Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Niagara IceDogs work double-hard to nab Game 1 in London; OHL post-game questionsOne night after Dale Hunter's team lost a triple-overtime Stanley Cup playoff game, Mark Hunter's lost in two overtimes in the opener of the OHL final. Dougie Hamilton — speaking of brother acts — ended an 89-minute marathon by scoring the winner for the Niagara IceDogs to cap a gripping first game of the OHL final for the Niagara IceDogs. On with the post-game questions:

Niagara 3 London 2 (2OT; IceDogs lead final 1-0) — How deflating will this prove to be for London, which ceded home-ice advantage? Two weeks ago tonight, the Knights began their semifinal series with an overtime win over the Kitchener Rangers. The underdog Rangers were either never really the same after that or the result betrayed that they were up against a better team. London rolled to a sweep.

Tracking back to the present, London played well enough to win on Thursday. They tested IceDogs goalie Mark Visentin (41 saves) and had chances in the third period and first overtime. Now they face having to win on the IceDogs' small ice surface on Saturday or they could be in a jam.

"You're out there to win the game, no matter whether's it's regulation, overtime, anything," centre Austin Watson said of playing so late into the evening only to lose. "Unfortunately we were on the wrong end of it tonight but we'll have a better effort next game."

"This is what you're going to expect all series," Watson said of the tight contest. "When I was with Windsor, we went to five overtimes with London [in the 2009 conference final]. The games are going to be tight and we're just going to have find a way to win."

How well can the Knights adapt to Niagara's ice surface on Saturday? The Knights did have a measure of success playing at high tempo, given that both Max Domi and Seth Griffith's goals came on offensive rushes. However, Niagara was in control when it was able to work the corners and the boards to keep the Knights defenders in chase mode, particularly when Dallas Stars second-rounder Brett Ritchie and linemates Steven Shipley and Mitchell Theoret were on the ice. The trio averages 6-foot-2 and 204 pounds.

It's such a $64,000 question that Hunter had to downplay with it humour.

"I'll tell you after Saturday," Hunter laughed. "We haven't played there in a while."

What was the IceDogs' big takeaway from the opener? Apart from Hamilton scoring the biggest goal in franchise history, which he capped off by doing a football-style front somersault before he was engulfed by his ecstatic teammates? Niagara won in one of the league's most forbidding venues for the second time this season. They also got a sense of how the Knights plan to play them over the next few games.

"We learned about what line matches Mark wanted," IceDogs coach-GM Marty Williamson said. "We now have a better feel for where the battles are and what we have to change.

"It was a heck of a hockey game," Williamson also said. "Both teams played real well and we had fans coming around thanking us between periods, it was such a good game. Obviously it's important. I'm just awfully proud of the guys that hung in while playing such in a tough building to win in."

'Pretty tired'

The night also tried Niagara's patience. They had back-to-back power plays in the first overtime — first goalie Michael Houser was penalized for delay of game after bumping his net off, then Matt Rupert was sent off exactly 60 seconds after London returned to full strength — and didn't bury. In the second extra session, Dougie Hamilton's decider came On a 5-on-5 sequence where the Knights were so frazzled it looked like it was a power play.

"We were pretty tired," said Hamilton, who is expected to join the Boston Bruins blueline next fall after he turns 19. "We were focusing in the room and on the bench just to stay patient. Someone was going to make a mistake and we were just hoping we could capitalize on one of theirs."

Still, on a warm spring night, the fact it took so long to get a winner showed London's resolve.

"Nobody was really making big mistakes, even though both teams were getting tired," Williamson added. "I didn't care when it ended as long as it ended in the right way."

Who was more affected by the soft ice in the warm building? Well, the puck bounced for both teams. But London fans might have had trouble erasing the image of a pass bouncing over centre Vladislav Namestnikov's stick when he was alone in front of Visentin during the first OT. Namestnikov was one of the most dangerous Knights attackers over the course of the evening, setting up Griffith's third-period tying goal.

"The ice was pretty soft right from the start," said Hamilton, who had three points. "We were lucky we weren't playing in Niagara tonight [where the Jack Gatecliff Arena has an older ice plant] or it would have been a lot worse. It definitely gets a little bit rough out there."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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