Hamilton Bulldogs advance in Memorial Cup, but Oakville’s Staios goes down


Published June 24, 2022 at 9:16 pm

All it takes is one win to get in contention at the Memorial Cup, even when another leading man is lost.

Faced with early elimination, the Hamilton Bulldogs found the margins they needed on Friday, even after OHL defenceman of the year Nathan Staios was forced out of the game with an injury. Marco Costantini outplayed fellow Hamiltonian and NHL first-round pick Sebastian Cossa in goal by making 40 saves, while Logan Morrison led an attack that did just enough. That combo sustained the Bulldogs to a tense 4-2 with-an-empty-netter win against the Edmonton Oil Kings in a do-or-done, de facto quarterfinal game at Harbour Station in Saint John.

The Bulldogs don’t yet know who they will play in the semifinal on Monday night, or who will be playing for them. Staios, an Oakville native, was hurt by an uncalled check-from-behind in a corner by Edmonton’s Simon Kubicek during the second period. Staios’ absence would leave Hamilton without a pair of top-four defencemen, since captain Colton Kammerer was lost for the season two weeks ago. Tenacious centre Lawson Sherk has also yet to play in Saint John after being injured during Game 6 of the OHL final.

The Saint John Sea Dogs and Shawinigan Cataractes will play Saturday for first place in the round-robin and a spot in the final on Wednesday. The losing team will face the Bulldogs, who have lost against the two Quebec league teams earlier this week.

Hamilton nursed a two-goal lead against Edmonton through two periods. But Costantini and an overextended defence faced a final Edmonton push. Montreal Canadiens prospect Arber Xhekaj and Dallas Stars draftee Artem Grushnikov barely got a break over the final minutes. Grushnikov blocked several shots and crunched Oil Kings forward Tyler Horstmann with a clean bodycheck.

Mason McTavish, after some in-the-corners gruntwork by Patrick Thomas, snapped in a goal with 6:34 left to open a 3-1 lead. That breathing room didn’t last. Edmonton, which could have advanced with a regulation tie, pulled one goal back when Jake Neighbours’ shot ricocheted into the goal off the skate of Xhekaj with 2:46 left.

Edmonton fired from here, there and everywhere in the final minute before McTavish potted an empty-netter just before the buzzer.

Avery Hayes and Ryan Winterton, both on power-play setups from Morrison, also tallied for the Bulldogs (1-0-0-2). The first goal for Edmonton (0-1-0-2 was a short-handed goal by Jaden Luypen early in the third period.

Edmonton, which also played on with Arizona Coyotes first-round choice and centre Dylan Guenther out with injury, had the territorial advantage from the game’s midpoint onward.

Costantini stopped two first-period breakaways. He also made back-to-back stops against Edmonton’s hottest forward, Jaxsen Wiebe, who scored a hat trick in the Oil Kings’ win against Saint John on Tuesday.

Midway through the third, Costantini slid cross-crease to deny a potential tying goal.

Cossa saved 32-of-35 shots for Edmonton. The 19-year-old Cossa was born in Hamilton, but grew up in Fort McMurray, Alta. The Detroit Red Wings chose him No. 15 overall in the 2021 NHL draft.

Meantime, the Bulldogs will be in the Memorial Cup semifinal for the second time in their relatively brief history. The 2018 team lost in the semifinal the host Regina Pats.

In each of the last two tournaments, the OHL champion was eliminated in the semifinal. The Memorial Cup was not held in 2020 or ’21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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