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Bulldogs overcome rough start to defeat Frontenacs

Brantford BulldogsBulldogs overcome rough start to defeat Frontenacs

Brantford Bulldogs overcame another tough start to defeat the Kingston Frontenacs 5-3 on Saturday, March 2, 2024.

The Bulldogs got into penalty trouble early in the first period. Kingston created quality chances in their attacking zone, but Bulldogs netminder Matteo Drobac made two great saves, including a highlight-reel robbery on Frontenacs left winger Luke McNamara.

The Bulldogs opened the scoring later in the period. On the five-on-three powerplay with over two minutes left, the Bulldogs circled the Kingston goal with timely passing. Centreman Jake O’Brien passed the puck behind the net to left winger Patrick Thomas, who then made a sharp pass to right winger Zakary Lavoie, shooting the puck on a one-timer past Frontenacs netminder Mason Vaccari for his 150th career point in the Ontario Hockey League. O’Brien and Thomas recorded the assists. 

With the assist, Thomas passed Ben Gleason for fifth in the franchise’s all-time assists list with 98.

Bulldogs C Florian Xhekaj attempts to block the pass from Kingston Frontenacs C Jax Dubois (63) early in the first period.

After the first twenty minutes of play, the Bulldogs were outshot by the visitors 10-4 but led 1-0, mainly due to the great goaltending by Drobac, who stopped all ten shots he faced.

At the 5:30 mark of the second period, the Bulldogs doubled their lead. Defenceman Lucas Moore caused a Kingston turnover deep in the Frontenacs zone, and left-winger Thomas retrieved the puck, leading to a three-on-two rush. Thomas then passed the puck to centreman Florian Xhekaj, then passed it to right winger Cole Brown, who then provided a great feed to Thomas in the Kingston crease, beating the sprawling Frontenacs netminder Vaccari for his career-high 18th goal of the season and his tenth point in his last six games. Brown received the primary assist, while Xhekaj extended his point streak to eleven games with the secondary assist.

Less than ninety seconds later, the Bulldogs extended their lead to three. Centreman O’Brien and defenceman Daniil Sobolev generated another turnover at the Frontenacs zone. Sobolev finds Lavoie in the neutral zone, leading to a two-on-one breakaway with left winger Marek Vanacker as a decoy. Lavoie capitalized on the advantage by sniping a five-hole past Frontenacs netminder Vaccari for his 28th of the season and 80th career goal in the OHL. Sobolev and O’Brien (second assist of the game) picked up the assists. 

The Frontenacs got on the board with 8:07 left in the middle frame. On the man advantage, centreman Paul Ludwinski skated with the puck down to their attacking zone and made a cross-ice pass to the right winger Matthew Soto, who tipped the puck into the left side of the Bulldogs net. 

Despite allowing the goal, the Bulldogs’ overage netminder remained sharp, stopping 18 of 19 Kingston shots through 40 minutes. When the Bulldogs have the lead after two periods during the season, they win a staggering 88.9 per cent of their games (24-1-3-1), while Kingston loses 95 per cent of their games (1-22-0-0) when trailing after two periods.

Bulldogs C Noah Nelson (11) screens in front of Kingston Frontenacs G Mason Vaccari late in the second period.

But in the third period, the Frontenacs sought to reverse their misfortunes by tallying a goal early in the final frame. On the five-on-three at the 2:51 mark, left winger Jacob Battaglia snuck the puck past the right pad of Drobac to cut the lead to 3-2.

Bulldogs restored their two-goal lead with 7:28 remaining. Right winger Cole Brown caused a Frontenacs turnover in their attacking zone, in which centreman Florian Xhekaj obtained the puck control, then made a quick pass to right winger Adrian Rubelo in the centre area, who rifled the shot past Frontenacs’ Vaccari for his fourth of the season. Xhekaj picked up his 25th assist of the season on the Rubelo goal.

With the net empty late in the period, the Frontenacs made things interesting. They pulled back to within a goal with 2:41 left after right winger Linus Hemstrom’s shot went past the left shoulder of Bulldogs netminder Drobac. 

But that was as close as the Frontenacs would get as Bulldogs centreman Florian Xhekaj tallied his 31st goal of the season with the empty netter with 1:16 remaining. With three points on the night, Xhekaj has recorded 19 points (12 goals and seven assists) in his last 12 games.

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