The Hamilton Bulldogs have underwhelmed to this point in the Memorial Cup.
The OHL champions had been an absolute juggernaut, having not lost since March 25 prior to the OHL final. There, they went seven games against a clearly overmatched Windsor team that gave it their all -- and perhaps the best competition possible ahead of the Memorial Cup grind.
Fast forward a week later and they dropped their opening two games to QMJHL opponents that, on paper, did not look strong enough to take the extra points. Anything short of a regulation win against the Edmonton Oil Kings would mean their season was over.
The Oil Kings were in a similar position. A win would mean their Memorial Cup hopes would survive and a loss would mean they would be on the next plane back to Alberta. The only difference was that the Oil Kings could deal with a non-regulation thanks to the Bulldogs' two losses and the Oil Kings' previous overtime win against the Sea Dogs.
The end result came down to the Bulldogs getting out to a 2-0 lead and never relinquishing it. The Oil Kings managed to pull within a goal twice in the game but with an empty netter at the end of the game, the Bulldogs managed to survive and the powerhouse Oil Kings were sent home despite loading up in the summer and throughout the season, adding an incredible amount of talent over the course of the last 18 months.
First Star: C Mason McTavish
The Anaheim Ducks prospect has been waiting to have a true breakout game at the Memorial Cup and he did so in the game that mattered most to this point. The Bulldogs' power forward showed his physical dominance at times both in space and in dirty areas. Closing out along the boards, McTavish was effective at extending cycles and ensuring that the Bulldogs maintained possession.
McTavish had two goals, one of which was the game-sealing empty netter, and an assist against the Oil Kings. Seldom known for his planking abilities, McTavish had possibly the prettiest secondary assist of the tournament. Receiving a pass from the defender at the top of the umbrella on the powerplay, McTavish sent an off-balance pass cross-ice in one motion onto the tape of Logan Morrison who sent a pass to the net-front for a tap-in.
The 2021 third overall pick scored what ended up being the game-winning goal on an excellent play. With the puck along the boards, McTavish found some space and set up shop inside the faceoff circle. When Patrick Thomas got the puck free and sent it to McTavish, there was two Oil Kings players within two feet of his stick but it didn’t matter. McTavish was able to quickly adjust the angle and rip the puck past one of the best goaltenders in all of the CHL in Sebastian Cossa. Without McTavish’s big game, the Bulldogs likely would be on the first flight back to Ontario.
Second Star: G Marco Constantini
Just as he did in their last game, Costantini did everything in his power to ensure that the Bulldogs stayed in the game. Making 40 saves on 42 shots as the Oil Kings out-chanced the Bulldogs, Costantini battled hard and made a number of desperation saves. Thankfully for Costantini, the Bulldogs defense tightened up since the last game, allowing far fewer high-danger chances despite allowing more total shots, making the young Hamilton netminder’s night a bit easier.
The second period is where Costantini really had the chance to shine. The 19-year-old netminder was able to put up a fight in the crease, using all 6-foot-1 of his frame at times to make toe saves and reach back with his stick. Costantini never really seemed out of the flow of the game because of the steady flow of shots. Staying engaged in the game is often half the battle for netminders and Costantini was engaged from start to finish. The second period is where Costantini really had the chance to shine. The 19-year-old netminder was able to put up a fight in the crease, using all 6-foot-1 of his frame at times to make toe saves and reach back with his stick. Costantini never really seemed out of the flow of the game because of the steady flow of shots. Staying engaged in the game is often half the battle for netminders and Costantini was engaged from start to finish.
Third Star: C Logan Morrison
One of the top overaged prospects for the 2022 NHL draft, Morrison had a 100-point season in the OHL and has put his name on the map for teams in July’s draft. A big performance with two primary assists in a must-win Memorial Cup game is going going to make NHL teams look more favorably on the 19-year-old Guelph native. His willingness to play unselfish hockey is evident on nearly every shift, constantly putting teammates in a position to succeed.
Morrison was a master distributor in the powerplay in this game. Staying patient and drawing defenders towards him by holding onto the puck and altering his angle of focus multiple times before sending a puck below the goal line where it was jammed in at the side of the net on the games opening goal, Morrison manipulated his opponents into making the rash decision to clos eon his. Later in the opening period, Morrison was found threading an absolute pinpoint accurate one-touch pass to the front of the net for an open tap-in on his second. Morrison may not have been the star of the show on every shift, but he was constantly making those around him look more dangerous with his quick decisions and willingness to wait for his opportunities.