Ryan Hamilton played the hero scoring the last-minute equalizer and overtime winner to lift the surging Toronto Marlies as they came from behind to defeat the Abbotsford Heat 2-1 in a game that was televised nationally on CBC.
The game marked the 2nd annual Marlies’ Salute the Troops Day at Ricoh Coliseum and CBC’s Don Cherry drew a loud ovation as he was on-hand to take part in the pre-game ceremonial face-off along with troops of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Both teams were very physical from the outset and the first period saw two heavyweight fights that set the tone as players delivered thunderous hits throughout the game.
Neither team was able to generate many scoring chances in a scoreless first period, as the Heat outshot the Marlies 12-9.
The Marlies thought they had the opening goal of the game early in the 2nd period when a point shot by Phil Oreskovic went past Heat goalie David Shantz who was down and out on the play. The goal was waved off as Jay Rosehill was called for goaltender interference.
Playing 4-on-4, the Heat opened the scoring a minute later when Gord Baldwin led a 2-on-2 rush up-ice and fired a wrist shot just inside the blue line that fluttered past James Reimer through the five-hole. The puck deflected off the Marlies defenceman and seemed to fool Reimer as the Marlies were suddenly down 1-0.
The Marlies had two glorious chances to tie the game late in the period but were denied by Shantz on both occasions. The first was a partial 2-on-1 as Alex Foster was stopped on the initial shot and then Ryan Hamilton was stoned on the rebound as Shantz made a spectacular pad save.
Then with just over a minute left in the 2nd, Kyle Calder was in on a partial breakaway but again, Shantz shut the door sending his team to the dressing rooms up 1-0.
The Marlies continued to put pressure on the Heat in the 3rd but Shantz continued to come up big and turned aside shot after shot.
But with the goalie pulled and less than a minute to play in the 3rd, Tim Brent managed to keep the puck in at the point and fired a cross-ice pass to Brendan Mikkelson who one-timed the puck on net which was stopped by Shantz, but Hamilton was right on the doorstep to knock in the rebound to send the game into overtime.
In the last minute of overtime, while shorthanded, Hamilton blocked a point shot and Ben Ondrus banked a pass off the boards to send Hamilton in on a breakaway who fired the puck past Shantz into the top left corner to give the Marlies a huge 2-1 come-from-behind victory.
Marlies Back in the Playoff Hunt
With the win, the Marlies closed to within 3 points of the Manitoba Moose for the final playoff spot. Just two weeks ago the Marlies were 12 points behind the Moose but have now won four straight games and collected points in each of their last six games posting a 5-0-1-0.
Hamilton, who scored his 12th and 13th of the season, was named the game’s first star and talked about the team’s recent play.
“We’re all just coming together here,” said Hamilton. “We know that the only thing we can control is us winning games. We’re playing hard, working hard in practice and fortunately we’re getting pretty good bounces here.”
“We’re getting those ugly wins when it comes down to the last minute there, that’s kind of like playoff hockey the last few games we’re in. So we’re definitely going to try to build off that and keep getting some wins.”
For the winning goal, Hamilton got some good instructions from team captain Ondrus.
“When I blocked the shot, Ondrus was telling me ‘Go, blow the zone, blow the zone.’ He just put it up to me and I couldn’t believe how much time I had, don’t really remember much after that, I just put it on the net and saw it go in, it was a good feeling.”
Coach Dallas Eakins pointed out that Hamilton is getting back into fine form after missing 33 games earlier this season due to injury.
“He’s had a tough season,” said Eakins. “He started off really well, he was injured for quite a long time and he’s really come back up to speed. He’s such a fit kid and dedicated, you can only cheer for him. Good on him, he put us up on his shoulder and got us the win.”
Reimer made several big saves as he stopped 33 of 34 shots for his 11th win of the season also praised Hamilton’s efforts.
“I’ve said it before, Hammer (Hamilton) is a heck of a player,” said Reimer. “He grinds it out but he can score pretty goals too and he showed that today. Blocking a shot and getting to put it in, there’s nothing better than a player than that. You love those guys that sacrifice themselves and win the game for you.”
Reimer thought his team played well in front of him all game and made his job look easy.
“Our team played phenomenal. It seems like I’m saying that every time I play now which is a good thing. They got a couple of chances to score and got a flukey one that bounced off a couple of shin pads but we limited their chances and when we did give up something all I had to do was my job and get in front of it. So the team did really well tonight.”
The Marlies will now head to Binghamton to take on the Senators on Wednesday for the first of two road games before playing the Syracuse Crunch on Friday.
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