SAINT-JEAN, NB – Arber Xhekaj played important minutes after the Hamilton Bulldogs lost defender Nathan Staios and helped them advance to the Memorial Cup semi-finals.
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 on Friday at TD Station.
The Bulldogs (1-0-0-2) badly needed a win in regulation time to beat the Oil Kings (0-1-0-2) for third place overall.
Staios came into action in the second period. He was controlled from behind by Simon Kubicek. The Bulldogs were also without defender Artem Grushnikov for a few minutes early in the third period when he was hit hard in the ankle by Carter Souch.
Xhekaj was used extensively by his coach Jay McKee in hopes of neutralizing the Oil Kings forwards.
“He could play 50 minutes, he’s so big and strong,” said McKee, visibly delighted with the work of the prospective Montreal Canadiens client.
“We approached him in the absence of other players and he played better and better every time he was there,” he added. He wanted to sell all the punishments. We are lucky to have it. He had a monstrous performance. “
The Bulldogs held out and Costantini had to make some nice saves in the third period to close the door when the gap was down to a goal. In particular, he stole a certain goal from Brendan Kuny by stretching his right leg.
Mason McTavish scored an important insurance goal with 6:34 left in the third period. Jake Neighbors scored for the Oil Kings with 2:46 remaining when they replaced their goalkeeper with an extra forward for a 3-2 draw.
McTavish added a second goal, empty net, at 19:59.
“The way we see it, we didn’t play well in our first game. We were a bit better in the second and so far we have done our best for the tournament, “said Xhekaj, who has had two assists. We want to continue 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’ efforts at the Memorial Cup may have been undermined by the absence of injured Dylan Guenther. He was their best offensive player throughout the campaign.
Kaiden Guhle’s junior internship, the Canadian’s first pick in 2020, ended with this defeat.
“Every time you win a championship, it’s very special and you develop a great friendship with your teammates,” said Neighbors red-eyed. Guys are super emotional in the locker room. It is a large group of brothers. I am proud of them. It’s been a long season and we’ve been through a lot.
“We were rewarded by coming here, but that’s not how we wanted to end our season. “
On Saturday, the preliminary round will conclude with a duel between Shawinigan Cataractes (2-0-0-0) and Saint-Jean Sea Dogs (1-0-1-0). The winner will advance to the final, unless Saint-Jean wins in extra time, while the underdog will face the Bulldogs in the semifinals.
McTavish scores with a dizzying shot