Star turn for new IceDog

The Welland Tribune - - Sports - ROD MAWHOOD

It took them 32 min­utes to find their groove, but when they did the Ni­a­gara IceDogs showed what they’re ca­pa­ble of in a 6-3 win over the Kingston Fron­te­nacs Fri­day night in front of an­other sell­out crowd at Merid­ian Cen­tre in St. Catharines.

Akil Thomas notched a hat trick, and four points, while newly ac­quired Matt Brassard chipped in with three as­sists as the IceDogs im­proved to 14-3-3 on home ice this sea­son.

“I thought we were bet­ter than the scored in­di­cated for a lot of the game,” Ni­a­gara head coach Billy Burke said. “Give them (Fron­te­nacs) credit. They’re young, they’re hun­gry, they never quit and they can be tough to play against.

“So I thought we had some great O-zone time (of­fen­sive), and kept go­ing and kept go­ing and even­tu­ally we had a feel­ing the dam was go­ing to break.”

Brassard, a 2017 sev­enth-round draft se­lec­tion of the Van­cou­ver Canucks, as­sisted on two of Thomas’s three goals, and two tal­lies on the power play.

Burke com­pares the 6-foot-3, 207-pound blue­liner to for­mer Ni­a­gara cap­tain Ryan Man­tha.

“A right shot, he’s a lit­tle Man­tha 2.0 in that sense,” Burke said. “I know he was a lit­tle sick yes­ter­day (Thurs­day’s over­time loss against Guelph), so it’s tough for him com­ing in after not prac­tis­ing.

“I thought to­day was more of the guy we’ve seen the last cou­ple of years, the guy we wanted to go out and get. He played great, it was great to see.

“Hav­ing a guy like that is very im­por­tant.”

Brassard was pleased with his sec­ond game in an IceDogs uni­form.

“When I first got here, I had some sort of flu and was throw­ing up all day, so I wasn’t 100 per cent for the game yes­ter­day, but I was feel­ing way bet­ter to­day and felt I played a much bet­ter game and we got the win,” said the 20-yearold Bar­rie na­tive.

Brassard is hop­ing to be­come a vo­cal leader once he set­tles in with a team that now fea­tures nine NHL drafted play­ers.

“I like to think of my­self as lead­ing by ex­am­ple, and a vo­cal guy,” the for­mer Oshawa Gen­eral ex­plained. “I know once I get more com­fort­able around these guys, and get to know them a lit­tle more I’ll be­come more of a vo­cal guy, but right now I think I have to lead by ex­am­ple.”

Brassard now has eight goals and 30 points on the sea­son as the Canucks were quick to mes­sage him upon his trade to Ni­a­gara.

“They just said it’s a great op­por­tu­nity for me, com­ing to a team that’s ready to com­pete for a cham­pi­onship,” he said. “The mes­sage from Van­cou­ver was ‘Try to help these guys win a cham­pi­onship,’ and I’m sure it’s go­ing to help me too with their or­ga­ni­za­tion to hope­fully try and get a con­tract.”

The IceDogs ac­tu­ally trailed this game 1-0 and 2-1 be­fore reel­ing off four straight goals in a 20-minute span from the mid­dle of the sec­ond pe­riod to half­way through the third.

Jake Mc­Grath, ac­quired in a trade with Sud­bury, made 23 stops in his Ni­a­gara de­but Fri­day as Stephen Dhillon was given the night off. Chris­tian Sbra­galia served as Mc­Grath’s backup.

Thomas com­pleted the hat trick into an empty net at the 19:45 mark of the third pe­riod.

The IceDogs vis­ited the Sud­bury Wolves Sun­day and will host the Hamil­ton Bull­dogs

Thurs­day. Game time at Merid­ian Cen­tre is 7 p.m.

’Dog Bis­cuits: Stephen Dhillon, Ivan Lod­nia, Ma­son Howard and Jake Uberti were scratched for the IceDogs … Uberti was hon­oured as the Dogs’ Aca­demic Player of the Month for De­cem­ber be­fore the game. The Ni­a­gara rookie is main­tain­ing an 86 per cent av­er­age in Grade 11 at Gover­nor Sim­coe Sec­ondary School.

Matt Brassard

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