IceDogs back on track
Akil Thomas has put up huge numbers in his second season with the Niagara IceDogs. Photo by: OHL IMAGES
The Niagara IceDogs continue to ask a lot out of Akil Thomas and the sophomore centre continues to deliver.
Thomas collected a goal and two assists as the Niagara IceDogs topped the Windsor Spitfires 3-2 in an Ontario Hockey League game Sunday afternoon at the Meridian Centre.
The win was the fourth in a row for Niagara, which improved to 32-23-7-3.
The Spitfires dropped to 30-29-4-2.
Thomas now has 22 goals and 79 points in 65 games, gaudy numbers for a second-year player.
Thomas is playing minutes and in a role normally reserved for an older player, but has more than held his own.
“I think he can handle it,” Niagara coach Billy Burke said. “He’s a special talent. He’ll be an NHL player one day and he wants it. We expect a lot of him, treat him like he’s 19, and he continues to deliver.”
Burke said he trusts Thomas to come to him when he’s not 100 per cent.
“We have a really good relationship and he needs to be honest and tell me when he’s banged up. He has that freedom,” Burke said.
Thomas, who has gone only five games in 2018 without a point, doesn’t feel overwhelmed.
“It feels natural,” he said. “I feel I can handle it. I’m comfortable with it and if anything, when the team is doing well, I want to be out there even more.”
Thomas said he is aware how important it is to take care of himself away from the ice.
“We’ve had optional practices and optional days to come in because some guys do log more ice than others. Our organization is great with giving time off and that’s why everyone isn’t burnt out. We’ve had the right amount of days off so I think everyone feels good physically.”
The IceDogs have won four straight and seem to be back on track with just three regular games remaining.
“It’s always ups and downs in a season but this is the time of year you want to be hot,” Burke said. “You need to make sure you’re clicking and the guys are buying in in March and it seems like that are.”
Burke said there is no magic formula or reason for the turnaround.
“Even when things weren’t going well there were still a lot of positives. We weren’t getting the results but going through the adversity and getting a reminder how hard it is to win — especially when you’re playing the top teams — we need everyone and they’re playing hard and playing for each other.”
Following a scoreless first period, the IceDogs struck for three goals in the second, including a power-play marker by Thomas.
The Spitfires finally got on the board early in the third when Cole Purboo knocked home his 20th of the season on a rebound.
Luke Kutkevicius then cut the lead to 3-2 when he caught Liam Hamm and Justin MacPherson by surprise from behind and snuck one past Colton Incze fine minutes to play.
1. Niagara Sam Miletic (35) (Matthew Philip, Akil Thomas) 2:17.
2. Niagara Miletic 2 (Thomas) (36) 5:11.
3. Niagara Thomas (22) (Ben Jones, Kirill Maksimov) 17:04 (pp).
4. Windsor Cole Purboo (20) (Lev Starikov, ) 4:51.
5. Windsor Kutkevicius (13) (Purboo, Connor Corcoran) 14:51.
IceDogs 5 Bulldogs 3
The IceDogs got goals from five players to edge the Hamilton Bulldogs at the FirstOntario Centre.
Ben Jones, Kirill Maksimov, Andrew Bruder, Akil Thomas and Sam Miletic scored.
Matthew Strome had two and Arthur Kaliyev replied for the Bulldogs.
Stephen Dhillon made 31 saves for the win.
Ice cubes: Johnathon Schaefer, William Lochead (leg), Ian Martin and Adrian Carbonara did not dress for the IceDogs . . . Lucas Patton, Jordan Frasca, Cody Morgan and Louka Henault were scratched for the Spitfires . . . The IceDogs honoured their billets before the game . . . Former IceDogs defenceman Zach Shankar has two goals and 15 points in 50 games for Windsor . . . With Lochead out, Daniel Nardi of the Fort Erie Meteors was called up to fill out the roster . . . Thorold’s Tyler Angle was held scoreless, but was assessed a double minor for spearing.
Game stats: Shots on goal: By Niagara on Michael DiPietro (35), by Windsor on Colton Inczev(26); Power plays: Niagara 1-for-8, Windsor 0-for-4; Penalty minutes: Niagara 8, Windsor 16.
Up next: The IceDogs are home to Hamilton Thursday, in Erie Friday, and home to Mississauga next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. to conclude the regular season.
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