The Habs had already selected 10 players, and the unheralded five-foot-11 Slovakian was still available. They got him 271st overall when he was playing for the Bratislava junior team.
The way that Halak has played lately, Habs GM Bob Gainey might want to send his European scouts a bottle of expensive brandy as a reward.
Halak, who played in the ECHL at Long Beach, Calif., most of last season, made 42 saves in leading the Hamilton Bulldogs past the Toronto Marlies 2-1 in an AHL game Saturday afternoon.
“He won (Friday) and he had a shutout in the game before that,” said Bulldogs coach Don Lever. “The (Friday) game wasn’t very taxing – he only faced five or six scoring chances – and I figured he was pretty sharp, so I decided we’d just keep going with him.”
Good move, Don.
Linemates Mikhail Grabovski and Duncan Milroy scored for the Bulldogs, both on power plays in the first period, in front of 5,960 spectators at Air Canada Centre. Grabovski and Milroy each had two points as they set up one another’s goals.
“We got behind the eight-ball early, and that’s been a bit of a trend lately,” said Marlies coach Greg Gilbert. “Those lazy penalties, especially early, we end up getting behind and spend the rest of the game trying to battle back. But we did keep coming at them, and that’s encouraging.”
The win was the second in a row for Hamilton, and fourth in its last five games. The Bulldogs improved to 6-6-1 and are two points up on the Marlies, 5-8-1, in the AHL’s North Division.
Right winger Brad Leeb scored the lone goal for Toronto. It was the third straight loss and fourth in five games for the Marlies, who fell to 2-6-1 at home.
“We’ve had a few of these (one-goal losses) so far this season,” Gilbert said. “The kids worked hard, though, and kept skating, kept competing.”
With the annual Royal Agricultural Fair taking up residence at Ricoh Coliseum, the Marlies played their second straight game in the home of their NHL parent, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bulldogs are the affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens, who played the Leafs at ACC in the NHL’s annual Hall of Fame game Saturday night.
Halak was especially busy in the third period, when he stopped all 23 shots he faced.
“He played very well,” said Marlies goalie Justin Pogge of his counterpart. “He made some big saves for them.
“He just wouldn’t give up that tying goal.”
Pogge made 35 saves, including several clutch stops to keep the Marlies in the game.
“I felt pretty good out there,” Pogge said. “I would’ve liked to have that second goal back, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
The Bulldogs were 2-for-8 on the power play, while the Marlies went 1-for-5 with the man advantage.
Hamilton linemates Grabovski and Milroy combined on the first two goals as the Bulldogs jumped to a 2-0 lead. With Marlies centre Boyd Devereaux off for hooking, Grabovski and Milroy battled for the puck during a goalmouth scramble before Grabovski finally banged it past Pogge at 2:54.
Less than eight minutes later, it was Milroy’s turn. With a 5-on-3 advantage, Grabovski fired a pass through the crease to Milroy, who easily lifted the puck into the goal before Pogge could react.
The Marlies pulled within one while on the power play at 14:29 of the first. Leeb, cruising around the left side of the Bulldogs net, swatted a a rebound past Halak, who had trouble handling Jamie Sifers’ blast from the point.
Hamilton outshot Toronto 18-6 in the second period but Pogge couldn’t be beat.
“He made some good saves for us,” said Gilbert of his rookie goalie. “He’s still going through the adjustment from junior to the pros. He’s playing against men now.”
Hamilton’s next game is against the visiting Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights on Tuesday. The Marlies are off until Wednesday when they play the Manchester Monarchs in the first of four consecutive road games.
Notes: Toronto signed defenceman Mike Jarmuth before the game, and the 24-year-old native of Monkton, Ont., skated a regular shift. Defencemen Brad Brown, Dominic D’Amour and Tyson Marsh remained out with injuries. Brown (back) and D’Amour (ankle) are considered day-to-day.