The Niagara IceDogs roster has a different look to it than it did back on the team’s opening night in September. Given the cyclical nature of major junior hockey, that usually means one of two things: your team is rebuilding or you’re going for it. For the IceDogs, this season is a clear instance of the latter.
A number of those brand new pieces were on display during the weekend, as the IceDogs played three games in four nights, two of which were played at home. On Jan. 10, the IceDogs fell 6-5 in overtime to the Guelph Storm, a team that has made their fair share of moves as well in order to prepare for the playoff push. On the following night against the Kingston Frontenacs, the story went much differently for the IceDogs as they came out on top 6-3 despite falling behind twice, 1-0 and 2-1.
“I thought we were better than the score indicated for a lot of the game,” said IceDogs head coach Billy Burke. “I thought we had some great [offensive] zone time, some great chances in the first period to maybe have a lead but I’m glad we were just consistent with our effort, we didn’t try to force things, we just kept going and eventually you had the feeling the dam was going to break.”
A lot of notable stories were popping up in this matchup for the IceDogs new troops. One of the most obvious being that former Frontenac winger, Jason Robertson, faced off against his former team for the first time this season. Robertson played eight games with the IceDogs prior to a move out to British Columbia to compete with Team U.S.A. at the World Junior Hockey Championship. He has totaled 24 points (eight goals and 16 assists) in his 11 games as an IceDog and an assist against his former team extended his personal point streak to 18 games. The streak was later snapped on Jan. 13 against Sudbury.
The starting goaltender for Niagara was also a new addition; Jake McGrath made his first start in an IceDogs uniform since being acquired from the Sudbury Wolves.
“He made somes great saves for us, I felt bad, the first one’s a weird little shorthanded breakaway, but he settled in and made some big saves for us,” said Burke. “I thought he was really good, especially when they pulled the goalie and got a great chance on their faceoff.”
Had McGrath not made that save, it would’ve been 5-4 for the IceDogs with a minute left.
In total, McGrath made 23 saves in the win, and had a lot of help from his teammates as they outshot the Frontenacs 54-26.
The next players deserving attention were the two prized returns in the IceDogs trade with the Oshawa Generals: Matt Brassard and Jack Studnicka. Brassard picked up three assists in the game, including his first point as an IceDog.
“I thought today was more the guy we’ve seen the last couple years and the guy we wanted to go out and get. He played great, it was good to see,” said Burke.
As for Studnicka, this was just his second game with Niagara after returning from competing with team Canada at the World Junior Championships, and he managed to pick up his first goal with the team.
“I thought Studnicka got a lot more comfortable with his line,” said Burke.
“He’s awesome, he’s a guy you want to lean on in the playoffs. He can play in any situation, handles himself like a pro. He’s great on faceoffs, smart, solid defensively and has good hands around the net so he’s a true hockey player. He was one of the last cuts of the Boston Bruins this year and that says a lot right there.”
With all of these firsts taking place on one night, it’s hard to believe that a hat-trick by Akil Thomas and a three-point night for captain Ben Jones are almost after thoughts. It just goes to show how talented and deep this upgraded IceDogs roster is.
Despite a 7-3 loss to their Central Division rival Sudbury Wolves on Jan. 13 to closeout the weekend, the IceDogs (24-10-7) sit atop their division and in second place in the Eastern Conference. With their new additions acclimating to their new surroundings, the IceDogs look like they could be gearing up for a special run. There are still 27 games to be played, with 13 of them at home.