By Mike Keenan
My first OHL game this season featured the Niagara IceDogs at the sold-out Meridian Centre this past Friday night. It was a treat! Not a bad seat in the modern, well-lit rink, and it was “Superhero Night” in St. Catharines, the team dressed Halloween-like, sporting red jerseys with a black N inside a yellow oval, the one-time uniforms to be auctioned for charity.
Speaking of donations, both the IceDogs and their opponents, the Windsor Spitfires, generously gave up the puck a lot in a scrambled game finally captured 4-3 by the IceDogs, tallying in the last dramatic minute with the Spitfires pulling their goalie, buzzing around the home team’s net in the final few frantic seconds, yes -scoring, but unfortunately, just after the final buzzer. Close but no cigar, the favoured cliché.
Many families were in attendance, and they were treated to countless exciting moments, Windsor’s goalie Kari Piiroinen saving the day in the first period with a steady stream of teammates in the penalty box for various crimes and misdemeanors. Niagara’s goaltender Stephen Dhillon made sharp saves as well, particularly in the third period. I enjoyed watching two Niagara forwards – speedy Kirill Maksimov and shifty Akil Thomas who potted two goals, the team’s leading scorers early on in the 68-game schedule.
IceDogs Media Relations Coordinator, Jordyn Moussa, expertly supplied me with informative data about the team, which is composed of 24 youngsters aged 16-20. Eighteen are from Ontario, four from the U.S. and two as allotted from Europe – Daniel Bukac from the Czech Republic and Kyen Sopa from Switzerland.
With coach Billy Burke in his first year, the plucky squad was bounced out of last year’s playoffs in the second round by the mighty Hamilton Bulldogs, who won the series in five games, three decided in overtime.
Currently, there are four OHL divisions totaling 20 teams with five each in the East, Central, Midwest and West divisions, the IceDogs in 3rd place in the latter, but all teams quite close in the standings.
Jordyn says that all but two of the players are billeted by local families that engage in life-long friendships with their charges.
The 34 home games are usually played on Thursdays, Fridays or Saturdays, tickets costing from $15-$35, but often there are $10 Thursday deals to make it affordable and encourage family participation. The fan base is quite healthy with an impressive 2,500 season ticket holders in a rink capacity of 5,300, the average crowd at 4,900, which bodes well for the team and always makes it a noisy night for the opposition.
The IceDogs are quite active in the community. Many of the young players visit elementary schools, touting the admiring students on the benefits of friendship and teammates. They play ball hockey with the kids and engage in proactive themes such as advocating against bullying.
Attending an IceDogs game in St. Catharines is a great activity for tourists and locals alike!
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