre and Mike Blunden eventually saw a rebound pop right on to his stick. His rocket wrister broke MacIntyre’s shutout bid, and surely made Christmas a much happier one for many Hamilton kids in need, as the barrage of toys launched towards the playing surface were collected for charity.
Unfortunately, it did little to revive the Bulldogs’ offense. Leblanc – the team’s most dangerous offensive player on this night – would himself have Hamilton’s best chance to pull within two in the third period, stickhandling impressively just inside the Toronto blueline on a powerplay, but his heavy shot found only goalpost. Beyond that scoring chance, Hamilton played the period fairly even with the Marlies, with few notable opportunities for either side, and the visitors coasting to a 4-1 win.
The loss drops the Bulldogs to 12-11-0-3 on the season, allowing Toronto to pass them in the tight North Division race. The ‘Dogs will have an opportunity to get right back in the win column Saturday, though, as St. John’s visits Copps Coliseum.