46 days off? No problem. No third overage player on the ice? No problem. A starting rookie goalie who had not played in a game since the regular season back on March 16th? No worries.
The 2018 Memorial Cup got going at the Brandt Centre in Regina, Saskatchewan with the host Regina Pats coming back from two separate one-goal deficits and defeating the OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs 3-2.
Josh Mahura and Sam Steel both had a goal and an assist and Max Paddock returned to the ice, stopping 31 of 33 as Regina opened round robin play with a 3-2 win, their first victory since March.
Regina Pats Head Coach and General Manager John Paddock felt better about his team as the night grew later.
“I thought we started well but got stronger as the game got going… I think it took some time. Our passing was off in the first and our sharpness took some time. We got better after that and Sam’s goal helped us feel better about ourselves,” Paddock said.
One thing his team seemed more committed to than they were in the regular season was blocking shots. Paddock referenced the way another team from the WHL that is playing in the tournament as an influence on the Pats newfound ability to get in the way of shots.
“We tried to take a page from a team west of us. It’s good to see and it’s needed because stopping one from going in and scoring one is the same result.”
Max Paddock, the former 10th round Bantam pick who won the starting job back in January was marvelous. Three times he turned away fellow rookie Arthur Kaliyev from point blank range and he added another beauty save on Isaac Nurse to back stop his Pats to a key win.
The Paddock behind the bench was impressed with his 2000-born netminder. He said as much at the post-game press conference.
“Considering the stage and the importance of it he was very good. He seems to have them (nerves of steel)…Besides being a good athlete he has good poise and a good demeanor.”
Paddock mentioned that Max has played at high levels for his age group in different sports, as well as hockey.
For Hamilton, Kaden Fulcher stopped 27 of 30 in the loss. The Bulldogs received goals from Robert Thomas and Marian Studenic.
Even with Paddock keeping the game tied in the third with some big stops, the Pats needed a hero. That came in the form of Nick Henry who notched his fourth goal in eight games since the regular season ended with a marker scored with under a minute left.
Henry told Sportsnet.ca after the game taking the first game meant a lot to his team. “It’s huge for us… we had a heck of a training camp the last 46 days so it was awesome to come out and get the first one.”
The Pats looked like the fresher team to start the game as they drew four power plays in the first period, to the Bulldogs one.
Despite that, it was the champions of the Ontario Hockey League who got on the board first.
After a nice cycle around the Pats zone, Justin Lemcke fired a shot towards the net and Thomas got his stick on it, redirecting the puck over Paddock’s glove.
Thomas nearly had another later in the first, but rang one off the cross bar.
Bulldogs Head Coach said at the press conference that the four penalties took a toll on his team. “It’s hard to get into a groove when you are short-handed for eight minutes,” he said.
“We were fortunate to still have a chance to win late in the game, but we ended up getting what we deserved. Regina won a lot of the 50-50 battles, they blocked a lot of shots. They did what you have to do to win,” Gruden said.
Even with so many power plays, the Pats could not take advantage until the period space on the scoreboard had the number two below it.
The Pats finally cashed in with some of their best movement on the man advantage yet. Mahura slid a pass over to Steel for the one-timer and the Anaheim Ducks prospect one-timed it by Fulcher to tie the game 19 seconds into the second.
Regina finished 1-for-4 on the power play while Hamilton was 0-for-2.
The goal was the first for Steel since March 31st. The Pats previous goal came on April 2nd.
Regina was all over Hamilton in the early going in the second but after the mid-period break the momentum started to swing back to the Bulldogs.
After Kaliyev was stoned by Paddock, the Bulldogs regrouped and took their second lead of the game.
Riley Stillman set up Studenic at the back door and the import drilled a shot in and out with an extra attacker on the delayed penalty.
One of the Pats with Memorial Cup experience tied the game later in the second. Mahura pushed the puck up the ice, found some room and wired a shot past a blocking Connor Walters and by the glove hand of Fulcher.
Mahura seemed to surprise the Bulldogs with his willingness to go 1-on-3 and that allowed him the room to get a shot off.
Paddock then shut down Isaac Nurse on a 2-on-1 to keep the score 2-2.
Hamilton had some chances to take the lead but could not solve Paddock. That would end up burning them in the end as Henry gave his squad the first win in the tournament.
With under a minute left, Steel circled and then dropped a pass to Libor Hajek. The blue liner drilled a shot off the pad of Fulcher that created a nice rebound. Henry was right there to clean things up and give Regina a 3-2 lead with just 32 seconds left in the third period.
Hamilton called a timeout and pulled Fulcher for an extra attacker but the Pats held them off to take the first game of the 2018 Memorial Cup.
-Regina was led in shots by Mahura with seven, while Hamilton’s shot leaders were Thomas and Isaac Nurse with five apiece.
-Steel was 14-for-28 at the face off dot, while Matt Bradley was 10-of-15 and Jake Leschyshyn went 7-for-15.
-For Hamilton, Thomas was 12-of-26, Ryan Moore went 6-for-13 and Mackenzie Entwhistle was 7-of-13.
-Overall, the Pats won 34 of 64 draws.
-Regina next plays on Sunday against the QMJHL’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan. Hamilton will have until Monday off when they take on the Swift Current Broncos.
-The next game in the tournament is Saturday. Swift Current will face off against the Titan at 1pm local time.
-Jesse Gabrielle is reportedly out of the tournament due to injury.