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Niagara Ice Dogs: OHL Eastern Conference Champions

It was another sell out at the Jack Gatecliff arena again Friday night. With the Bobby Orr trophy waiting in the wings it was a must win game for the Ottawa 67s facing elimination by the Niagara Ice Dogs. While the 67s gave it a valiant effort right up to the final second of the game, it was the Ice Dogs prevailing with a 3-2 win. Niagara has now earned a trip to the OHL finals against the awaiting London Knights.

Ryan Strome opened the scoring early with a power play goal at just past the two minute mark of the first period. Ottawa quickly responded a minute later with a goal from Sean Monahan also on a power play. Freddie Hamilton on a pass from brother Dougie scored to give the Ice Dogs the lead at 15:49. Alex Friesen gave Niagara a 3-1 edge nearing the middle of the second.

The Niagara machine really got rolling in the second period as they dominated the play outshooting the 67s. However, during the third period Ottawa started playing their desperation style hockey. This was successful in their last series as they came back from three games to one to defeat the Barrie Colts to earn their spot in the Eastern Conference finals. It appeared the 67s were poised to do it again when Jake Cardwell made it 3-2 with a power-play goal at 10:14 of the third. Ottawa continued to put the pressure on Niagara for the rest of the period right up to the final seconds outshooting their opponents 13-8. It was all to no avail however as the Ice Dogs kept finding ways to keep the puck out of the net.

With the final buzzer the Ice Dogs became Eastern Conference Champions. OHL Commissioner David Branch was on hand to present the Bobby Orr trophy to Niagara captain Andrew Agozzino.  There was a very brief mini-lap of the rink as the team showed off the hardware to their loyal fans.

Following the game there were two contrasting press conferences. The first was with Ottawa 67 Coach Chris Byrne and defenseman Jake Cardwell. A local boy from near by Niagara Falls, Cardwell had lots of friends and family in attendance to support him as he dealt with the loss. With red eyes Cardwell held his composure as he expressed his disappointment in the sudden end to the series. “Next year we will make a run at it again.”

When asked if fatigue was a factor in the Ottawa loss coach Byrne, usually a rather stoic presence, cracked he wasn’t tired at all. He then went on to say “it’s our 18th (play-off) game…we played a couple of tough series, tight series before this one, and for sure you could see some of our guys were getting fatigued.” Byrne did give credit to the strength of the Ice Dog team. “They are a good team, they are deep. We had every chance to get that third goal and they did a great job at finding a way to keep pucks out.”

Expecting a more upbeat press conference from Niagara representation it was a surprisingly subdued coach Marty Williamson “It’s a great accomplishment and we have a lot of respect for the Bobby Orr Trophy, but there’s another two steps for us.”

Freddie Hamilton, wearing his new Eastern Conference Championship cap, agreed the job is not yet done. The Ice Dogs are now focused on the next task, facing the London Knights for the OHL championship and then on to Shawinigan for the Memorial Cup. “We’re not satisfied with this. We’re really excited for the next round.”

Dog Bytes:
  • Ryan Strome and Tyler Toffoli went at it in an uncharacteristic fight during the first period
  • Many Niagara fans booed David Branch as he presented the Bobby Orr trophy. Perhaps still bad feelings from decisions regarding severe suspensions during the regular season (Kuhnhackl and D. Hamilton -20 games each)
  • There was a delay of 16 minutes in the first period because of a problem with a penalty box door.
  • 50-50 prize keeps rising with each Niagara home game. Friday’s take - $3500.00
  • OHL Championship series begins Thursday in London with game two in St. Catharines on Saturday

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