It was another sell out crowd at the Jack Gatecliff arena Friday evening as the Niagara Ice Dogs defeated the visiting Ottawa 67s 2-1 in the opening game of the OHL Eastern Conference finals. It would take an overtime goal by Niagara’s Mitchell Theoret to determine the outcome. The game turned into a goal tending dual with Niagara’s Mark Visentin keeping out all but 1 of 42 shots while Petr Mrazek defended the Ottawa net playing perhaps his best game of the play-offs stopping 49 of 51 Niagara shots.
With a four game sweep of the Brampton Battalion, the Niagara Ice Dogs had a week-long break while waiting for Ottawa 67s to defeat the Barrie Colts in what would take a game seven over time win. Many felt Niagara would have the upper hand being well rested but instead of rested they looked a little rusty in the first period. The Ice Dogs persevered and by the second period were back in their game which Ice Dog coach Marty Williamson describes as “staying patient and waiting for opportunities.”
The local Cogeco crew extended their rest on Friday evening as Sports Net came to Niagara to nationally televise the game. While Williamson noted the national attention “pumps the guys up and was a lot of fun for the community” he also expressed his concern about the additional commercial breaks taking the momentum away from the team. Williamson credits the loud fans doing “a great job getting us back into it with their GO DOGS GO.”
The television cameras were also able to catch a skirmish behind the net following Niagara’s first goal by Tom Kuhnhackl at 7:04 of the third period. Williamson was blunt saying Ottawa’s Marc Zanetti “kicked Kuhnuckle in the back of the head. I don’t understand the mentality of a player going in and kicking another player when is lying on the ice.” While Williamson admits the refs can’t see everything, the Sportsnet broadcast was able to clearly record the infraction and Williamson is confident the league will look after it. Zannetti, an over-ager and captain of the team, is familiar with how the OHL handles discipline. In round one of the play-offs against Belleville Zannetti was suspended for five games for intentionally spearing Bull’s captain Luke Judson during the pre-game warm up.
Zannetti quickly followed up the Kuhnhackl kick with an assist on a Nocholas Foglia shot from behind the goal-line allowing the 67s to tie up the game which led into over-time. Theoret scored his self-proclaimed biggest goal of his life at 5:10 of the OT period for the Ice Dogs to take game one of the series.
The week off between series was an opportunity for arena staff to redo the ice surface at the Jack Gatecliff arena and add the Eastern Conference finals logo. However, it was a warm night in Niagara and the new surfacing did not create ideal ice but rather a bouncy surface. With the weather cooling off, the surface should be improved for an even faster paced game two on Sunday.