IceDogs bounce back from ‘frustrating loss’

A weekend that started with controversy ended with a celebration of a Niagara IceDogs team battling to qualify for the Ontario Hockey League playoffs.

Instead of allowing the frustration of losing to the Sudbury Wolves on the questionable goal in overtime the night before spilling over into the rematch, the IceDogs were able to regroup and focus their energy solely on getting back to the win column.

Their determination was rewarded with a 4-3 shootout win that gave the IceDogs three of a possible four points in back-to-back home games against the team ahead of them in the hunt for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

“Obviously we wanted to come here and try to beat Sudbury both games, but two close games — two games, overtime; shootout – we’re just happy we won this one,” IceDogs head coach Billy Burke said after Sunday morning.

Saturday night’s game ended with a controversial goal that gave Sudbury a 6-5 victory and left the IceDogs to defy goalie interference. Josh Rosenzweig was knocked out of position by a Wolves player in the crease, but Niagara had no more time outs and was unable to contest the play.

“You shouldn’t have to argue something like this. It’s definitely one of those that you think they should be able to talk about, but again, that’s in the past,” Burke said. “One of those things you can’t worry too much about.

“I honestly can’t fault the way these games are officiated. I think these guys are doing a great job night after night.

The third-year coach was impressed with his team’s choppy play as he defended his teammates against the most penalized team in the OHL.

“These guys have their backs against the wall,” Burke said of his players. “They are certainly not going out quietly. They stick together. »

On Sunday, Rosenzweig was back between the posts for Niagara despite being peppered with 43 shots the night before.

“Again, he made huge saves at key moments, which could have been dangerous,” Burke said. “It’s not necessarily the big saves, it’s the well-timed saves.”

Rosenzweig pushed for the start against Sudbury in the rematch.

“He came to our office after the game last night. He’s never done this before,” Burke said. “He said, ‘I want this, I want to go beat Sudbury tomorrow.’

“And, boy, did he ever support him. I’m really proud of him, and that’s what you expect from a number 1 goalkeeper.”

Danil Gushchin, with his 36th of the season leading the team, and Liam Van Loon, on a spectacular breakaway after picking up the puck in the neutral zone, scored in the second period for Niagara to a 2-1 lead.

Brice Cooke tied the game at three all midway through the third period with his 15th goal of his OHL rookie season.

Niagara rookie Aidan Castle scored the only goal in an eight-round shootout. He was well prepared to try to end the drama after seeing seven teammates and seven Sudbury roster players go empty.

“I was watching the other guys. I’ve seen a lot go left, low,” Castle said. “Five holes is kind of my favorite for breakaways.”

Castle thought the team could have gained two points on Saturday night.

“We came into this match with a bit more motivation. It was frustrating,” he said. “We played well yesterday and it was frustrating that it wasn’t canceled, but we had a good rebound today.

“Every point counts here in the final stretch, so it’s great to get three points out of four.”

The IceDogs are playing four games this week, including three at home. They host the Peterborough Petes on Tuesday night, the Erie Otters two nights later and the North Bay Battalion on Saturday before wrapping up the weekend with a Sunday morning in Erie.

Peterborough (24-28-4) starts the week ahead of Sudbury (21-32-3-3) and Niagara (17-35-3-1) by four and 12 points, respectively, in the hunt for the final playoff spot eastern playoffs.

The IceDogs and Petes both have three games in hand against Wolves.

Niagara is scheduled to face Sudbury twice more in a head-to-head match: Friday, April 1; Tuesday, April 5, both on the road.

The IceDogs are yet to miss the playoffs after one full regular season in franchise history. In 2019-20, the Kingston Frontencs and IceDogs each had 42 points when COVID-19 canceled the final 68 regular season games, including five by the IceDogs.

Kingston had a game in hand and earned the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot based on winning percentage.