A little magic from IceDogs rookie
Niagara IceDogs rookie Lucas Littlejohn scored two goals in his OHL debut Thursday as the IceDogs defeated the North Bay Battalion. Photo by: BILL POTRECZ
Lucas Littlejohn certainly made the most of his one and only opportunity to make a first impression.
The 17-year-old defenceman made a memorable Ontario Hockey League debut, scoring two goals to lead the Niagara IceDogs past the North Bay Battalion 6-3 at the Meridian Centre Thursday night.
Littlejohn, a 12th-round selection in 2020, was added from the Pickering Panthers of the Ontario Junior A Hockey League earlier this week.
“It’s definitely exciting,” the Courtice native said. “Coming into tonight being put on forward, I didn’t know what to expect but being on a line with (Danil) Gushchin, who is one of the top players in the league, was a good opportunity for me.
“It was amazing.”
Littlejohn got the call from IceDogs assistant general manager Brandon Currie he was needed at practice Wednesday.
“I was sitting in class writing a test and Brandon calls me and brings me in for practice and then at practice I was told I was going to be in the lineup tonight,” Littlejohn said. “I just kind of prepped myself and got ready for the game.”
Littlejohn admitted he had some butterflies before the game.
“Even at half-capacity, it’s a loud crowd out there and you get a little overwhelmed at first but I think warmup got that out of the way,” he said. “It was a good experience overall.”
IceDogs coach Billy Burke joked when asked about the thought process bringing up a defenceman to fill in on the wing.
“That’s why I brought him up, for his goal-scoring prowess,” Burke laughed. “What an amazing night for him.”
Littlejohn impressed at training camp and nearly made the team.
“He was a guy who was if not the last guy, one of the last guys we let go before we broke camp,” Burke said. “He’s a player we all like a lot. He’s one of those guys who’s smart, he can skate, he’s got good hands and he’s right there in the front of our mind when we needed a guy to call up.
“We knew we needed a forward but we liked his game, we liked his jam, and he went out there and made us look good, but he earned everything.”
Littlejohn confessed it was a blow when he was cut so late in camp.
“It was definitely a little adversity. I had high expectations and a lot of other guys did too,” he said. “Being sent down was definitely good for my development and it was a good learning curve in my career.”
Littlejohn, who had 11 goals and 15 points in five games for the Whitby Warriors of the Ontario Junior Lacrosse League last summer, recently committed to attend the University of Richmond in Virginia on a lacrosse scholarship
“I’m just weighing my options and if things go well this year and next year I might have to take a different route, but for now that’s what I’m sticking with,” he said.
Littlejohn and Tanner Ryan, who has seven goals and 18 points for the Welland Junior Canadians, were both added to the lineup last night as the IceDogs were without Cameron Peters, Pano Fimis, Declan Waddick, Rodwin Dionicio and starting goaltender Josh Rosenzweig, all out with injuries. Liam VanLoon is serving the fifth game of a 10-game suspension and is eligible to return March 9. Forward Brice Cooke is also facing suspension for a check to the head in Oshawa last week.
Joseph Costanzo got the nod in goal and was backed up by Boe Piroski, who has yet to see action this year.
Add in the Battalion came into the game on a nine-game winning streak, and the IceDogs were definitely in the underdog role.
“It was great. Like we said to the guys before the game maybe on paper maybe we don’t match up with these guys but that’s why we have a jersey on and that’s why their bus in parked out front,” Burke said. “The best thing about this league is any night anybody can beat anybody if you’re willing to work and play as a team and get some lucky bounces and earn some lucky bounces.
“We’ve had our fair share of adversity but nights like this certainly compliment the lows, that’s for sure. A ton of positives and I’m really proud of the guys.”
Danil Gushchin opened the scoring just over four minutes in when he potted his 30th of the season to extend his points streak to 16. The Battalion then rebounded with goals by Mitchell Russell and Kyle McDonald to take a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.
Niagara tied the game at 2-2 when Juan Copeland scored his fourth of the season before Littlejohn netted his first to give Niagara a 3-2 lead.
Dylan Roobroeck, who has been playing his best hockey of the season recently, put the IceDogs up 4-2 with his seventh of the year and third in as many games just over a minute into the third. Littlejohn then netted his second with an assist from rookie Sami Douglas-Najem, who picked up his first OHL point.
Kyle Jackson got one back on a power play for the Battalion before Gushchin scored into the empty net at 19:55.
Ice cubes: Tnias Mathurin, Liam Arsnby and Brandon Coe (San Jose) did not dress for the Battalion . . . Burke indicated the IceDogs will go with the same lineup in Mississauga Friday.
Niagara’s Lucas Littlejohn and North Bay’s Mitchell Russell.
IceDogs 6 Battalion 3
Niagara IceDogs: Danil Gushchin 2 (30, 31); Lucas Littlejohn 2 (1, 2); Dylan Roobroeck (7); Juan Copeland (5).
North Bay Battalion: Mitchell Russell (29); Kyle Jackson (29); Kyle McDonald (26).
Game stats: Shots on goal: By Niagara on Don DiVincentiis (18), by North Bay on Joey Costanzo (48); Power plays: Niagara 0/1, North Bay 1/2; Penalty minutes: Niagara 4, North Bay 2.
Attendance: 2,795 (sell out at 50 per cent capacity).
Up next: At Mississauga Friday. Home to Hamilton Sunday at 2 p.m.
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