(St. Johns) Arber Xhekaj played great minutes after the Hamilton Bulldogs lost defenseman Nathan Staios to help them advance to the Memorial Cup semi-finals.
Posted at 9:02 p.m
Avery Hayes and Ryan Winterton scored in the first period, Marco Costantini made 40 saves and the OHL champions defeated the Edmonton Oil Kings 4-2 at TD Station on Friday.
The Bulldogs (1-0-0-2) desperately needed a regulation-time win to edge the Oil Kings (0-1-0-2) to third overall.
Staios fell into action in the second third. He was checked from behind by Simon Kubicek. The Bulldogs were also without defenseman Artem Grushnikov for a few minutes early in the third half when he was punched hard in the ankle by Carter Souch.
Xhekaj was used extensively by his head coach Jay McKee to neutralize the Oil Kings forwards.
“He could play 50 minutes, he’s so big and strong,” said McKee, clearly pleased with the work of the Montreal Canadiens talent.
“We turned to him in the absence of other players and he kept playing better and better,” he added. He wanted to sell all penalties. We are lucky to have him. He had a monster performance. »
The Bulldogs held on to their lead and Costantini had to make some good saves in the third half to close the gap when the deficit had dwindled to one goal. Most notably, he stole a certain goal from Brendan Kuny by stretching the right leg.
Mason McTavish scored an important insurance goal at 6:34 in the third period. Jake Neighbors scored with 2:46 left for the Oil Kings as they replaced their goalie with an extra forward to make it 3-2.
McTavish added a second goal into an empty net at 19:59.
“The way we look at it, we didn’t play well in our first game. In the second we were a bit better and tonight we put in our best performance of the tournament,” said Xhekaj, who had two assists. We want to keep building like this until we have won what we want. »
Jalen Luypen had scored the first goal for the West League champions Oil Kings. Sebastian Cossa stopped 32 shots.
The Oil Kings’ Memorial Cup effort may have been undermined by the absence of injured Dylan Guenther. He was their top offensive player all season.
This defeat ended the junior internship of Kaiden Guhle, the Canadian’s first-round pick in 2020.
“Every time you win a championship, it’s very special and you develop a great friendship with your teammates,” said Neighbors, eyed red. The boys are super emotional in the dressing room. It’s a big group of brothers. I’m proud of her. It’s been a long season and we’ve been through a lot.
“We were rewarded for coming here, but that’s not how we wanted to end our season. »
On Saturday, the preliminary round ends with a duel between the Shawinigan Cataractes (2-0-0-0) and the Saint-Jean Sea Dogs (1-0-1-0). The winner advances to the finals while the loser takes on the Bulldogs in the semifinals.