Hounds survive Flores, edge IceDogs
by Peter Ruicci (Independent Media) | Photo by Bob Davies
The pre-game skate was about the only time Owen Flores didn’t stand on his head on Saturday.
On a night when the visitors were outshot 49-17 – including 35-7 over the first 40 minutes – the Niagara IceDogs netminder was superb.
Flores kept his team competitive in what was eventually a 2-1 loss to the Soo Greyhounds in front of 4,000 at GFL Memorial Gardens.
“He was fantastic,” agreed Hounds head coach John Dean, who spoke of how his club “did what we were supposed to do. It doesn’t matter if you win 12-1 or 2-1. We have to bury our chances, obviously, but we played a good game.”
Having unleashed 73 shot attempts, according to their internal stats, the Hounds set the stage for Sunday’s 2:07 p.m. showdown with visiting Saginaw.
While improving to 33-14-2-1, the Soo remains four points back of first-place Saginaw (36-13-0-1) in the West Division race. Both clubs have 18 regular season games remaining.
The Spirit also won Saturday, defeating Erie 5-2 at Dow Event Center.
“We got back on track from the last two games,” said overage Jack Beck, the Hounds leading scorer.
“We finally got back to where we were holding each other to a standard. We held each other accountable,” added Dean, whose club snapped a two-game losing streak, having struggled in a 6-3 loss to Mississauga and a 6-5 setback at the hands of Sudbury. “What I liked the most tonight was the maturity on our bench.”
Despite failing to capitalize as much as they’d like, the Hounds approach didn’t waver, Dean added.
The fact his team was a 2-1 winner, despite not finishing more scoring chances, provided a learning opportunity said centre Owen Allard.
“It was a good game for us to learn you have to keep hammering down, and chopping at the tree,” Allard noted. “This was a good testament to our group.”
With the score tied 1-1 early in the second period, the Hounds used lengthy offensive zone time to take the lead.
Justin Cloutier’s shot from the right circle was met with a Flores pad save. But Jacob Frasca gobbled up the rebound and slipped it home for his 11th goal of the season.
That made it 2-1 at the 7:33 mark.
Bryce McConnell-Barker opened the scoring 4:53 into the opening period. The veteran centre deposited the rebound of a Matthew Virgilio point shot past Flores for his 16th goal of the season.
Since returning to the lineup after six weeks on the injury list, McConnell-Barker has four goals and five assists in six games.
While killing a penalty, Niagara tied it just 1:24 later. Kevin He outraced Beck to the puck, won a battle to maintain possession, fired on Landon Miller and then banged home his own rebound.
He’s 26th goal evened the score at 1-1.
Flores was at his very best during a Niagara power play midway through the second period. The 19-year-old (2004 birth year) stopped four excellent chances as the Hounds hunted a short-handed tally.
He turned aside McConnell-Barker, twice, Caeden Carlisle and finally Cloutier, on a clear-cut breakaway.
In the third, Beck was all alone in front on a 2-on-1, but Flores closed the pads to deny the veteran winger. Moments later, Gavin Hayes rang one off the cross-bar.
“That was by far the best game I’ve seen Flores play,” said Niagara head coach Ben Boudreau, whose young team fell to 14-30-6-1. “No question, he kept us in it. We had a chance right down to the last buzzer.”
As they prepare for the Saginaw clash, Allard said the Hounds confidence grew on Saturday, while also admitting the Soo and Saginaw “dislike each other, for sure.”
Allard said the key to defeating the Spirit lies in competing as hard as possible.
“Everybody has to trust each other and stay on the same page,” he added. “But competing hard is the biggest thing.”
“We need more net-front presence,” said Beck, who spoke of how relentless the Soo was the last time it faced Saginaw.
On Jan. 31 at the Dow, the Hounds fell behind 3-0, but rallied for a 5-3 win.
“We stuck to our roots the last time we were in Saginaw,” Beck added. “If we do what we know we can do, we’ll be pretty happy.”
Come Sunday, the Spirit will be playing its third game in less than 72 hours.
But when it comes to the Hounds approach, Dean said nothing will change for his team.
Asked about the Soo’s forecheck against the Spirit, the coach talked of how “our standard for aggression on the forecheck is already extremely high. We want to pursue pucks and take away time and space.”
Wingers Marco Mignosa and Jordan D’Intino were both out Saturday with upper-body injuries.
When asked, Dean said D’Intino wouldn’t be available on Sunday while Mignosa might be able to play.
Meantime, the Soo and Saginaw will meet once more after Sunday.
They’ll battle each other on the final day of the regular season, March 24, at GFL Memorial Gardens.