Leads going into the third period seemed to be automatic for the Soo Greyhounds.
It wasn’t on Sunday.
The Hamilton Bulldogs erased a 2-0 Greyhounds lead in a 5-4 victory to win the J. Ross Robertson Cup at the FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton on Sunday evening.
Prior to Sunday, the Greyhounds had won all 49 games (regular season and playoffs) in which they led through 40 minutes.
The win means Hamilton will represent the Ontario Hockey League at the 2018 MasterCard Memorial Cup in Regina, which begins next weekend after beating the Greyhounds in six games in the league final.
Greyhounds Coach Drew Bannister called the game “our best game of the series.”
“We probably deserved a better fate,” Bannister said. “They scored the two goals in the third on individual plays that went in the back of our net.
The Greyhounds jumped out a lead in the opening period thanks to a goal by rookie forward Cole MacKay. Boris Katchouk increased the lead early in the second period before the Bulldogs battled back with a pair of goals. Barrett Hayton would give the Greyhounds the lead heading into the third period thanks to a power play goal late in the middle frame.
After Riley Stillman tied the game for the Bulldogs, Robert Thomas scored the go-ahead goal just over three minutes later. Nicholas Caamano would score into an empty net with 1:58 to go, a goal that eventually turned into the game-winner.
“We were confident going into the third period that we could get the job done,” Thomas, who was named the OHL’s playoff MVP, told SportsNet. “We’ve got a hell of a group. Our character is unbelievable.”
“Our guys stuck together when it mattered most,” Bulldogs Coach John Gruden told SportsNet.
“It’s a constant reminder of what works and what doesn’t,” Gruden said of the message after the second period. “We had a couple of good shifts there where we started to believe. We got back to playing the way we needed to play.”
Caamano’s empty net goal drew some criticism after the Hamilton forward brought down Greyhounds defenceman Jordan Sambrook before scoring.
“There should have been a call on that,” Bannister said. “That ended the game for us even though we scored after that to make it a game again.”
Katchouk finished the day with a goal and two assists for the visitors while linemates Taylor Raddysh and Morgan Frost also set up two goals each.
Greyhounds goaltender Matthew Villalta made 32 saves.
“He was really good,” Bannister said of the sophomore netminder.
Already without overage forward Hayden Verbeek, who missed the entire series due to injury, the Greyhounds also played the game without veteran blueliner Conor Timmins.
Bannister would confirm that what had been speculated that Verbeek missed the games with a broken wrist while Timmins missed the game due to a concussion.
Timmins attempted to practice Saturday, but his symptoms worsened during the skate, which led to him not suiting up on Sunday.
Bannister would also say at least three other players were playing through injuries in the game that would likely have kept them out of games in the regular season.
After playing a pair of seven-game series’, in round two against Owen Sound and in the Western Conference final against Kitchener,
“Travel is always a factor for Western Conference teams,” Bannister said. “To have to go seven games against two really good teams that were really physical on us, obviously we were a little banged up going into this series. We lacked a little bit of energy.
“I still think we had a gear there to give and you saw that tonight,” Bannister added, saying he didn’t feel fatigue was a factor in the series.
Thomas and Mackenzie Entwistle finished the day with a goal and an assist each. Brandon Saigeon also had a goal for Hamilton.
Kaden Fulcher made 40 saves for the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs will open the Memorial Cup on Friday night at the Brandt Centre in Regina against the host team, the Regina Pats.
Around the Canadian Hockey League, the participants for the Memorial Cup continue to be determined.
The Western Hockey League final continued Sunday night with game six between the Swift Current Broncos and Everett Silvertips.
The Broncos held a 3-2 lead heading into Sunday’s game at home.
In the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, A goal by Samuel L’Italien late in the second period gave the Acadie-Bathurst Titan a 2-1 victory over the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada Sunday. The Titan won the QMJHL title in six games and the series marks the second consecutive year the Armada lost in the QMJHL final. The Titan open the tournament on Saturday night against the WHL champion.