IceDogs make it three in a row
It’s no secret the puck hasn’t been going in for Oliver Castleman this season.
After scoring two goals in the first two games of the season, the shifty winger went into a pair of prolonged slumps of nine and seven games without a goal.
Castleman, who last scored five games ago, netted his fifth of the season Thursday as the Niagara IceDogs defeated the Erie Otters 5-2 in Ontario Hockey League action at the Meridian Centre.
It was the third win in a row for the IceDogs, who improved to 12-8-3-2.
The Otters, who have had an up and down season after dominating last year, dropped to 10-13-2-1.
Castleman, who is coming off a solid season with 18 goals and 40 points, is well aware he needs to step up his production.
“It felt good to put one in the back (of the net),” Castleman said. “I’ve been holding my stick too tightly.”
Castleman tried not to overthink things when the puck wasn’t going in.
“Everyone helped me. After last year it helped my confidence a lot and the coaches told me to stick to my game,” he said. “They said just to keep working and hopefully I can have just a good a year as last year, or better.”
Castleman knew it was just a matter of time before they started going in.
“It was a huge monkey on my back and I couldn’t get it off but I kept listening to the coaches and do what I had to do,” he said. “I think I’ve been doing a lot better in the last few games and the points have been coming.”
IceDogs coach Billy Burke said the club is counting on Castleman to be one of their top producers.
“Absolutely, we need him to score,” Burke said. “He’s a legitimate player in this league. I thought him and (Matthew) Philip had slow starts to the season. I thought they weren’t skating and were a little too much on the outside but they both found their game and picked it up.”
Burke admitted he took a second look after Castleman scored.
“My first instinct, I thought it was (Kirill) Maksimov but it was a left shot so I had to take a double look,” he said. “Castleman was flying and playing hard. He’s got a bit of an attitude back, which is great. You have to play the game that way.”
Erie netted the lone goal of the first period when Gera Poddubnyi scored on a power play early in the period. Niagara’s best chance was a goal by Danial Singer which was called back for a high stick. Niagara held a 10-6 edge in shots.
The IceDogs took control of the game in the second period scoring three times before the halfway mark — two by the suddenly red-hot Bradey Johnson — to take a 3-1 lead. Johnson also had a pair of goals Saturday in a win over Mississauga and now has five this season. Maksimov later added his team-leading 15th on a delayed penalty as Niagara took a 4-1 lead into the third.
“The second period was kind of the fruits of the labour (of the first) a bit,” Burke said. “We were doing stuff we hadn’t seen all year in a positive note with the way our D were moving and out offensive zone time. I thought we were really stingy in the neutral zone.
“It was a great period, a lot of positive (video highlight) clips for sure.”
Singer padded Niagara’s lead with his eighth of the season early in the third before Erie’s Kyle Maksimovich netted a power-play goal to wrap up the scoring.
Ben Jones had a solid game with a goal and two assists while Stephen Dhillon was sharp between the pipes.
Ice cubes: Adrian Carbonara (game 4 of 8) and Zach Shankar (game 3 of 5) were out of the lineup with suspensions. Kyle Langdon and Ian Martin were also scratched for the IceDogs . . . Mitchell Byrne, Aiden Timmermans, Stephane Patry and Chad Yetman did not dress for the Otters . . . The Otters gave Niagara Falls product and former Canuck Kurtis Henry the honour of a few laps to himself before the entire team joined him for the pre-game warmup. . . . Parnall Public School hit a home run with their versions of the Canadian and U.S. national anthems.
BPSN Star of the Game: IceDogs forward Bradey Johnson with two goals.
For the Niagara IceDogs: Johnson 2 (4, 5); Kirill Maksimov (15); Danial Singer (8); Oliver Castleman (5).
For the Erie Otters: Kyle Maksimovich (12); Gera Poddubnyi (8).
Game stats: Shots on goal: By Niagara on Troy Timpano/Anand Oberoi (41), by Erie on Stephen Dhillon (25); Power plays: Niagara 0-for-3, Erie 2-for-3; Penalty minutes: Niagara 8, Erie 8.
Up next: In Flint Saturday and Saginaw Sunday. The London Knights visit next Thursday.