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GOING TO THE DOGS

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Early deficits and third-period rallies have been hallmarks this season for the Grand Rapids Griffins, but the Hamilton Bulldogs stole their script on Saturday for a 6-5 shootout win at Van Andel Arena.

Brad Winchester had a power-play hat trick and figured in every goal for the Bulldogs (8-13-0-1), who snapped their six-game skid and ended a six-game winning streak by the Griffins (15-3-0-2). Grand Rapids, which still leads the North Division by five points over Manitoba, will begin a three-game road trip with a visit to the Iowa Stars on Tuesday.

Contrary to their custom, it was the Griffins who jumped out to the early 1-0 lead. During a power play 3:32 into the game, Bryan Helmer unleashed a rocket from the right point that weaved through traffic and Bulldogs netminder Jeff Deslauriers. The goal prompted fans to rain a torrent of stuffed animals down on the ice as part of the Griffins’ annual Teddy Bear Toss promotion, as approximately 1,100 toys were collected for donation to Hug-a-Bears of Kent County.

Grand Rapids increased its lead just 59 seconds into the middle period, when Tomas Kopecky snapped a shot from the right circle that slipped inside the near post and – strangely enough – gave the Griffins their first 2-0 lead on home ice this season. It wouldn’t last long, though. Off a Griffins turnover, Andrei Kostitsyn flashed through the slot to redirect a Winchester pass top shelf on Joey MacDonald at 6:47, and Winchester pounded a rebound into the cage at 9:07 to capitalize on a 5-on-3 advantage and knot the score.

The Griffins’ top line regained the upper hand on a beautiful play at the 12:18 mark. Taking a pass from Jiri Hudler, Eric Manlow sped down the left side, faked a shot, and looked like he would circle behind the net. Instead, he fed a pass out front to a wide-open Kent McDonell, who found the far corner of the net with pin-point accuracy.

The teams traded power play goals before the frame expired to make it a 4-3 game. Kopecky notched his second of the night at 16:09, slamming home a rebound of Donald MacLean’s shot from the right side, but Winchester answered with his second of the period, beating MacDonald with a cannon from the top of the right circle at 17:38.

A five-minute major assessed to newcomer Clay Wilson for high-sticking former Griffin Peter Vandermeer early in the third period turned Grand Rapids’ one-goal lead into a one-goal deficit. Hamilton’s Andre Benoit scored at 3:21 and Winchester completed his hat trick at 4:37 to push the visitors ahead for the first time at 5-4. Jon Insana recorded his first AHL goal with 2:57 remaining to force overtime, but the Bulldogs finally prevailed in an eight-round shootout.

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