IceDogs learning to win
Liam VanLoon continues to be a valuable addition to the Niagara IceDogs.
Acquired from the Hamilton Bulldogs in exchange for an eighth-round selection in the 2024 Ontario Hockey League draft, the truculent winger has provided the IceDogs with experience, depth and has also chipped in on offence.
Van Loon collected two goals and nearly completed the hat trick as the IceDogs held off the Sudbury Wolves 5-4 Saturday night at an empty Meridian Centre.
Van Loon, a 20-year-old London native, now has eight goals, 10 points and is a plus-4 in his 14 games in Niagara.
“He’s been so important, it’s almost hard to describe it,” IceDogs coach Billy Burke said. “His leadership from Day 1 was something we needed so bad and he really came in and stabilized things.
“At first it was a bit of a dressing room move. We believed he was a good player, but to be this consistent in all situations, he’s just embraced his role here 100 per cent.”
Van Loon, who made a name for himself with the Ancaster Avalanche at the junior B level as a bit of a disturber on the ice, was named an assistant captain before the game.
“It’s great to see guys who are such great people and do so much behind the scenes, get rewarded with the goals and the points because that’s what all the players would like to see,” Burke said.
The victory was the third straight for the IceDogs who improved to 9-16-0-1 and moved out of the basement of the Eastern Conference by percentage points past the Wolves.
“It’s good,” Burke said. “It’s grinding out an identity, doing things the right way, trying to get our consistency to where it needs to be.
“We’re watching these guys develop before our eyes and it’s very exciting.”
The IceDogs appear a much more confident group than the team that sputtered through much of the first half of the season.
“I think it’s a combination of things,” Burke said. “One thing might be the double cohort rookie class. For the 04’s especially, the first half of the their season is almost their rookie year. We certainly expected a lot of heavy lifting from some young guys and that’s tough to do right away. They got their feet under them — their learning curve has been pretty quick — and now they’re able to go out and make plays.
“We’re just having fun. It’s going to be a process all year but it’s fun to come to the rink now.”
The IceDogs jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead 32 seconds into the game on Van Loon’s first of the game, then added another later in the period when Danil Gushchin potted his team-leading 20th of the campaign.
Niagara added to their lead when Van Loon scored five minutes into the second to make it 3-0. Sudbury finally got on the board when Ethan Larmand beat Josh Rosenzweig about three minutes later. The Wolves continued to claw their way back and made it 3-2 with a later power-play goal by David Goyette with just 19 seconds remaining. The Wolves outshot the IceDogs 20-14 in the period.
Niagara went up 5-2 in the third before a pair of late goals by the Wolves made the final score closer than the game really was.
“It was sloppy at times but the guys found a way. We’re learning how to win and that’s great,” Burke said.
Ice cubes: Jake Uberti and Anthony Agostinelli did not dress for the IceDogs . . . Ryan Smith, Josh Hoover, Hayden Simpson, Kosta Manikis and Michael Derbidge were scratched for the Wolves . . . Four games previously postponed have been rescheduled: Tuesday, Jan. 11 Niagara at Hamilton, 7 p.m. (from Jan. 2); Tuesday, Jan. 18 Peterborough at Niagara, 7 p.m. (from Dec. 31); Tuesday, Jan. 25 North Bay at Niagara IceDogs, 7 p.m. (from Dec. 18); Wednesday, March 30 Niagara at Sudbury, 7 p.m. (from Dec. 17) . . . Niagara forward Aiden Castle celebrated his 18th birthday with a goal and an assist.
Niagara’s Liam VanLoon and Sudbury’s Jack Thompson.
IceDogs 5 Wolves 4
Niagara IceDogs: Liam Van Loon 2 (7, 8); Danil Gushchin (20); Aiden Castle (6); Dylan Roobroeck (3).
Sudbury Wolves: Jack Thompson (7); Ethan Larmand (7); David Goyette (6); Nick DeGrazia (5).
Game stats: Shots on goal: By Niagara on Mitchell Weeks/Jonathan Lemaire (40), by Sudbury on Josh Rosenzweig; (39) Power plays: Niagara 1-for-7, Sudbury 2-for-5; Penalty minutes: Niagara 12, Sudbury 14.
Attendance: None permitted.
Up next: At Hamilton Tuesday. Home to Barrie Thursday, at Mississauga Friday and home to Kingston Saturday.
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