SAINT JOHN – The Saint John Sea Dogs avenged a pair of recent losses to their provincial rivals from Bathurst on Friday evening at Harbour Station, posting a convincing 5-1 win over the Titan.
The win was even more impressive in light of a Sea Dogs lineup which was missing 10 players, including five who have been drafted by NHL teams (i.e. Chabot, Joseph, Gauthier, Smallman and Noel).
Matthew Highmore turned in yet another outstanding performance with two goals and one assist to lead the Sea Dogs. Bokondji Imama, Samuel Dove-McFalls and Simon Bourque added singles to the Sea Dogs tally. Joe Veleno chipped in with two assists and rookie Alex D'Orio was rock solid in goal with 30 saves.
Christophe Boivin replied for Bathurst while Reilly Pickard and Anthony Dumont-Bouchard combined to make 22 saves for the Titan.
- Dove-McFalls scored the opening goal, while short handed at 5:20 of the first period, when he intercepted a cross ice pass high in his own zone, broke away and rifled a wrist shot past Pickard.
- Bourque scored his first goal as a Sea Dog - while on a power play at 8:52 - when he pinched in from the point, corralled a rebound near the goal line and snapped the puck into the top of the cage from a sharp angle.
- Boivin brought the Titan back to within one - less than a minute later - as he crashed the net during a scramble and banged the puck past D'Orio.
- At 13:55 of the first, Highmore took a lead pass from Veleno, broke down the right wing and unleashed a laser to the top corner over Pickard's glove to put the hosts back in front by two.
- Barely over three minutes later, Highmore finished off a lovely dish from Veleno with a deke to the backhand to put the Sea Dogs up 4-1 after the opening frame.
- Dumont-Bouchard replaced Pickard to start the second period.
- Imama moved into the team lead - one ahead of Mathieu Joseph - with his 26th goal of the season at 13:51 of the second when his thunderous wrist shot from the high slot beat Bouchard just inside the right post.
- The highlight of a relatively quiet third period - and the hit of the night - was a huge open ice hip check from Jakub Zboril on Dawson Theede, which sent the former Sea Dog power forward cartwheeling through the air.
- Highmore's three-point performance allowed him to move into a fourth place tie with Ryan Sparling on the Sea Dogs' all-time scoring list with 217 points. Also - per a tweet on Friday from David ('DK') Kelly - with the passing of the trade deadline, Highmore and captain Spencer Smallman have joined Mike Thomas as the only players in Sea Dog history to play their full five-year QMJHL careers in Saint John.
- Jakub Zboril returned to the Sea Dogs lineup after a strong performance for Team Czech Republic at the world juniors. The presence of 'Big Z' along with recently acquired star defenceman Simon Bourque was significant in this contest.
- Affiliates Ben Reid, Alex Lafreniere, Liam Conrad, David Comeau and Ian Smallwood were called upon to help fill the void in the Sea Dogs line-up.
- Elsewhere in the Maritimes Division, the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles beat the Charlottetown Islanders 4-2. That surely was not the huge start the Islanders Twitterverse and message boardies were expecting after the massive reload executed by Jim Hulton during the just completed trade period. Also, Halifax defeated Moncton 6-2.
Imama - Highmore - Veleno
Ward - Dove-McFalls - LeBlanc
Lafreniere - Pare - Reginato
Reid - Conrad
Zboril - Webster
Bourque - Bernier
Felixson - Comeau
The newly acquired Julien Gauthier, along with fellow Team Canada stars Mathieu Joseph and Thomas Chabot, will take some much needed time off to spend with their families. All three are expected to arrive in Saint John next week (likely Wednesday).
Besides the three Team Canada players, the Sea Dogs were also missing Spencer Smallman, Nathan Noel, Chase Stewart, Matt Green, Landon Quinney, Bryson Michel and John Warren. All seven are recovering from upper body injuries.
A pair of Matthew Highmore goals, just over three minutes apart late in the first period, propelled the Sea Dogs to the hard fought win.
SN STARS OF THE GAME
1. Matthew Highmore
2. Alex D'Orio
3(tie). Sam Dove-McFalls / Simon Bourque
The Sea Dogs travel to Halifax to face the Mooseheads tomorrow (Saturday, Jan. 7) at 4 p.m. The game will be televised on both Sportsnet and TVA Sports. Both teams will return to Saint John on Sunday for a 3 p.m. rematch at Harbour Station.