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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Same place, half a life ago...

The Hamilton Bulldogs beat the Chicago Wolves 2-1 Wednesday in Hamilton, playing game three of the Western Conference finals. However, two nights later, with a 3-0 lead, the Bulldogs could not clinch game four and the Western Conference championship, being shut out by the Wolves on Friday night 1-0.

On Wednesday, Chicago took three 5:3 penalties in a second period that saw a virtual revolving door installed on the sin bin. In addition it took a five-minute major. Despite spending 17 minutes of penalties, including six penalties taken in a row, Chicago gave up only one power play goal in the second period of the Wednesday game.

However that was enough as Hamilton first tied the game, then used that power play goal to leap ahead of the Wolves and hold the lead and win.

Chicago’s offense drew first blood in the contest when Chicago used one of its six power play opportunities to out muscle the Bulldogs in front of the net and allow Jordan LaVallee to score.

However, in the second period, referee Steve Kozari began whistling a parade of Wolves players to the sin bin, starting with Brett Sterling for holding the stick at 7.47. Three 5:3 power plays, a five-minute major and six players later, the Wolves succumbed and gave Hamilton a goal.

It could be termed one of the best defensive efforts by the team this year. It could also be called very poor discipline. Hamilton is probably shocked at how badly they play on the power play.

Leading 2-1, Hamilton was able to hold on as Chicago dinged their net 13 times in the last 20 minutes of play, compared to just three shots on the Chicago goal.

The winner of the game was Carey Price, the Canadiens rookie goaltender, stopping 35 shots. Fred Brathwaite received the loss, stopping 23 shots.

On Friday night, the hero of the game was clearly Fred Brathwaite. Brathwaite stopped 37 Hamilton shots on goal for a shutout over the Bulldogs. The win kept the Wolves hopes alive for another day. In the history of the American Hockey League only two teams have come back from a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs to win their series. The Wolves win brings the Wolves from 3-0 to 3-1.

The two teams are the Rochester Americans in 1960, defeating the Cleveland Barons. The Adirondack Red Wings in 1989 over the Hershey Bears.

Price received the loss. A poor performing Wolves offense put just 13 shots on goal for the entire game.

Brathwaite faced his own difficult path to victory on Friday, especially during the game four second period when the team was again sent to the sin bin six consecutive times giving Hamilton a 5:3 once.

Yet, again, Hamilton proved unable to convert the 5:3 or any of the man advantages to a goal advantage.

The lack of power on the Hamilton power play, and Brathwaite’s sudden transition into a wall, gave the Wolves an important psychological boost Friday. They will not be swept and even shut out their opponents in a series marked by overtimes and one-goal games.

Brathwaite won the One Star of the night before the record crowd. It is hard to give a second star of the game to another Wolves player, as so many of them spent time in the sin bin and so few put shots on the goal. However, let’s nominate John Kernaghan.

Kernaghan is a writer at the Hamilton Spectator. His page four profile of Brathwaite, titled “Same Place, half a life ago” remembered how a 17 year-old Brathwaite, then playing in the Memorial Cup for the Oshawa Generals, won a double overtime game in that series to claim the Cup in the Copps Coliseum. And, as well, an overtime game in the Copps Coliseum earlier in the regular season to win an overtime game against the Bulldogs, the only game, until Friday, won by the Wolves against the Bulldogs this year.

The Memorial Cup tournament between the best Canadian junior teams from the three main juniors leagues starts play each Rembrance Day weekend. That was last weekend, and it concludes on our Memorial Day weekend. So the 1990 Memorial Cup was awarded nearly 17 years ago to the 17 year-old Brathwaite.

Brathwaite is a hot commodity in Canada. His Memorial Cup wins and long odds to play in the NHL as a black Canadian, make him respected here, something you see every time you visit Canada and he plays.

The Wolves face the Bulldogs again Saturday in Copps, downtown Hamiton, Ontario for game five. The Bulldogs lead the best of seven series 3-1. Any win by the Bulldogs will send the Wolves home for the remainder of the playoff season. The game starts at 7 PM local, Eastern time. Game six and seven, if necessary, will be played at the Allstate Arena Monday and Wednesday at 7 PM local, Central time.

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