The Niagara IceDogs got the playoffs started on the right foot on Thursday night, scoring early and often against the Oshawa Generals en route to an 8-2 win in front of a sold-out crowd at the Gatorade Garden City Complex in St. Catharines. From the opening faceoff, it was clear that the Generals were not ready, as they roamed wildly out of position and took runs at Niagara players within the first fifteen seconds. While Oshawa looked to set some sort of physical presence, the IceDogs let their talent take over, skating and passing crisply around the Gens pressure, and were rewarded with a goal from Alex Friesen less than two minutes in.
An unlucky break seconds later would put Generals rearguard Daniel Maggio into the box for Delay of Game, and Niagara took just six seconds on the powerplay to extend their lead, when Ryan Strome would grab a loose puck off of the draw and wire it past Kevin Bailie, who was making his first OHL playoff start. Oshawa would settle down from there, getting chances on Niagara goaltender Mark Visentin, until Andy Andreoff was pulled out of a scrum for Roughing, giving the Dogs another powerplay. Brett Ritchie would do the damage on this man advantage, adding to the IceDogs lead midway through the first.
With a three goal lead, and possibly the top goaltender in Junior Hockey backing them up, Niagara had full control of the game, but kept the pedal to the floor, adding two more weak goals on Kevin Bailie before the end of the first period. Captain Andrew Agozzino scored first from a bad angle, snapping a shot from the side boards that went through Bailie’s pads with about five minutes left, then Trevor Petersen would score his first playoff goal in his first playoff game a minute later, jumping on a loose puck after Bailie failed to corral a shot in his glove. Bailie’s first start would be over after 20 minutes, as he would be replaced by Daniel Altshuller before the start of the second, after stopping 13 of 18 IceDogs shots.
Altshuller would give the Generals some life to start the period, making a few big time saves in the opening minutes, but the IceDogs would eventually get to him as well, as Tom Kuhnhackl would make it 6-0 on a two man advantage. Remaining on the powerplay, the league’s top powerplay throughout the season would score again to make it 7-0 just 18 seconds later, as Friesen would snap a shot from the high slot through a crowd and past Altshuller for his second of the game. Oshawa would get on the board with about 7 minutes left in the middle stanza, as Emerson Clark would intercept a weak clearing attempt and beat Visentin, bringing the Generals back within six. Christian Thomas would score again two minutes later, giving Oshawa their first signs of life, down 7-2 after 40 minutes.
Any thoughts of a huge Oshawa comeback would be thwarted 12 seconds into the third period, when the officials flagged Generals defenceman Matt Petgrave on a questionable slashing penalty. Friesen would complete the hat-trick a minute later, making it 8-2 IceDogs. With the game out of reach, the officials put their whistles away for the first time all night, as the teams would skate through a boring final 18 minutes, exchanging big runs at one another and lots of chirping, but very little action.
Lost in all the scoring for Niagara was the play of Mark Visentin, who was very solid when needed, stopping 33 shots in the victory. Daniel Altshuller also played quite well in relief of Kevin Bailie, making 30 saves on 33 shots over the game’s final 40 minutes. With three goals and one assist, Alex Friesen was the game’s first star, while Niagara’s captain Andrew Agozzino (1G, 3A) and Brett Ritchie (1G, 1A) were the second and third stars.
Regardless of the final score, both teams have enough veteran experience to understand that one game has never won a series. The Generals have no time to dwell on the loss, which could be an advantage, as the teams get right back to it in game 2 Friday night in Oshawa. Generals fans can expect a much more determined group in front of their home crowd, as falling behind two games to Niagara could be lethal. The IceDogs should prepare as though they lost game 1, and want to see the same effort and result on Friday. Game 2 could very well dictate if this series is to be as short as everyone has predicted, or whether we’ll see some pushback from Oshawa.
If you are heading to the General Motors Centre Friday night, I’ll be in the building, stop and say hello if you see me! If you can’t be at the game, make sure to follow me on Twitter @N24Nicholson for all the latest updates throughout the series.