Rosy return to action for IceDogs
The Niagara IceDogs retuned to the ice Thursday at home to the Oshawa Generals under abnormal circumstances.
Not only were the IceDogs coming off a 21-day layoff where they missed five games due to COVID protocol before and after the Christmas break, but they were doing so in front of an empty arena as mandated by the Ontario government.
The IceDogs managed to put those distractions aside and come up with perhaps their best overall effort of a season, a convincing 5-0 win over the Oshawa Generals in Ontario Hockey League action at the Meridian Centre.
Niagara head coach Billy Burke was proud of his team.
“There was a lot of outside stuff, circumstances and noise and things like that, especially at this time of year,” Burke said. “It’s just important to focus on what we can do. I know it’s all the cliches in the world, but it’s kind of true. You just go day-to-day and find one thing you can work on.
“I thought the guys did a great job of staying focused and then executing.”
Following a normal warm-up complete with music, the teams lined up before 5,300 empty seats — only team personnel, game-day staff and media were permitted in the building — for the opening face-off. Even IceDogs mascot Bones was absent.
“Obviously when you come out here with no fans and there’s 13 seconds of silence or whatever before the opening draw, it was weird, but we got going,” Burke said. “The guys embraced it and created their own energy.”
The IceDogs were outshot 16-8 in the first period but emerged with a 1-0 lead when Danil Gushchin scored his team-leading 18th of the season on a breakaway. Gushchin picked off an errant pass at his own blueline and quickly headed up ice before beating Zach Paputsakis with a quick snap shot.
“Once we started playing in the first period it looked a little bit like an exhibition game at times but I thought the guys did a good job of getting rid of that pretty quick,” Burke said.
Niagara dominated in the second period outshooting the Gens 18-4 and grabbing a 2-0 lead when rookie Dylan Roobroeck potted his second of the season on a rebound.
Liam Van Loon then went to work in the third period, scoring a pair of goals, both assisted by newcomer Brenden Sirizzotti, acquired from the Ottawa 67s earlier this week. Gushchin concluded the scoring with his second of the night, a short-handed goal with the IceDogs two men down.
Overall, Burke loved most of what he saw.
“We’re obviously a different team than we were a couple of months ago,” he said. “This is our group now. We’re excited and we’re energized and we want to have a big second half.
“I thought the guys played together, I though they played fast. I thought our puck decisions for the most part were good and we were able to make some plays. I loved our tracking and our commitment to the D zone.”
Almost lost in the victory was the first OHL career shutout of Josh Rosenzweig, who kicked out 34 shots.
“Josh was outstanding,” Burke said. “It could have been 4-1 Oshawa and the first period, it could have been 2-0 after the first couple of minutes. When you get a great goaltending performance it settles everything down and allowed us to get our feet under us.”
Rosenzweig was all smiles as he stopped for a brief chat with the media before being summoned into the dressing room for the post-game meeting.
“It’s been a month since our last game,” he said. “I was trying not to be rusty in there and it was a great way to start off the new year.
“It was a little frustrating but we’re back now, that’s all that matters.”
Rosenzweig said the lack of fans was odd.
“It’s a different atmosphere for sure, but at the end of the day I just dialled it in,” he said.
Ice cubes: Anthony Agostinelli and Sami Douglas-Najem did not dress for the IceDogs . . . Patrick Leaver, Kevin Niedenz, Dawson McKinney, Ryan Stepien and Daniel Michaud were scratched for the Gens . . . Oshawa picked up sniper Oskar Olausson from Barrie Thursday in a blockbuster trade.
IceDogs 5 Generals 0
IceDogs goaltender Josh Rosenzweig and Oshawa’s Ty Tullio.
Niagara IceDogs: Danil Gushchin 2 (18, 19); Liam VanLoon 2 (5, 6); Dylan Roobroeck (2).
Oshawa Generals: No scoring.
Game stats: Shots on goal: By Niagara on Zach Paputsakis (39), by Oshawa on Josh Rosenzweig (34); Power plays: Niagara 0-for-1, Oshawa 0-for-6; Penalty minutes: Niagara 14, Oshawa 6.
Attendance: None permitted.
Up next: Home to Sudbury Saturday. Niagara’s game Friday in Hamilton has been postponed.
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