SAINT JOHN, NB – The Saint John Sea Dogs have been chomping at the bit for more than a month, but their day-to-day efforts in practice have not been in vain.
Ryan Francis broke the late first-period tie with the first of his two goals as the New Brunswick club defeated the Hamilton Bulldogs 5-3 Monday at TD Station in the Memorial Cup opener.
The Sea Dogs were back in action after a 38-day hiatus following a surprise first-round elimination to the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. They had yet won their last 15 games on the regular schedule, and 26 of their last 28 meetings before the playoffs.
This serial meltdown led to the firing of head coach Gordie Dwyer. Gardiner MacDougall, who ran the hockey program at the University of New Brunswick, trained as a relief in the company of former tough guy Rocky Thompson.
The electroshock seemed to have worked, as the Sea Dogs, who wore a uniform in tribute to Canadian Forces veterans, played with conviction.
“It takes a weight off our shoulders”
“Of course we had doubts, but we were also confident,” said forward William Dufour, who scored for the Sea Dogs.
“We train five or six times a week on and off the ice, but it’s been worth it. It was hard, mentally too. But it was nice to come back tonight. We were in good shape and it paid off. »
In addition to his two goals, Francis also added an assist, while linemates Philippe Daoust and Raivis Kristians Ansons each provided three assists.
Yan Kuznetsov and Peter Reynolds, in an empty net, also hit the target for the tournament host team. Nikolas Hurtubise made 17 saves.
Hurtubise made his best save of the game with just over five minutes left in the second period and the Sea Dogs lead was 3-1. He made a good lateral move to his right to frustrate Avery Hayes on a two-man Bulldogs attack on the keeper.
“It was a big stop for us, recognized Hurtubise. Sometimes that’s what you need to pick up the pace in a game.
“It’s my job to make saves like that and I’m glad I did. »
Francis scored a few minutes later, giving the Sea Dogs a cushion that lasted until the end of the game despite the Ontario champions’ attempt to come back.
“It starts with our goaltender, then our defensemen who were brilliant against a great offense,” MacDougall said. Our forwards played well in all phases of the game and set up a good forecheck.
“Saint John is a working class town and we had a bit of that in our game tonight. »
The Bulldogs swept the first three rounds of the OHL playoffs before needing seven games to defeat the Windsor Spitfires in the final.
Their stars were held in check for long periods against the Sea Dogs. Then their attempt to come back came up short.
“We looked tired. We weren’t mentally alert at the start of the game,” Bulldogs head coach Jay McKee said.
“The Sea Dogs didn’t see the best version of the Bulldogs tonight,” he added.
Ryan Winterton had two goals and an assist and Hayes had a goal and an assist. Logan Morrison cited three assists and Marco Costantini stopped 30 shots.
The Shawinigan Cataractes, champions of the QMJHL, and the Edmonton Oil Kings, champions of the WHL, will begin their course on Tuesday.
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