TORONTO – A strong debut from Joey MacDonald gave Andre Deveaux a chance to play hero.
Deveaux scored the shootout winner as the Toronto Marlies edged the Hamilton Bulldogs 3-2 on Sunday afternoon in the American Hockey League season opener for both teams.
Alex Foster, Jiri Tlusty and Tyler Bozak also scored for Toronto in the shootout.
MacDonald was stellar in Toronto’s goal, making 32 saves for the win. Deveaux expected nothing less.
“That’s no surprise,” he said of MacDonald’s performance. “He’s an NHL goalie playing here right now and with him in the net, we’re going to have nothing but success, I’m sure.”
MacDonald, a 29-year-old AHL veteran, was signed over the summer after the Marlies traded away prospect Justin Pogge to the Anaheim Ducks. Pogge was given a chance at the NHL level last season but failed to meet expectations in Toronto.
While Pogge was mercurial in his time in Toronto, at both the AHL and NHL level, the Marlies are hoping MacDonald will provide some goaltending stability.
“Well you hope so, that’s why we signed him,” said Dallas Eakins, who made his pro hockey head coaching debut with the Marlies on Sunday.
Curtis Sanford also made a good first impression with his new team, turning in a solid 27-save effort in a losing cause in front of 4,362 fans at Toronto’s Ricoh Coliseum.
Sanford and the Bulldogs appeared primed for a win until Toronto captain Ben Ondrus tied the game with just over seven minutes remaining in the third, firing home a loose puck from the slot.
Just moments before on the same shift, Ondrus was robbed from point blank on a beautiful pad save by Sanford.
Kyle Rogers also scored for the Marlies, while Brock Trotter and J.T. Wyman answered for Hamilton.
Trotter and Mathieu Darche scored shootout markers for the Bulldogs.
While the Marlies’ win required a late rally, Deveaux was impressed.
“It shows a lot of character,” Deveaux said of the comeback. “We played for, I felt, 60 minutes. Even though we were trailing after two, I thought, especially the second period we took it to them and had a lot of puck possession in their zone and I think we deserved to win.”
MacDonald, who hadn’t seen any game action in about a week-and-a-half, credited his teammates for much of his success.
“I thought our ‘D’ did a real good job of blocking shots and letting me see the puck, and when guys are doing that, sacrificing their bodies, it makes my job a lot easier too,” he said.
Eakins was certainly pleased with what he saw from his new charges.
“We grade our players after every game and I didn’t have any bad grades right through the whole lineup,” he said, adding he believed superior fitness levels on the part of his players were a factor in squeaking out a victory.
Included in that group was Bozak, who made his pro hockey debut centring a line with fellow youngsters Jiri Tlusty and Christian Hanson. The trio didn’t create any goals, but did catch the eye of their coach.
“I thought they adjusted well to the ice time they were receiving, I was pushing them along pretty hard,” Eakins said. “There is some room for improvement with those guys, but on an overall scale I thought they played very well. They generated a lot of chances and they are a dangerous three when they come over the boards.”
The game was tied 1-1 just past its midway point until Hamilton used a 4-on-3 power play to seize the lead. The Bulldogs worked the puck around well, with Mathieu Carle eventually sliding it to Trotter at the bottom of the circle. Trotter snapped a quick, hard shot past MacDonald on the stick side.
It appeared that goal would stand as the decisive marker until Toronto came to life late in the contest.
The teams traded goals just 16 seconds apart late in the opening period. Hamilton got on the board when a goalmouth scramble resulted in Wyman swatting a loose puck home.
But Toronto struck right back when Rogers, taking a pass in full stride from Alex Berry, burst right between two Bulldogs defenders and chipped the puck past Sanford.
NOTES: Yannick Weber, one of the Bulldogs’ top defenceman, was called up before the game by the Montreal Canadiens to address a rash of injuries on their blue-line. The Marlies have signed 23-year-old defenceman Andy Rogers to a professional tryout contract. Rogers appeared in two playoff games last season for Toronto. Sunday’s game was the first of 12 meetings between North Division rivals Hamilton and Toronto this year. The Marlies and Bulldogs squared off three times in the pre-season, with Hamilton taking all three contests.