Dhillon saves the day
Stephen Dhillon made 43 saves to lead the Niagare IceDogs past the Saginaw Spirit to end their 10-game winless streak Thursday. Photo by: OHL IMAGES.
Stephen Dhillon couldn’t have picked a more opportune time to come up with one of his best efforts of the season.
The veteran goaltender kicked out 43 shots to lead the Niagara IceDogs past the Saginaw Spirit 4-1 in Ontario Hockey League action Thursday night at the Meridian Centre.
The victory snapped a season-long, 10-game winless streak for the IceDogs who last won Jan. 27 versus Sudbury.
Dhillon, who like the rest of the team was in a bit of a funk, looked more confident than he has in weeks.
“The boys played well and made my job easy. They blocked a lot of shots so you have to give them a lot of credit,” Dhillon said.
Dhillon was at his best early, kicking out 23 shots in the first period alone, as the Spirit peppered the Niagara net in the opening 20 minutes.
“In the past unfortunately we’ve given up that early goal but it was nice to get those bounces tonight and to score first was huge for us,” he said.
Niagara coach Billy Burke, who looked like the weight of the world was off his shoulders, pointed to Dhillon’s effort as a key ingredient in the win.
“He was rock solid, especially early with those penalty kills,” Burke said. “They were getting some good opportunities and he was huge. I thought our play picked up and we built off him.
“When you’re losing like we were and fragile you need a goalie to step up for you and then we get our legs and get the confidence going.”
Burke was naturally pleased to finally see the losing streak come to an end.
“That’s huge. It’s just one but we needed that one. We needed to grind it out and play hard.”
Burke loved how his defence set the tone as well.
“I thought our D, that was probably the best game we’ve played as a unit all year,” Burke said. “The decision making was good. They were battling and they were playing physical.
“We’ve been stressing hard plays all week and I thought for most of the game they made hard plays.”
Liam Hamm returned to the lineup and looked solid on the blueline.
“When we have guys out of the lineup for stretches we can be exposed at times. We’re defence by committee and when a guy like Hammer, who has really established himself at a top four guy, when he’s out it hurts.”
The IceDogs took a 1-0 lead late in the first period when Sam Miletic fired home his 30th of the season on a power play. Saginaw held a 23-14 lead in shots.
Kirill Maksimov gave Niagara an early 2-0 lead in the second with a goal against his former team before the Spirit made it 2-1 with a goal later in the frame.
Maksimov haunted his ex-teammates once again halfway through the third when he potted his 30th of the season, tying Miletic for the team lead.
Ben Jones then netted an insurance goal into an empty net to conclude the scoring.
1. Niagara Sam Miletic (30) (Liam Hamm, Kirill Maksimov) 16:19 (pp).
2. Niagara Maksimov (29) (Johnny Corneil, Ben Jones) 1:42
3. Saginaw Jake Goldowski (10) (Reilly Webb, Nicholas Porco) 14:22.
4. Niagara Maksimov 2 (30) (Miletic, Liam Hamm) 9:50
5. Niagara Ben Jones (19) 17:35 (en).
Ice cubes: Kyle Langdon (suspension), Ian Martin and Billy Constantinou did not dress for the IceDogs . . . Brady Gilmour, Tom Boppert, Brock Hill, Ben Badalamenti and Chet Phillips were scratched for the Spirit . . . Phil Tomasino was honoured as the academic player of the month. The rookie forward maintains a 91 per cent average at Governor Simcoe . . . Former IceDogs Hayden Davis is having a solid season for the Spirit with four goals, 24 points and a plus-four rating.
BPSN Player of the Game: Niagara goalie Stephen Dhillon with 43 saves.
Game stats: Shots on goal: By Niagara on Evan Cormier (37), by Saginaw on Stephen Dhillon (44); Power plays: Niagara 1-for-4, Saginaw 0-for-4; Penalty minutes: Niagara 8, Saginaw 8.
Up next: At Mississauga Friday and home to North Bay Saturday.
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