The IceDogs began life without Phil Tomasino and Akil Thomas with a 7-1 loss to Hamilton leading coach Billy Burke to stress the team’s need for a new identity.
“We need to get an identity for this group, this group needs an identity. The past is the past, the trades are done,” said the IceDogs head coach.
Niagara struggled to generate offence in their first game since trading Kyen Sopa (Erie), Tomasino (Oshawa) and Thomas (Peterborough).
The big trades
Prior to the game, the team officially announced the two trades of Tomasino and Thomas.
Tomasino was traded to the Oshawa Generals for nine OHL priority selections and the rights to defenceman David Guicciardi.
Thomas, who was honoured before the game for his role in Team Canada’s gold medal at the World Juniors, was traded to the Petes for Cam Butler and draft picks.
The Petes have acquired Akil Thomas. pic.twitter.com/MoPROYMIIY
— Niagara IceDogs (@OHLIceDogs) January 9, 2020
Cam Butler and Andrew MacLean make IceDog debuts
The newest members of the IceDogs were in the lineup against the Bulldogs and Andrew MacLean even got the start in net.
“He hasn’t played in a while, new team it’s a tough situation for him a tough start, we’re certainly not going to judge him on this one,” Burke said after the loss.
MacLean stopped 25 of the 32 shots he faced in his Niagara debut.
Cam Butler made his debut on the same night that Niagara honoured the player he was traded for.
“He’ll be great, a guy like him you know there’s Akil the bench is choked up, Akil is choked up, standing ovation and it’s like alright Cam, go,” Burke said about Butler.
“It’s a real tough spot but for him but it just shows his character, there wasn’t a doubt in his mind he wanted to play tonight, he’s an IceDog and he’s going to fit in fantastic.”
Butler generated one shot and had a few good opportunities playing on a line with Ivan Lodnia and Oliver Castleman.
He is going to have a huge role with the team going forward according to Burke.
“He’s a big guy with skill, he’s smart, we’re going to throw him in the fire and play him in every situation.”
Hamilton’s top line buries the IceDogs
Arthur Kaliyev, Tag Bertuzzi and Logan Morrison were dominant against the IceDogs on Thursday.
Niagara couldn’t stop them whenever they were on the ice and the line ended up with 12 combined points.
Morrison finished with 3 goals and an assist, Bertuzzi with 2 goals and an assist. Kaliyev led the way, recording five assists against the IceDogs.
“We can be a lot better with puck decisions, we can battle harder in the (defensive) zone,” said Burke
“We need to be the hardest working team every night, and that needs to be our identity.”
The Legacies of Thomas and Tomasino
Akil Thomas and Phil Tomasino will likely go down as two of the most impactful players in the franchises’ history.
Thomas played 219 career games with the IceDogs, scoring 96 goals and 179 assists for 275 points with the team.
Coach Burke had some high praise for Thomas’s impact on the organization.
“Akil is probably the greatest IceDog of all time, to be honest.”
Tomasino also had a successful IceDogs career, scoring 61 goals and 92 assists for 153 points in 164 games.
“Tomasino is an electric game-breaker, there’s no doubt about that, the speed the skill can change a game every time he’s on the ice,” said Burke.
Both had a big impact on-ice impact for Niagara but moving on became a necessity to regain draft capital.
What’s next for Niagara
Burke stressed the need to build a new identity after the game, and Niagara will get another chance to show what they can do without their two stars.
The IceDogs travel to Kitchener on Friday and then to Erie on Saturday.
“It’s obviously going to be an adjustment period and unfortunately I don’t think we’ll snap the fingers and be rocking tomorrow night,” said Burke.
“There will be growing pains for sure but if were battling defensively and working as hard as we can, I’ll be happy most nights.”
While an adjustment period is expected the team needs it to be quick because Niagara is only six points back of Sudbury for first in the division.