The Hamilton Bulldogs look to take the playoff excitement in the Steel City to the next level during the OHL’s Eastern Conference Championship Series against the Kingston Frontenacs.
The Bulldogs eliminated the Niagara IceDogs in 5-games during the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals:
Game 1 @ Hamilton: Hamilton 5 – Niagara 4 (OT)
Game 2 @ Hamilton: Hamilton 3 – Niagara 2 (OT)
Game 3 @ Niagara: Niagara 4 – Hamilton 3 (OT)
Game 4 @ Niagara: Niagara 2 – Hamilton 4
Game 5 @ Hamilton: Hamilton 4 – Niagara 2
After three straight exciting overtime games to start the series, the Bulldogs experience and depth took over. Wins in Hamilton in Games 1 and 2 put the pressure on Niagara and despite an overtime win in Game 3 in St. Catharines, the Bulldogs tightened the collar on the IceDogs with a big road win in Game 4. For the second straight series, the Black and Gold were able to win the series in front of the faithful at FirstOntario Centre.
The Flint connection of Ryan Moore (3-5=8 pts) and Nicholas Caamano (2-6= 8-pts) led the way in Round 2. Moore had the OT winning goal is Game-2 with Caamano picking up his 3rd game winning goal of the playoffs in Game-5. Robert Thomas continues to impress as he had 6-points (3-3) in the series. Mackenzie Entwistle came alive in Round 2 with 5-points (2-3) while Isaac Nurse (4-0), Matthew Strome (2-2) and Marian Studenic (2-2) all had 4-points. Kaden Fulcher played his best hockey so far in the playoffs against the IceDogs going 4-1 with a 2.60 GAA and a .905 SV%.
As well as the Bulldogs have played in the first two rounds, the challenge gets that much tougher in the Eastern Conference Championship Series against a familiar opponent in the Kingston Frontenacs who are coming off a 4-2 series win over the #2 seed Barrie Colts in Round 2.
EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
HAMILTON BULLDOGS (1) vs. KINGSTON FRONTENACS (3):
Game 1, Wed., April 18 at Hamilton, 7:00
Game 2, Fri., April 20 at Hamilton, 7:00
Game 3, Sun., April 22 at Kingston, 6:00
Game 4, Tue., April 24 at Kingston, 7:00
Game 5, Thurs., April 26 at Hamilton, 7:00*
Game 6, Sat., April 28 at Kingston, 7:00*
Game 7, Mon., April 30 at Hamilton, 7:00*
Still fresh in the minds of the players that wore the Black and Gold a year ago is that Game 7 overtime loss to the Frontenacs in Kingston in the 1st round of the 2017 Playoffs.
This year, the Bulldogs took the regular season series 4-1-0-1 and out-scored the Frontenacs 21-17.
Hamilton 2 @ Kingston 1 (Feb 23 2018) Final OT
Hamilton 3 @ Kingston 2 (Jan 19 2018) Final OT
Kingston 4 @ Hamilton 7 (Dec 30 2017) Final
Hamilton 2 @ Kingston 3 (Nov 17 2017) Final
Kingston 3 @ Hamilton 4 (Oct 14 2017) Final SO
Kingston 4 @ Hamilton 3 (Oct 1 2017) Final SO
Both teams changed a lot from the start of the season to the end, but it was Matthew Strome who led the way for the Bulldogs against the Frontenacs in the regular season with 8-points (5-3) followed by Will Bitten with 7-points (3-4), Brandon Saigeon with 6-points (5-1) and rookie Arthur Kaliyev with 5-points (2-3). Of the newcomers for Hamilton, Robert Thomas had 3-points (1-2) in the two games he played after being acquired while Ryan Moore had 3-points in three games. Kaden Fulcher started in goal in all six games against the Frontenacs going 4-1-0-1 with a 2.68 GAA and a .902 SV%.
As for Kingston, Ryan Cranford enjoyed playing Hamilton in the regular season putting up 7-points (5-2) along with Jason Robertson (2-5) while Ted Nichol had 4-points (0-4). New to the Frontenacs line-up in the 2nd half of the season, Gabe Vilardi (2-0) and Sean Day (0-2) each had 2-points. Jeremy Helvig played in all six games against the Bulldogs going 2-1-2-1 with a 3.20 GAA and a .915 SV%.
So far in the playoffs Robert Thomas (6-9) and Ryan Moore (5-10) lead the Bulldogs offense with 15-points each. Matthew Strome (4-10) is next with 14-points followed by Nicholas Caamano (4-9) with 13 points and Brandon Saigeon (8-3) with 11. On the back-end Hamilton’s Riley Stillman and captain Justin Lemcke are leading the OHL in +/- at +12 and +11 respectively. In goal, Kaden Fulcher is 8-2 with a league leading 2.51 GAA and .907 SV%.
Kingston’s playoff offense has been led so far by Gabe Vilardi (11-9) with 20-points. Linus Nyman (6-10) and Cliff Pu (3-13) each have 16-points, Jason Robertson (7-7) has 14-points and Brett Neumann (3-7) 10. Goalie Jeremy Helvig has gone all the way for the Frontenacs with an 8-3 record, 2.61 GAA and a .921 SV%.
This is the Bulldogs first trip to the Eastern Conference Final since re-locating to Hamilton for the 2015-16 season. The last time a Hamilton junior team got this far in the playoffs was back in 1988 when the Steelhawks made it to the OHL Semi-Finals before losing to Windsor 4-0. Before moving to Hamilton, the Belleville Bulls won Eastern Conference Championships in 1999 and 2008.
Kingston has never won an Eastern Conference title and last appeared in the 3rd Round in 1993 where they lost to the Peterborough Petes 4-1.