The Hamilton Bulldogs are 2018 Eastern Conference Champions, claiming the Bobby Orr Trophy with a 2-1 victory over the Kingston Frontenacs in Game 5 at FirstOntario Centre Thursday night.
Overage defenceman Connor Walters (1) scored the game winner on a point shot through traffic with 7:04 remaining in the third period, helping the Bulldogs advance to their first ever Rogers OHL Championship Series appearance.
“It couldn’t have happened to a better guy,” said Bulldogs head coach John Gruden of Walters, an unlikely hero who scored just three goals throughout the regular season. “He’s one of the pioneers here and we’re proud of him. It’s a pretty great feeling right now.”
Hamilton outshot Kingston 38-18 in the win, finding a way past the stellar play of Kingston goaltender Jeremy Helvig as defencemen Walters and Justin Lemcke (2) lit the lamp in the series-clinching victory.
“It’s a credit to the guys in the locker room and the guys that we brought in,” added Gruden after post-game celebrations. “They all have that same mentality of it never being easy. You only get better in practices and competing and not being afraid to work.
“These guys put in the work and we never really had to give them a nudge at all this year.”
The Bulldogs bounced back after a 5-2 road loss in Game 4, holding the Frontenacs to just three first period shots despite coming out on the trailing end after Jason Robertson (10) scored on a two-on-one rush.
Lemcke put a point blast past Helvig 8:22 into the second period to even the score at one as the two clubs entered the third period all square.
Walters’ game winner came on assists from MacKenzie Entwistle and Jack Hanley as he faked a slapshot, opening up a lane to the net as he put a quick release past Helvig.
The Frontenacs see their season come to an end after reaching their first Eastern Conference Championship Series since 1993.
“It was a fun year, all of the guys that we had from the start of the year in September and all the guys that we brought in at Christmas at the deadline, I can’t say enough about thse guys, they’re one in a million,” said veteran Frontenacs captain Ted Nichol.
“They’re a great group of guys on and off the ice. I don’t want it to end. I’m going to miss it for sure.”
Nichol joined fellow overagers in Helvig and defenceman Liam Murray in playing his final OHL contest. Murray returned from a five game suspension to suit up in Game 5.
The Bulldogs await the winner of a Western Conference Championship Series between the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Kitchener Rangers that is currently tied 2-2.
“It’s important for these young men mentally and physically just to decompress,” Gruden added. “They’re going to go home, we’re going to get a couple days off and we’re going to do it the right way. We have some challenges ahead of us and we need to get ready for the next series.”
SERIES AT A GLANCE:
Game 1 – KGN 2 @ HAM 6
Game 2 – KGN 1 @ HAM 7
Game 3 – HAM 3 @ KGN 1
Game 4 – HAM 2 @ KGN 5
Game 5 – KGN 1 @ HAM 2
POST-GAME PRESS CONFERENCE: