Last night, in a heavily contested game at the historic Jack Gatecliff Garden City Centre in St. Catharines, the Niagara Icedogs came out on top vs. their rival Mississauga Steelheads 5-4 in a shootout.

The game was more of a seesaw as opposed to a rollercoaster.

In the first period – the Dogs held a 12-1 shot advantage near the halfway point of the first period including many quality scoring chances. The lone goal of the first period would be a beauty deflection by Sam Babintsev in the slot from a DiTomasco point hot.  The puck would slide 5 hole on draft eligible Brent Moran.

The second period started off where it left off with Mississauga contesting Niagara’s offensive cog – Carter Verhaeghe – each time he touched the puck or tried to enter the offensive zone.  His frustration would boil over early in the period as he would be assessed his third infraction three minutes in capped off with a 5 minute major for cross checking paired with a  game misconduct.  The Dogs were in a very tough spot now to overcome this major obstacle.  Coach Williamson would have to juggle his lines a little now – but they still struggled with Russian Babintsev tonight as he would score two more times in the period for a natural hattrick and a 3-0 Mississauga lead. Once was a power move where he brought the puck out of the corner with an Icedog ‘on his back’ and slid the puck five hole again on Moran.  The third goal was a deft deflection from a sloppy clearing attempt by the Dogs - scooped up by Venito on the powerplay and passed over to Babintsev.

After this the ‘screws came lose’ on the Dogs as they would play more desperately – frustration boiled over as the Dogs would run over Steelheads’ tender Martin – penalties ensued.  A few minutes later Martin would take exception to being contacted again on a Niagara rush by DiFruscia earning the goalie a double minor penalty.  The Dogs had some good pressure, but were not able to get a puck past Martin as the period closed.

The third period was ‘make or break’ time for the Icedogs. After killing off another penalty, the Dogs started to mount some pressure.  DiFruscia continued his battles in front of the net and was rewarded by a penalty call against 6’5” Zottl giving the Dogs a much needed powerplay. Overager Ming would score his first of three goals on a cross ice pass from DiFruscia for the 3-1 score.   Missy’s Foy would score on a low shot to the glove side from near the top of the faceoff circle for a 4-1 score – and would see the Dogs change goaltenders close to the halfway mark of the period.  This was definitely not Moran’s night and wasn’t what he was hoping to show scouts in attendance (including Calgary’s Conroy & Burke as well as Fred Brathwaite from Hockey Canada).

The score would deflate the Dogs momentarily, but they would continue their tight checking and eager offensive play, whereas Mississauga seemed to sitting back more. A short while later, Captain Mercer pinched in the zone – was fed a nifty pass from rookie Knott and wired a wrist shot top shelf to trim the lead to 4-2.  Nine seconds later, Jenkins would chase down a puck behind the net and feed it to the perfectly placed Eric Ming who would deposit Niagara’s second goal of the night and trim the lead to 4-3 Mississauga.  The next 5 minutes or so were dictated by the Dogs as they would push for puck possession and had a few nifty offensive chances – the Steelheads would continue their defensive stance and satisfaction with dumping the puck and sitting back. With less than a minute left, Perlini was able to find Ming on the left side of the ice near the top of the circle – he wired a wrister low glove side for a 4-4 tie and a hattrick on the night. It was fitting that the Icedogs and Canadian Tire had a promotional hat giveaway on this night – many fans would deposit their hats onto the playing surface.

The extra frame did not produce a ‘golden goal’ – so the teams went to a shootout.  Venuto and Goldberg would score for the visitors and the home side would benefit from goals by Jenkins, Knott and Mercer for the clutch win.

The hardest worker of the game was Niagara’s Anthony DiFruscia. Three stars were #3 Luke Mercer, #2 Sam Babintsev and #1 Eric Ming. 

When the dust settled, both teams continue to creep ahead of the Ottawa 67’s in the ever tightening Eastern Conference.  Niagara is in 7th - Mississauga is in 8th (52 pts) – Ottawa in 9th (51 pts) and Belleville is in 10 (50 pts).

Up next: Niagara ventures to the ‘Pond’ for Mississauga’s final game of the season.  Niagara has arranged for and filled 10 buses of fans (as well as many others who will drive over).  Look for the home side fans to be stunned by the show of support from the ‘DogPound’.  Mississauga will be playing more desperate for the win – and if Niagara can capitalize on their miscues, then the Dogs will win by 2 goals.
After tonight’s game (vs. Niagara) the Steelheads will do some scoreboard watching on Saturday as they prepare to host the Kingston Frontenacs on Sunday in their last game of the regular season.

Ottawa will finish their season with games at Kingston (Friday) and at North Bay (Sunday). Their 3 game losing streak is not how they would have liked to finish off their season.   Both of their opponents are playing very well as the playoffs loom – it will be very difficult for the 67’s to squeak out any points in these 2 contests.

The Belleville Bulls have put a real push into the last quarter of the season with numerous close games and a growing collection of wins.  They have won 2 in a row and 5 of their last 10 games. They will play at the #1 Oshawa Generals and then host the #4 Sudbury Wolves to close out their schedule.  Both Oshawa and Sudbury will likely rest some of their top players to rest them for their last game of the season when the Wolves venture into the GM Centre to battle with the Generals. 

My prediction for the final weekend of the season: Niagara #7, Mississauga #8, Belleville #9, Ottawa #10