The Toronto Marlies took to the outdoor ice at Ivor Wynne Stadium on Saturday with child-like enthusiasm.
Toronto scored three times in the first period and never looked back in a 7-2 rout of the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American Hockey League's Outdoor Classic.
“It was great fun to watch our guys be so excited before the game,” said Marlies coach Dallas Eakins. “They were like little kids, amped up. And then when they saw that the place was full, they were really excited.”
Greg Scott scored twice for Toronto (22-15-5), while Nicolas Deschamps added a goal and two assists.
Mike Zigomanis had a goal and an assist and Drew Paris, Marcel Mueller and Joe Colborne also scored for the Marlies, who got 19 saves from Ben Scrivens. Jerry D'Amigo added three assists.
Dany Masse and Louis Leblanc replied for Hamilton (18-17-5). Nathan Lawson stopped 20 shots for the Bulldogs.
The ice was fast but repairs during the second period slowed the pace of the game played under sunny skies with a temperature of -4 C.
Masse gave Hamilton a 1-0 lead just 27 seconds into the first thanks to a solid Bulldogs' forecheck.
Toronto's Kelsey Wilson and Hamilton's Zack FitzGerald fought right after Masse's opening goal.
“It's a spectacle out here,” said Toronto centre Colborne. “(Wilson's) fight really got us into the game.”
Zigomanis tied it 5:26 into the first, redirecting a shot between Lawson's legs and Scott made it 2-1 Toronto at 8:19, roofing a shot in close off a feed from D'Amigo.
Paris then gave the Marlies a two-goal edge at 12:02 with a wrist shot from just inside the Hamilton blue-line.
“When you can answer like that it shows a lot of character on the bench and really set us up for the rest of the game,” Colbourne said of the early response.
The crowd of 20,565 at the home of the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats was treated to a physical opening period.
The Marlies' Korbinian Holzer went toe-to-toe with the Bulldogs' Aaron Palushaj with just over six minutes to go in the period.
Palushaj, an unlikely fighter, took a cross check to the back while heading to the bench well behind the play.
“Enough is enough with their players cheap-shotting. It's been happening the last couple games,” Palushaj said. “I wanted to get the team going and just wanted to stand up for myself.”
Mueller made it 4-1 at the 8:33 mark of the second with an unassisted goal that beat Lawson blocker side.
Leblanc, who was recently sent down to the minors by the Montreal Canadiens, got one back for Hamilton at 10:08 on a nice individual effort. He said the goal was bittersweet.
“It's a tough loss for us,” Leblanc said. “I think the rivalry just went up a notch again.”
Toronto stifled any chance of a Hamilton comeback in the third before pouring it on late with goals from Colborne, Deschamps and Scott in the final four minutes to put an exclamation point on the Marlies' outdoor victory.
“Our focus on the game was somewhere else,” said Hamilton coach Clem Jodoin. “It was a game of distraction.”
The outdoor ice played havoc on Lawson in the Bulldogs net.
“It was really tough,” Lawson said. “If guys would pull the puck in it would go right into their own shadow... it was challenging.”
Fans largely braved the cold until the end of the lopsided win, watching an Ontario rivalry that still has seven games left in the regular season.
“It's building up and building up. That's why you call it a rivalry: an over-the-bridge-Steeltown-rivalry,” said Toronto assistant coach Derek King.
“Guys were frustrated at the end, ” Leblanc added. “We don't like them and I'm sure they don't like us.”
Palushaj agreed: “They got this one under the big stage. But as tough as it was to make plays out there and actually play the game of hockey, it was still a pretty fun event.”
Notes: Tempers flared after Toronto made it 7-2, with the Bulldogs' Ian Schultz and the Marlies' Kyle Neuber dropping the gloves. Schultz tried to continue the fight after leaving the ice, waiting for Neuber at the end of the outdoor ice before he was sent off. ... Hamilton leads the season series 3-2. The teams play seven more times in 2012. ... Toronto finished 0-for-1 with power play, while Hamilton wound up 0-for-3.
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