Bull­dogs drop spot to Kingston

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - TERI PECOSKIE

KINGSTON — They still have nine games on their sched­ule, but as far as the Hamil­ton Bull­dogs are con­cerned, the play­offs have al­ready be­gun.

The team played one of its speed­i­est, most hard-hit­ting games of the sea­son in Kingston Sun­day — a pre­view of a po­ten­tial first round matchup. And, while it wasn’t the end­ing they wanted, head coach John Gru­den was happy with his side’s ef­fort in the 3-1 loss.

“We com­peted,” he said. “Our guys never quit, we had lots of good chances and that’s the type of feel it’s go­ing to be. We have to re­al­ize that and un­der­stand that and do bet­ter.”

The Bull­dogs went into Kingston one point ahead of the fifth­place Fron­te­nacs in the East­ern Con­fer­ence. Now, they’re one point be­hind — in the stand­ings and the fight for home ice ad­van­tage. Gru­den, how­ever, isn’t fazed. “I don’t think it mat­ters,” he said. “Play­off hockey is play­off hockey.”

His play­ers don’t nec­es­sar­ily agree.

“We want to have home ice,” said Ben Glea­son.

“It’s huge,” added Reilly Webb, who re­turned to the lineup af­ter a nearly year-long ab­sence Thurs­day. “We’re push­ing for that right now.”

On a week­end in which the Bull­dogs ex­pended a lot of en­ergy for a soli­tary point (they also lost, 5-4, in over­time in Ot­tawa), Webb’s play on the blue line was one of the bright spots.

In spite of miss­ing most of the past two sea­sons with a shoul­der in­jury, the 17-year-old from Stoney Creek was plus-5 in his first three out­ings and wasn’t on the ice for any of the op­po­si­tion’s 11 goals. Against the 67’s, Gru­den opted to put him in to kill a penalty with un­der four min­utes left in reg­u­la­tion and a tie score.

“He just sim­pli­fies things,” he said. “He does a lot of the lit­tle de­tails, he’s got a re­ally good stick and he boxes guys out. He plays the body re­ally well.”

Glea­son, who asked to play with Webb when his reg­u­lar part­ner, Justin Lem­cke, was out with the flu Satur­day, backed Gru­den up.

“He’s sim­ple,” said the 18-yearold de­fence­man. “He’s good at mov­ing the puck and he loves to make a good move here or there. He’s smart and he’s quick with his feet. He’s got some things to work on, but that’s part of be­ing young and not hav­ing many games un­der your belt.”

For Webb, mean­while, the re­turn was nerve-rack­ing. Yet, with each shift, he started to feel — and look — more com­fort­able.

“Once I got through my first few shifts, I wasn’t ner­vous any­more. Just back to what I’m used to,” he said. “It felt good.”

On Sun­day, Webb’s draft­mate Matthew Strome scored the lone Bull­dogs goal on a wrap­around, while Ted Ni­chol, Li­nus Ny­man and Brett Neu­mann had the Kingston mark­ers. Daw­son Carty turned aside 18 shots in the loss — his first in seven games.

The turn­ing point was likely Ny­man’s game-win­ner, which he notched with two Bull­dogs in the box and Carty out of po­si­tion a few min­utes into the third. It was the sec­ond time in two days penal­ties cost them. In Ot­tawa, the Bull­dogs were booked for six mi­nor in­frac­tions and al­lowed the 67’s to score twice on the power play.

“We lost that part of the game and that was the dif­fer­ence,” Gru­den said. But it wasn’t the only fac­tor. On top of Lem­cke — who played Sun­day, but was still un­der the weather — the Bull­dogs were miss­ing Matt Luff (con­cus­sion) and Macken­zie En­twistle (mononu­cle­o­sis) again this week­end. In par­tic­u­lar, their ab­sence was felt against the Fron­te­nacs, who al­lowed few scor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and got in the way of a ton of Hamil­ton shots.

The Bull­dogs, who are now 3-10-1 against the Fron­te­nacs, visit Kingston once more be­fore the end of the reg­u­lar sea­son. When asked if he’ll do any­thing dif­fer­ently then — or, po­ten­tially, in the play­offs — Gru­den said no, but he is look­ing for­ward to get­ting Luff and En­wis­tle back.

“We’re go­ing to be with three lines that are go­ing to come ex­tremely hard. It just comes down to ex­e­cu­tion and pay­ing the price and spe­cial teams. That’s what play­off hockey is all about.”

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