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OHL Finals: Londoner sets up OT winner as Hamilton wins crucial Game 4

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WINDSOR — London-born George Diaco fielded the overtime winner on Friday night as the Hamilton Bulldogs won Game 4 of the Ontario Hockey League Finals and tied the series 2-2 with the Windsor Spitfires.

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It was the end of a surprisingly late comeback for Bulldogs. Less than two minutes from taking a stranglehold lead in the Ontario Hockey League Finals, the Spitfires conceded an equalizer with Hamilton’s goalie on the bench. The Bulldogs, who held a commanding 44-22 lead on shots, scored the winner after 7:31 of overtime for a 3-2 win ahead of a 6,433 at the WFCU Center.

“They had their backs to the wall,” Spitfires head coach Marc Savard said of the Bulldogs. “They played a great game of hockey, they have to be given credit for that. They came here and just wanted it more than we did. We had some passengers (Friday) and I think they know who they are but the belief is still there.”

Instead of a 3:1 lead, the best-of-seven final is now a 2:2 draw. The Bulldogs also regained home field advantage in the series, with Game 5 scheduled for Sunday in Hamilton.

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“There wasn’t a man on our lineup who didn’t leave everything he had on the ice,” said Jay McKee, the Bulldogs head coach. “When you win a game like that, it’s an emotional feeling. The dressing room is feeling pretty good right now. We achieved what we wanted in those two games. Reestablish home field advantage and try to take that momentum home with you.”

On Friday, the Spitfires were early on defense and the Bulldogs went on the power play just 17 seconds into the game. Windsor managed to kill the penalty but Logan Morrison got just enough stick on a pass to redirect it past Spitfires goalkeeper Matt Onuska and give Hamilton the early lead.

Windsor had several power play opportunities to win back that goal. But the Spitfires failed to convert three chances in the opening period and five against three early chances for two minutes in the second period, in which the club fired just a single shot, apart from a Wyatt Johnston shot from the post.

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“You know, I think we could have capitalized a bit better,” Spitfires forward Josh Currie said. “I’m not worried and our team is not worried at all. We just had a little night off and we’re going to find out.

Currie gave the Spitfires some life just 48 seconds after the two-man advantage expired. Parked at the side of the net, he took a lining from the back of the net to tie it from Jacob Maillet.

Hamilton Bulldogs player Mark Duarte attempts to get the puck past Windsor Spitfires goalie Matt Onuska during Game 4 of the OHL Final between the Windsor Spitfires and the Hamilton Bulldogs at the WFCU Center in Windsor on Friday June 10, 2022.  Hamilton won 3-2 in overtime.  Dax Melmer/Windsor Star
Hamilton Bulldogs player Mark Duarte attempts to get the puck past Windsor Spitfires goalie Matt Onuska during Game 4 of the OHL Final between the Windsor Spitfires and the Hamilton Bulldogs at the WFCU Center in Windsor on Friday June 10, 2022. Hamilton won 3-2 in overtime. Dax Melmer/Windsor Star Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

Captain Will Cuylle pushed Windsor into the lead by dropping his shoulder and driving the net. Bulldogs goalie Marco Costantini got most of the shot but he trickled in to give the Spitfires a 2-1 lead. But the team with the best offensive record in the league struggled to find consistent scoring chances against the Bulldogs on Friday while Hamilton continued to press offensively.

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Onuska made several stops before the period ended to keep Windsor in front, including a breakaway stop against Hamilton’s Mason McTavish when he brought his right pad down.

A third period lead has been about as certain as you can hope for the Spitfires this season. Windsor was a perfect 11-0 in the playoffs before Friday’s third period and 43-0-1-1 overall this season.

The Bulldogs hit two posts in the third half and had another goal ruled out due to goaltender interference with just under seven minutes remaining in regulation.

But with the keeper on the bench, former Spitfire defender Nathan Staios, playing his first game of the series after returning from injury, trickled his shot just past Onuska to send the game into overtime.

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Bulldogs defenseman Gavin White would score the winner with a shot from the point defeating a shielded Onuska. Diaco – who played minor hockey with the London Junior Knights and spent some time with the Jr. B London Nationals – received an assist.

“I was able to find the trail,” White said. “Able to levitate through one and he found his way in.”

Now the Spitfires need to return to Hamilton and win another game against a team that has the league’s best overall home record of 34-4-2-2 this season.

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“We just didn’t have a great (game) and Onuska almost made it for us,” Savard said. “He was fantastic but we have to get better. I’m not worried, we’ll be fine, but it’s just not a big effort.

“We’re going up there, we’re going to have to try really hard and I think the guys are going to do it.”

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Game summary

Friday result

Bulldogs 3 Spitfires 2 (OT)

Hamilton 1 0 1 1 – 3

Windsor 0 2 0 0 – 2

First period:

1. Hamilton, Morrison 15 (Mysak, Xhekaj) 2:20.

Punish:

Zito W (Holding) :17, White H (Tripping) 2:35, Donovan H (Hooking) 13:04, White H (Game Delay) 15:02.

Second period:

2. Windsor, Currie 3 (Maillet) 5:29, 3. Windsor, Cuylle 14 (Johnston, Zito) 12:41.

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Punish:

Diaco H (stumble), Mysak H (glitch) 2:27, Renwick W (glitch) 5:43, McTavis H (high sticking), Perrott W (edit) 6:37, Sobolev W (glitch) 12:59, Hayes H (goalkeeper interference) 13:37, Humphrey H (fighting), Ribau W (fighting) 18:03.

Third period:

4. Hamilton, Staios 3 (Morrison, Winterton) 18:03.

Penalty:

De Angelis W (stumbling) 3:35.

Over time:

5.Hamilton White 2 (Diaco, Sherk) 7:35.

Penalty:

De Angelis W (game delay) 5:21.

Game Stats – SOG –

Hamilton 9 18 10 7-44 Windsor 8 7 5 2-22

Goal (Shot Saves) –

Hamilton: Costantini (W, 14-1-1) (22-20). Windsor: Onuska (L, 11-4-2) (44-41).

Power play (scoring chances) –

Hamilton 0-5. Windsor 0-6.

Referee:

Dave Lewis (16) and Scott Ferguson (35).

linesman:

Kevin Hastings (61) and Dustin McCrank (68).

Att.:

6,433 at the WFCU Center.

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