The young scrappy Icedogs ventured into the comfortable confines of the Sleeman Centre for a challenging game vs. the nationally ranked and much older Storm squad. Going into this game Guelph had an exceptional record of 4 wins and zero loses at home this season. The Dogs had a dismal record of 1-4-0-0 on the road – on paper it should have been no contest. Early on it appeared to be a mismatch.
The first period the home side would pepper veteran goalie Chris Festerani with plenty of shots from all angles with lots of traffic in front to distract and deflect rubber in his direction. The Dogs seemed to be a step behind and would be fortunate to come out of the period only a few goals down. Niagara pushed back in the middle of the frame with some timely rushes and puck possession in the offensive zone. Perlini and Maletta would ‘light the lamp’ to give the Visitors and 2-1 lead after one period. The Dogs had ‘weathered the Storm’.
The next frame would see a tighter checking affair with good chances at both ends of the rink. Both teams would have quality scoring chances but only Bertuzzi would score in the period (on the powerplay). The Icedogs were very frustrated with having the first four penalties of the game called against them – there were more than a few infractions against the home side in the second period including too many men on the ice at 11:30, and Maletta being hauled down on a drive to the net at 9:20. Harpur would eventually be called for a penalty while Guelph was on a powerplay. He hauled down an Icedog who had chipped the puck out of the zone for a potential breakaway scoring chance.
Niagara’s DiFruscia would strike first in the third period on a sweet powerplay setup by Perlini and Mercer to give the visitors a slim 3-2 lead. Guelph would climb back in to the game quickly on a crafty goal by Fabbri a mere 20 seconds later. Soon after, the Dogs’ Russian defender – Mikulovich would take a run at Fabbri at the defensive blue line causing a brief melee to ensue. Fabbri would stay on the ice for a brief moment clutching his knee – but would skate to his bench and played the rest of the game without any problem. The ensuing Guelph powerplay set up well and controlled the puck to get a solid shot to the net from Finn which would bounce around a little before McGinn would push the puck in for Guelph’s 4-3 lead.
The Dogs would press hard late in the period – the Storm desperately defended and would be penalized at 17:54 on a tripping call. The Dogs would call a timeout to talk about their plans. When the puck went into the offensive zone, Festarini dashed to the bench for an extra attacker and would produce 6 skaters vs 4 skaters on a powerplay. After a few timely saves by the Storm’s recently acquired goaltender Nichols (a St. Catharines product), the home side had an opportunity to clear the puck on the side boards. Desperation was setting in – so overager Ming would tackle the Guelph defender to prevent the clearing attempt. The referees arms stayed down – play ensued and the Dogs would put the puck to the net where DiFruscia would score with only 10.7 seconds left in the game. The home side was not impressed and made sure that the referees knew how they felt – the fans even threw some of their refuse onto the ice surface.
At the end of the play Guelph’s Horvat expressed his displeasure to the referees and would be tagged with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty – this would give the Dogs a powerplay to finish the game and to start the overtime frame. The #1 powerplay unit for the Dogs were played for the entire time hoping to get the go ahead goal. Nichols stood his ground and prevented any pucks from getting past him.
In the shootout, Nichols would give up a goal to Verhaeghe on a nice deke – McGinn would score on Festarini after he raced in and put shot up over his blocker. Perlini just missed on his reach around deke which would send things into an extra round. Guelph’s Fabbri would race in to the net and put a partial deke in on Festarini’s blocker side. Niagara’s Ming would challenge Nichols but would hit the post on his attempt – resulting in Guelph acquiring the extra point and a final 5-4 win.
It may only be one point for the Dogs, but a character comeback and a team effort to tie a nationally ranked team on the road is worth so much more. Coach Williamson was more than pleased with the overall result – some flashes of inconsistency in the game, but fewer lapses as the season progresses and this team matures.
Graham Knott had a good game – he challenged the puck well on the forecheck, was in the play many times and provided adequate defensive coverage. Early in the third period, he did get beat to the net and took a crosschecking penalty to prevent his player from an easy scoring chance. Luke Mercer was crafty throughout with intelligent offensive support and adequate defensive coverage. He had a few thunderous hits – including one attempt in the third period where he would crash heavily into the side boards. He would finish the game with 2 assists and an even +/- rating. The tandem of Perlini and Verhaege continue to rip apart opposition defenders with their strong puck possession and delft chemistry producing many scoring chances. On this night Perlini would tally 1 goal and an assist. Carter was limited to only one assist. These two players now sit at #2 and #3 in overall scoring in the league – 1 point behind Connor Brown of the Erie Otters. Newcomer Eric Ming was on the top line where he would provide support in knocking the opposition off the puck as well as providing traffic at the net. He would finish with 2 assists. DiFruscia erupted on the scoreboard with 2 goals and an assist. Anthony’s goal was #7 on the season which is exactly half of his goal total from last season. Jordan Maletta would also notch a goal to give hope for secondary scoring on this team.
Blake Siebenaler had a forgettable game – he gave up the puck a few times and even had a spill in his own end after tripping on a rut. He was never able to get any open ice to show his sweet skating strides.
D-Man Vince Dunn had a few solid offensive rushes, but also a few defensive lapses leading to Guelph goals. Mack Lemmon delivered his share of hits and managed to stay out of the penalty box in this game.
Next up are the Belleville Bulls at Niagara on Saturday night. Brent Moran will get the start for the Icedogs. Last night, the Bulls came close to the improved Otters squad in Erie losing by a score of 4-3. Each team was only tagged with 3 penalties against. The Bulls managed to score 3 goals on a paltry 10 shots spread over the last 2 frames. Early on in the season, the Dogs are sandwiched in the middle of the conference with 11 points. The Bulls are in last place with 6 points and only 2 wins in their 11 games.