REGINA — Marian Studenic woke up Monday morning with a sore throat and fever and wasn’t sure whether he was going to be able to play later that night.
But the Hamilton forward overcame illness to score the winner later in the day as the Bulldogs edged Swift Current 2-1 to win their first game at the Memorial Cup despite a standout performance from Broncos goaltender Stuart Skinner.
"This morning I felt so bad," Studenic said. "I was like ‘Oh my God, maybe I don’t play today."’
Studenic received a back-door pass from Benjamin Gleason with just over two minutes remaining. The puck almost skipped over his stick but he was able to settle it down and fire it into the back of the net.
"I got pretty lucky there," he said. "I didn’t want to shoot it like that because it’s kind of like bounce over my stick and I hit at it. But it was such a good bounce."
It took a long time for the Ontario Hockey League champions to solve Skinner after Mackenzie Entwistle’s first period power-play goal.
The Broncos goaltender and Edmonton Oilers prospect finished the game with 54 saves and kept Hamilton shooters irritated for the majority of the night.
Swift Current coach Manny Viveiros said his Western Hockey League team wouldn’t have had a chance if it wasn’t for Skinner.
"He kept us in the game â€¦ Without Stuart, the score would have got out of hand a lot quicker," he said.
Skinner, however, still feels as though he can do better.
"If I made that last save, we could still be playing right now and maybe we would have won," he said.
"I’ve got a lot better. I’m going to make sure I’m better on Wednesday."
Kaden Fulcher made 20 saves to earn the win in net for the Bulldogs (1-1), who gained a bit of breathing room in the Canadian major junior championship with the victory. Hamilton wraps up round-robin play on Tuesday against the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan (2-0).
Skinner was at his best in the third period with several key stops that kept the game tied.
Fulcher made a point-blank save during a 4-on-4 opportunity midway through the third. The Bulldogs then came down at the other end of the ice and nearly scored on three straight opportunities that included hitting the post twice.
Shortly after, Skinner made one more key save by stopping Robert Thomas who was in alone. He then robbed Thomas again moments later with a scrawling blocker save.
Thomas said that his team knew that one of their shots would eventually go in and didn’t let frustration seep in.
"I just sort of laughed at it and said I should probably not shoot glove side anymore," Thomas said. "It happens when a goalie is playing well like that."
Colby Sissons found the back of the net midway through the second for Swift Current (0-2), which faces a must-win game on Wednesday night against rival and host Regina (1-1).
Studenic said he was happy that his parents, who had flown in from Slovakia on Sunday, were able to see him score. He hadn’t seen them since the world junior championship five months ago.
Gruden was thrilled to see Studenic get the winner.
"Kids like that that are such great teammates and you put them out there in those situations and he’s able to deliver," Gruden said.
"Couldn’t happen to a better player and person."
Notes: Swift Current was playing without key forward Tyler Steenbergen after he we was injured in the Broncos’ opener against Acadie-Bathurst.