ST. CATHARINES — The Niagara IceDogs OHL season ended Sunday afternoon in Ottawa with a 5-1 loss to the Ottawa’s 67’s.
Ottawa, led by four goals from Corey Cowick, took the best-of-seven series 4-1 over the IceDogs, who went from last in the league at one point in the season to making the playoffs.
In the final game, it turned into a battle of attrition for Niagara. The IceDogs lost Josh Moes to a knee injury in the first period, Johnson Andrews five minutes into the second period with a separated shoulder and Alex Friesen pulled his groin muscle and finished the game at about 50% effectiveness.
“It was a 2-1 hockey game and we just ran out of bodies,” IceDogs head coach Mike McCourt said. “It’s tough to compete when you lose that many key bodies.”
The first-round playoff exit shouldn’t take the lustre off what was a successful season for the IceDogs.
“It was an absolute success,” McCourt said. “We said at the beginning of the year that it was going to be a process. There were some naysayers early, but you have to be patient with the young guys.
“You have to put in the time and let them develop at their own pace. It’s different for everybody, but they made a great strides and to give the second seed a run like we did — four games were (decided) by a goal — it could have gone the other way.”
The abbreviated playoff run should pay huge dividends for a young IceDogs squad that will return in September one year older and bolstered by a stockpile of draft picks, including two in the top 10.
“It’s huge, Now it’s on the resume and they know how the pace of play picks up come playoff time and how everything is magnified,” McCourt said. “I think next year they’re going to know what to expect a little more and their expectations have changed.
“Now they know what the OHL playoffs are all about.”
Last year, the IceDogs upset the 67’s in the first round of the playoffs, but this year’s Ottawa’s team was more experienced and much deeper. The 67’s had eight players with four points or more in the series, led by Tyler Toffoli (5-2-7) and Cowick (5-1-6), compared to just two for Niagara (Friesen 1-6-7 and Andrew Agozzino 3-2-5).
“They are a deep team and an experienced team,” McCourt said. “They have an older group there and that experience you can’t measure in a quantitative equation.
“It is an intangible that you have or don’t have, but they caught the breaks. I thought our guys, as the series wore on, played with a lot of poise and emotion. We didn’t get a break in first three games and if we had gotten a bounce here or there, it could have been a different outcome.”
Ottawa grabbed a 2-0 first period lead Sunday on Toffoli’s fifth of the series and Cowick’s second. Shots on goal in the first period were 11-7 in favour of the 67’s.
Marco Insam’s first goal of the playoffs cut the lead to 2-1 at 3:28 of the middle period, but that’s as close as Niagara would get. Cowick regained the two-goal lead for Ottawa with 3:37 left in the period, a period where Niagara outshot Ottawa 15-14.
Ottawa put the game away in the final period on a pair of empty-net goals by Cowick. The first empty netter at 17:47 was short-handed and awarded to Cowick when he was hooked by Agozzino going in on a breakaway. Shots on goal in the final period were 10-8 Niagara.
Mark Visentin took the loss in goal while Petr Mrazek picked up the win.
The IceDogs will do off-ice testing Tuesday, on-ice testing Wednesday and exit meetings between the players and coaches and management Thursday.
“I’m proud of these guys,” IceDogs general manager Dave Brown said. “They worked hard and they answered the bell.
“You talk about champions and what you need to have such as perseverance and that. For me, these guys accomplished a helluva lot. We had our foot on the gas pedal since early January right until now.”
Players battled through a lot of nagging injuries and Brown felt the coaching staff got everything it could out of the team. It bodes well for 2010-11.
“You feel for the three overage guys (Moes, Insam and Reggie Traccito) because they won’t be there to see the fruit,” Brown said. “I think the rest of the guys have an understanding of that and the feeling in the dressing room today when we were all in there at the end, it’s not a great feeling.
“You hope they learn from that.”