They still haven’t solved Stephen Dhillon.
The Niagara IceDogs netminder improved to 4-0 against the Hamilton Bulldogs this season with a 31-save performance Saturday. Kirill Maksimov led the way offensively with a goal and two assists in the 5-3 win.
“I just think we’ve got to throw more pucks at the net. We’ve got to get more bodies in front of him,” said Bulldogs coach John Gruden. “I don’t know.”
Going into the game, the fifth of six between the teams this season, Dhillon’s numbers against Hamilton were exceptional — a 3-0 record with a 1.95 goals-against average and a save percentage of 0.945. The Bulldogs haven’t made it easy on the 19-year-old, either — they have actually outshot Niagara in every game in which the Buffalo native has played.
“He went through a little bit of a low spot about a month ago, but he’s bounced back strong,” said Billy Burke, the IceDogs coach. “He looks big in the net, he’s comfortable and when they were pushing at the end there, I just had a strong feeling that if they’re going to score it’s going to be a deflection or it’s going to be a back door. It’s going to be someone else making a mistake, because I felt real confident he was going to do his job.”
The trouble started less than three minutes in when Ben Jones got behind the defence and chipped the puck over Kaden Fulcher to put the IceDogs on the board. The teams exchanged goals twice after that before Akil Thomas put Niagara ahead by two on the power play early in the third.
Arthur Kaliyev managed to pull the Bulldogs within one, but that was as close as they would come to a comeback. Sam Miletic sealed the win with an empty netter.
With the loss, the Bulldogs dropped to 1-4 against the IceDogs this season (Colton Incze was between the pipes for Hamilton’s lone win) and failed to gain any ground at the top of the conference standings. They’re now only four points ahead of the second-place Barrie Colts with three games to go, including a 6 p.m. matchup in Oshawa Sunday.
Notes: The Bulldogs presented the team’s three overage players with commemorative jerseys before their last regular-season home game. Ryan Moore, Connor Walters and captain Justin Lemcke will all graduate at the end of this campaign.
NIAG Ben Jones (Kirill Maksimov, Johnny Corneil) 2:24
HAM Matt Strome (Robert Thomas, Brandon Saigeon) 10:56 (PP)
NIAG Andrew Bruder (Liam Ham, Oliver Castleman) 10:21
HAM Matt Strome (Robert Thomas, Ben Gleason) 16:09 (PP)
NIAG Kirill Maksimov (Justin MacPherson) 18:05
NIAG Akil Thomas (Kirill Maksimov, Sam Miletic) 1:19 (PP)
HAM Arthur Kaliyev (Nick Caamano, Justin Lemcke) 1:55
NIAG Sam Miletic (Kyle Langdon) 19:49 (EN)
HAM Kaden Fulcher 4 GA, 24 SVS
NIAG Stephen Dhillon 3 GA, 31 SVS