HAMILTON - Patrick Holland made the best impression he could hope for in his home debut at Copps Coliseum.
The American Hockey League rookie scored the eventual winner in the second period of the Hamilton Bulldogs' 4-1 victory over the Toronto Marlies on Friday and added an assist for good measure.
"We were fired up," said Aaron Palushaj of Holland's goal. "Whenever someone gets their first pro goal, it's an exciting time. It didn't take two months to get it either.
"He's a heck of a player, and it was fun for him."
Louis Leblanc scored his first two goals of the season for the Bulldogs (2-0-0) and Aaron Palushaj also scored.
Jake Gardiner scored the lone goal for the Marlies (1-2-0).
"He struggled a little bit to start," said Sylvain Lefebvre, Hamilton's head coach, of Holland. "He got hurt in the first period but came back. That's when he started to play better. The goal he scored was because of a battle in front of the net, and they're not always going to be pretty goals. But he battled and got that rebound."
Hamilton rode the goaltending of Robert Mayer to victory, as he stopped 38 of the 39 shots he faced. Toronto's Ben Scrivens made 26 saves.
"He was the key for us all night long," said Lefebvre of Mayer. "He made some big saves, and on the goal that was scored, the puck was deflected by (Zack) Stortini trying to block the shot. Things will happen like that. But he was by far the key to our win tonight."
Blake Geoffrion had Hamilton's first scoring chance of the opening period with eight minutes remaining, keeping the puck on a two-on-one break and finding the post with the resulting wrist shot.
Mayer was the standout of the first, producing 16 saves to hold Toronto off of the scoreboard. The Bulldogs were outshot by a 16 to six margin in the period.
"I think without him in net, it's a totally different game," said Palushaj. "We didn't play a very good first period and he kept us in it.
"It could have been 4- or 5-1 in the first."
Toronto carried play once again in the second period, but were still unable to solve Mayer. The Bulldogs took advantage late in the period, and doubled their lead at the 17:44 mark through the winger Holland.
Mayer's efforts were rewarded with 46 seconds left, when Hamilton opened the scoring. Leblanc capped off a three-man break by tapping a short feed from Darryl Boyce past Scrivens. The goal was Leblanc's first of the season, and led Hamilton into the intermission with a 1-0 lead.
A bouncing puck careened off of the helmet of Toronto's Scrivens before landing in the crease. Holland jammed at it and scored his first professional goal through traffic.
The rookie's milestone score brought the second period to a close with Hamilton leading 2-0.
Toronto had a golden opportunity to get on the board at the beginning the third period, enjoying a two-man advantage for 34 seconds after late penalties to Hamilton's Gabriel Dumont and Michael Bournival carried over from the second period. But a sprawling Mayer denied the Marlies an open opportunity, and the Bulldogs killed off both minors.
Hamilton added a third goal after Toronto was whistled for tripping at 15:47. The Bulldogs struck quickly on the power play, as Holland's centring pass found Palushaj and the winger snapped a quick shot past Scrivens from the left circle. The goal was Palushaj's second of the season and his second point of the night.
The Bulldog winger indicated that the snapshot was a technique he has been actively working to improve since the team's off-season break.
"We've been working a lot on a few of the little things like that over the summer, and it was good to see that it paid off," said Palushaj. "You can't admire it too much, because it's only one goal. But if I score 30 of them, I'll know that I have that shot down."
Toronto reduced their deficit to two at the 10:12 mark of the third, when Gardiner received a pass from Greg Scott and wristed the puck past Mayer. But the Bulldogs restored their three-goal lead at 4-1 when Leblanc scored his second goal of the game into an empty net at 17:49 of the period.
Notes: The Bulldogs win was played out in front of an announced sellout crowd of 8,819 at Copps Coliseum.