Goaltender Stephen Dhillon backstopped the IceDogs to a 4-1 win against Erie on Friday night, making 25 saves to improve to 2-0 on the season.
The IceDogs — coming off a 23-35-6-4 season with a first round playoff exit at the hands of the Peterborough Petes — went into Friday night’s game with new head coach, Billy Burke, after Dave Bell was a one-and-done with the IceDogs. Bell took on an assistant coach role with the AHL’s Ontario Reign in June. On the other bench, Erie also had a new face behind the bench as Kris Knoblauch departed for an assistant coaching role with the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers. New head coach Chris Hartsburg was looking to get back to .500 on the season against the IceDogs on Friday night after going 1-2 last weekend in his first three games as the Otters head coach.
Making their debut in an IceDogs uniform on Friday were 2017 draft picks Philip Tomasino, Ian Martin, Billy Constantinou, and Andrew Bruder. Notable returners from last season include Las Vegas Golden Knights draft pick Ben Jones, Edmonton Oilers draft pick Kirill Maksimov, goaltender Stephen Dhillon, captain Johnny Corneil and alternate captain Akil Thomas.
Otters’ goaltender Troy Timpano looked shaky to start the game. An innocent dump-in that bounced its way into the crease looked to have surprised him, and a questionable play behind that net nearly led to an IceDogs goal. The IceDogs looked confident on the breakout, and had great speed moving through the neutral zone. Erie struggled in the first half of the period with multiple offsides calls early. Though Erie gained some momentum after a media timeout, they managed to take two penalties back to back in the last six minutes of the period.
The IceDogs took two high-sticking penalties within five seconds and had to battle off a 5-on-3 to start the second period. The IceDogs wouldn’t escape the 5-on-3 without two huge saves on the doorstep from Dhillon to keep the game scoreless. The IceDogs found themselves on the penalty kill again when Zach Shankar took a hooking penalty with 14:06 to go in the period. A couple of key saves from Dhillon and a big shot block from Kyle Langdon led to a 3-on-2 for the IceDogs as Shankar got out of the box. However, a scary penalty on Erie’s Carson Edwardson caused Shankar to crash into the goal post.
Erie got themselves into a 5-on-3 penalty kill halfway through the second period, but their pressure on the point was too much for the IceDogs; they couldn’t capitalize on any of their chances. The Otters managed to get a 2-on-1 on their PK, but a miraculous save from Dhillon led to a great chance the other way for Niagara. However, the net was knocked off by an Erie player putting the play to a stop.
Just when it looked as though the second period was going to end the same as the first, a shot block from Johnathon Schaefer with 3:30 left allowed the IceDogs to explode down the ice, with Danial Singer finding the back of the net to put Niagara up 1-0. The momentum for the IceDogs was short-lived when Erie tied it up with 2:10 left in the period after multiple IceDogs attempts failed to clear the puck out of the zone.
Niagara started the third period on the power play, but once again the pressure on the point from Erie was too much, with only two shots for the IceDogs during the two minutes.
Moments later, a great 3-on-2 with tic-tac-toe passing led to an IceDogs goal for Langdon off of Bradey Johnson’s rebound.
The IceDogs took another penalty for tripping, and though they started strong, Ben Jones fell to his knees, leading to an Erie chance right in the slot, but the Otters missed the net.
After penalties for Erie and Niagara, the IceDogs came out of the box and Erie’s defense didn’t see him coming, but the IceDogs still couldn’t manage a shot on goal.
They would find the back of the net twice more in the third period, once at even strength and once on a 5-on-3 to take the home opener against Erie with a 4-1 final.
On Saturday, the IceDogs and Petes played to a 1-1 tie through the first period, but after an explosive second and third period, the IceDogs closed their home-opening weekend with a 5-1 win. On Sunday, the Petes returned the favour on home ice, scoring eight goals on 35 shots to take the game 8-4, handing the IceDogs their first loss of the season.
The IceDogs return home on Oct. 5 to host the Sudbury Wolves at the Meridian Centre at 7:00 p.m.