ROGERS OHL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES – GAME 5:
HAMILTON 6 – SAULT STE. MARIE 4
Hamilton leads series 3-2
A dominant start gave the Hamilton Bulldogs the edge they needed, skating to a 6-4 win on the road in Game 5 of the Rogers OHL Championship Series to take a 3-2 series lead over the Soo Greyhounds.
The Bulldogs outshot the Greyhounds 16-6 in the opening frame, taking out a 1-0 lead before St. Louis Blues prospect Robert Thomas (10, 11) struck for a pair in a three-goal second period. Down 5-1, the Hounds would claw their way back to within a goal but it was too little, too late as Hamilton pulled to within a win of the club’s first ever OHL Championship.
“I really liked our pace in the beginning,” said Bulldogs head coach John Gruden. “We had four lines going. All lines were contributing. We were moving the puck quick, skating off the puck quick and everything was fast. I felt like it could have been more than a 1-0 lead at the end of one.”
Gruden specifically praised Thomas, who scored twice, was a plus-4 on the night and logged big minutes down the middle as the Bulldogs bounced back from a 3-2 overtime loss at home on Wednesday.
“Our guys came out on a mission,” he continued. “The urgency and everything about their game I loved and they really set the tone.”
MacKenzie Entwistle (9) snapped home a wrister from the high slot just 1:39 into action as the Bulldogs struck early. Dallas Stars prospect Nicholas Caamano was unable to convert on a penalty shot opportunity moments later at 5:22 as Matthew Villalta provided one of his 28 saves on the night.
Sault Ste. Marie’s Keeghan Howdeshell (9) evened things up at one 57 seconds into the second frame, but that stalemate would be short-lived as Hamilton struck for four consecutive goals including a pair from Thomas and breakaway markers off the stick of Ryan Moore (8) and Brandon Saigeon (17).
Trailing 5-1 seven minutes into the third, the Hounds got into desperation mode, making a game of things with three goals from Tim Gettinger (7), Boris Katchouk (18) and Jack Kopacka (13) in just over five minutes.
Down 5-4 with Villalta on the bench for the extra attacker, the Bulldogs managed to gain control as Caamano hit the open net with 1:25 left on the third period clock, putting an end to Sault Ste. Marie’s comeback bid.
A sold out crowd of 4,900 took in the action as both clubs registered 34 shots on goal. Hamilton’s Kaden Fulcher earned the win with a 30-save performance while other Bulldogs standouts included rookie Arthur Kaliyev and overage defenceman Connor Walters who earned two assists each.
The Greyhounds find themselves on the ropes for a third straight series, managing to fight off elimination with Game 7 victories over Owen Sound and Kitchener to reach the Final. Now they’re tasked with pulling out of a 3-2 series deficit, going into what’s sure to be a packed house in Hamilton on Sunday afternoon for Game 6.
“Hamilton played very good,” said Greyhounds bench boss Drew Bannister. “They put a lot of pressure on us, exposed some of the mistakes that we made in the game and executed on their plays to gain that lead.
“We have to be better. We’re going to have to regroup and be ready for Sunday.”
The Robertson Cup will be in the building for a Mother’s Day matinee at the FirstOntario Centre on Sunday when the puck drops at 2:00pm.
POST-GAME PRESS CONFERENCE: