Hamilton Bulldogs advance to Memorial Cup final after dramatic overtime win in semi


Published June 27, 2022 at 9:52 pm

Jan Mysak went from checker to checkmate to secure the Hamilton Bulldogs‘ shot at being kings of the Canadian Hockey League.

The Bulldogs found a way to advance to the Memorial Cup final in Saint John, N.B., by defeating the talented Shawinigan Cataractes 4-3 in overtime on Monday night in a semifinal that had three lead changes. Hamilton, which started the tournament with a pair of defeats, will face the host Saint John Sea Dogs at Harbour Station arena on Wednesday at 6 p.m. for a chance to capture what is considered the most difficult trophy to win in high-level hockey.

The tournament between the Ontario, Quebec and Western league champions and a host team comes after four rounds of best-of-seven series. With training camp and COVID-19 postponements added in, these Bulldogs have had a 10-month season.

Saint John will have a home crowd and fresher legs on Wednesday. The Bulldogs, meantime, will be trying to become just the second team to win the Memorial Cup after an 0-2 start. The only other was the Taylor Hall-led 2009 Windsor Spitfires.

The winner at 10:08 of overtime was created by Bulldogs defenceman Nathan Staios, the Oakville native and OHL defenceman of the year who was knocked out of Hamilton’s game last Friday by a check from behind. Staios made a tour of the Cataractes’ zone with the puck. Mysak, a Montreal Canadiens prospect, darted to some open space and tipped the Staios shot home for the winning goal.

For much of the night, Mysak and wings Mark Duarte and Lawson Sherk were responsible for trying to contain Shawinigan stars Mavrik Bourque and Xavier Bourgault, who are both NHL first-round draft choices. Bourque scored the game’s first goal but had only three shots on the night. Bourgault was shut out despite having six shots, including a tough one that Bulldogs goalie Marco Costantini turned aside four minutes before Mysak got the winner.

Sherk was also playing his first full game since being injured in Game 6 of the OHL final two weeks ago.

Artem Grushnikov, Mason McTavish and Logan Morrison scored in regulation time for Hamilton. Along with Bourque, Olivier Nadeau and William Veillette tallied for Shawinigan, which was playing its 14th one-goal game of the post-season.

Wednesday will mark the first time since 1976 that a Hamilton team has played in a Memorial Cup final. That was the year before Bulldogs coach Jay McKee was born.

Questionable call

The Bulldogs got to overtime thanks to Morrison picking a perfect time to score his first goal of the tournament. Morrison, who had six assists in Hamilton’s first three games, scored with 6:04 left in the third period when he one-timed a centring pass from Ryan Winterton by Shawinigan goalie Antoine Coulombe.

The combo of Mysak’s winner and Morrison’s third-period equalizer mooted controversy over a no-goal call that went against the Bulldogs earlier in the third period.

At the 7:30 mark, Costantini made a tough save on Shawinigan’s William Veillette. The Bulldogs made an excellent transition to create an odd-man rush. A shot from Avery Hayes was stopped by Coulombe, but the Shawinigan goalie could not control the puck as it rolled up his body and across the goal line for what would have been a 3-2 Bulldogs lead. But a quick whistle led to the goal being disallowed.

That loomed large after Veillette gave Shawinigan the lead with 10:01 left. Shawinigan cycled the puck to set up a point shot from Angus Booth that Veillette redirected past Costantini.

The lead lasted just under four minutes before Morrison re-tied the game.

The first two leads in the game also had short shelf lives. In classic playoff hockey style, the Bulldogs and Cataractes played to 1-1 and 2-2 ties through the ends of the first two periods.

The Bulldogs’ Grushnikov-Gavin White pairing was on for the Cataractes’ icebreaker goal 14:39 into the contest. Shawinigan recovered a shoot-in and engineered a three-way passing play that Bourque, the Dallas Stars first-rounder, finished off with a close-range shot that knuckled through and by Costantini.

Grusnikov totally redeemed himself with the response goal 1:50 later. During a four-on-four scenario, the Dallas second-rounder made a lead pass to create a smooth zone entry by McTavish and Winterton. Grushnikov sped to the net to deflect in McTavish’s pass. It was Grushnikov’s first goal in a span of 31 games.

In the second, McTavish put Hamilton ahead at 1:23, seconds after a power play expired. The Anaheim Ducks’ first-round choice’s first shot was stopped by Coulombe, but the plump rebound came right to McTavish, who put it away like Roger Federer finishing off a point at Wimbledon. Coulombe, screened by Avery Hayes, had no chance.

The Bulldogs are 24-2-0 when McTavish scores at least one goal. He scored two in the 4-2 win against the Edmonton Oil Kings last Friday that kept Hamilton extant in the tournament.

The Cataractes levelled just more than 4½ minutes later on a tip-in goal by Buffalo Sabres prospect Olivier Nadeau, who redirected a shot by Isaac Ménard. The goal was confirmed by a video review after questions about whether Nadeau’s stick was above the crossbar when he touched the puck.

Costantini saved 33-of-36 shots for Hamilton, and only one of the goals was not deflected. The Bulldogs also helped their goalie out by facing only one penalty kill. In the team’s round-robin game, Shawinigan won 3-2 on the margin of going 3-for-7 on power plays.

Coulombe saved 39-of-43 shots for Shawinigan.

The last Memorial Cup semifinal that needed overtime was the longest game in the history of the tournament. In the 2014 semi in London, Ont., the Edmonton Oil Kings defeated the Val-d’Or Foreurs on a triple-overtime goal from Curtis Lazar after 102 minutes and 42 seconds of play. Two days later, Edmonton defeated the Guelph Storm to win the tournament.

Coincidentally, Hamilton got back into contention this week by defeating Edmonton on Friday.

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