Hamilton Bulldogs hit North Bay with Hayes maker opener in Game 1

By Nathan Sager

Published on May 20, 2022 at 9:22 p.m.

Avery Hayes made up for lost time to help the Hamilton Bulldogs draw first blood in the opener of their Conference Championship Series.

Hayes, who missed most of the previous round through suspension, factored in the Bulldogs’ first four goals on Friday, leading Hamilton to a 5-2 win over the North Bay Battalion in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Hamilton, now a perfect 9-0 in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, will host the next best-of-seven game at 7 p.m. Sunday at the FirstOntario Centre.

With most of his first-choice roster available after a week-long hiatus, Bulldogs coach Jay McKee recalibrated his offense, placing No. 1 center Logan Morrison with left winger Ryan Humphrey drafted by Seattle Kraken with Hayes on the right flank. Anaheim Ducks first-round pick Mason McTavish took second from center with wingers Patrick Thomas and Ryan Winterton.

Center Jan Mysak and offensive defenseman Nathan Staios also returned after missing part of the second-round sweep against the Missisauga Steelheads due to injuries. Hayes was only available for the final game of this series due to a suspension for a cross-checking match penalty against Peterborough on April 28.

The adjustments paid off immediately, as Humphrey scored just 1:15 from the start of the competition with a Hayes setup to warm up a crowd of over 4,000 in Hamilton. The teams traded goals late in the first half, before Hamilton took control by scoring twice within 189 seconds midway through the second.

Morrison scored his team-leading 10th goal in the playoffs at 6:54, with Hayes getting one of the assists. At 10:03 a.m., Hayes fired a shot from the slot for his fourth point of the night, opening a 4-1 lead for the Bulldogs.

The battalion, which only needed one game more than the minimum to progress in its previous two series, never came close to two goals the rest of the way.

North Bay had a golden opportunity to close with a power play in the third period, where first-pair defenseman and go-to shot-blocker Colton Kammerer was in the penalty box. But Matvey Petrov fired a shot from the crossbar, and overage defender Arber Xhekaj helped keep the crease clear for goalkeeper and fellow Hamiltonian Marco Costantini.

Two minutes after the teams returned to full strength and even, Xhekaj scored a dagger goal for a 5-2 margin with 9:47 remaining.

Hayes finished with a goal and three assists. Humphrey, Morrison and Xhekaj each had a goal and an assist. Winterton also scored.

Ajax native Brandon Coe scored for North Bay. Dalyn Wakely scored his first OHL playoff goal.

After Sunday’s contest, the series heads to the highway. 11 for Games 3 and 4 in North Bay on Wednesday and Friday (May 25 and 27).

The Windsor Spitfires and Flint Firebirds begin their Western Conference championship series on Saturday.

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