The IceDogs were back at the Meridian Centre for the first time this season, and they made no bones about defending their house.
After opening up their season with an 8-6 win in Mississauga and a 5-2 loss in Peterborough, the Niagara IceDogs were set for a weekend of games that opened up their home schedule in downtown St. Catharines.
Their first test was Friday night against the Kingston Frontenacs, as the Ice Dogs picked up a 3-1 win with the help of a 29 save performance from goaltender Stephen Dhillon. In terms of goaltending, Saturday night presented more of the same as the North Bay Battalion rolled into town. The IceDogs opted to start Colton Incze and he proceeded to make 26 saves, holding the Battalion to just one goal and picking up the win. It’s performances like this that give head coach Billy Burke his confidence in his goaltending tandem.
“They’re the best goalie tandem in the league for sure. [Colton] Incze has proven he’s a number one goalie and Stephen Dhillon is arguably the best goalie in the league,” said Burke.
“It’s awesome when you have confidence like that with whoever is in the net, it’s a real good feeling.”
It was clear that the confidence was felt up and down the IceDogs lineup, as they cruised to a 6-1 victory with six different players contributing in the goal column. One of those six was Minnesota Wild third-round draft pick Ivan Lodnia, who tucked a one-time shot from the slot into the top left corner thanks to a beautiful no-look pass from behind the net from his captain Ben Jones.
“It’s easy to score those kinds of goals, Jonesy made an unreal play. He knew where I was. To play with these kinds of players on this team, it’s a good relief and to have Jonesy give me that no-look pass, it was nice,” said Lodnia.
Lodnia experienced the Meridian Centre crowd for the first time as a member of the home side after being picked up in an offseason trade, and the crowd certainly didn’t disappoint. A combined 10,163 fans attended the two home games.
“It’s awesome, we’ve got great fans here. Probably some of the best in the league,” said Lodnia.
It took a bit longer than expected for the fans to have something to cheer about, as the Battalion opened up the scoring on Saturday. The IceDogs had to push to even things up on a goal by Kirill Maksimov and 1-1 was the score after one period of play.
“We didn’t start too well in the first period, but I think we finally woke up in the second and started putting more pucks on net, so it resulted in a lot of goals,” Lodnia said.
Put pucks on net they certainly did, as the second period appeared as if there were two different teams on the ice. The IceDogs dominated, outshooting the Battalion 19-5 and forcing them to take penalties that helped swing the momentum in the IceDogs’ favour. Eventually, the IceDogs broke through for three goals in the final ten minutes of the second period.
“You’re only as good as your goaltenders, so I think [Incze] stepped up really well today. I think that we played really well defensively too. Our defence stepped up really well,” said Lodnia.
“I thought our young guys really stepped up and gave us the depth to get this thing done. Two goals [against] in the last two games, we’ll win a lot of games if we can keep teams to that kind of number,” said Burke.
The IceDogs looked like a well rounded and strong team in their first showing in front of a hometown crowd and it’s no secret the aspirations that they have for themselves this season.
“Obviously our expectation this year is to win a Memorial Cup. It doesn’t matter how we start, just how we finish. I think we have a really skilled, young team that works really hard and I think that over time we’ll get better as a team and get used to each other. So I think that it’ll be a good year for us,” said Lodnia.
The IceDogs will look to extend their winning streak when they take on the Sudbury Wolves on Thursday, Oct. 4 at 7:00 p.m. at the Meridian Centre