It was a special night for the St. John's IceCaps, except for their special teams.
Nathan Lawson and the Hamilton Bulldogs spoiled the IceCaps' home-ice debut at Mile One Centre, blanking the American Hockey League's newest team 4-0.
Lawson made 40 saves, the Bulldogs went three-for-four on the power play and the IceCaps didn't score despite eight power-play opportunities, including a couple that overlapped to produce over a minute of two-man advantage time in the second period.
The night began upbeat and hopeful, as the IceCaps put on a memory-filled pre-game show, with a video show projected onto the Mile One Ice outlining the history of hockey in St. John's for more than a century.
The montage began with the first awarding of the Boyle Trophy in 1904, through the introduction of the Herder Trophy and provincial senior hockey competition, St. Pat's Boyle Trophy win in 1959, the arrival of Howie Meeker as a coach, the heydey of the St. John's Capitals senior team in the 1980s, the arrival of the AHL's St. John's Maple Leafs in 1991 and the return of the AHL in the form of the IceCaps earlier this year.
Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea sang the anthems, including the Ode to Newfoundland, while Meeker, along with Marc Crawford, the first coach of the AHL Leafs and Bill Watters, the longtime St. John's Maple Leafs general manager, were introduced as special guests.
Also on the ice for the pre-game presentation were AHL president Dave Andrews, Winnipeg Jets assistant general manager and IceCaps GM Craig Heisinger, St, John's chief operating officer Glenn Stanford and team president Danny Williams, the latter two drawing huge ovations as the packed house of 6,247 showed their appreciation for their efforts in bringing the AHL back to St. John's.
It was their only opportunity for real sustained applause on the night. Even though St. John's dominated the opening period, outshooting the visitors 19-3, it was the Bulldogs, the farm team of the Montreal Canadiens, who came up with the first goal. It came on their first power-play when a puck deflected off IceCaps' rearguard Zach Redmond's skate to Hamilton's Joonas Nattinen, who batted home a backhand shot into an open cage.
At night’s end, the shots were 40-19 in favour of the home team.
Nothing improved for St. John's, which had the edge five-on-five, but couldn't beat Lawson, and continually helped the Hamilton keepers' cause with a litany of shots that either found his Bulldogs' crest or beat a tattoo on his pads. Meanwhile, the St. John's power-play was powerless; goaltender David Aebischer looked far from sharp, especially on the Philip DeSimone's third-period goal, his second of the night; and the IceCaps, who had looked assured in posting a couple of season-opening wins in New England last weekend, looked like they had undergone some sort of negative transformation on crossing the border.
Danny Masse had the other goal and Brock Trotter picked up three assists for the Bulldogs (2-0), who meet the IceCaps (2-1) in a rematch tonight (7:30) at Mile One.
St. John's fans can only hope for an improvement. Based on Friday's performance by the home side, there is certainly room for it.