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IceCaps game report

Bulldogs Fall Short of Goal with Loss to Ice Caps (with post-game audio)

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO:  Brendan Gallagher | Sylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON – “We need to get back to .500.  That’s our goal for Christmas,” is what Cedric Desjardins told a small media scrum following a Hamilton Bulldogs victory back on December 11th.  With the team having won only one game in four attempts between then and tonight, the clock was ticking; Hamilton’s record stood two games below .500 with just two games remaining till December 25th, leaving no margin for error.  And on this night, it was not to be, with the team coming up short offensively once again and dropping a 2-1 decision to the St. John’s Ice Caps.

A Fortier set-up got the 'Dogs on the board, but it wasn't enough on this night. (PHOTO: BERNARD BRAULT, ARCHIVES LA PRESSE)
A Fortier set-up got the ‘Dogs on the board, but it wasn’t enough on this night. (PHOTO: BERNARD BRAULT, ARCHIVES LA PRESSE)

The standout for the ‘Dogs in this game was Brendan Gallagher who converted a no-look Olivier Fortier pass into a highlight reel goal – his 9th marker of the season.  Nathan Beaulieu also had a strong game, but was unable to keep his points-streak alive. Desperately searching for more offense, coach Sylvain Lefebvre even shifted Patrick Holland to the blueline – where he plays on the man advantage – beside Beaulieu, but it did not produce the desired results.

Unfortunately, despite outshooting the Ice Caps 27-25, the sputtering Hamilton offense was all too familiar of a scene. The lack of a dynamic scoring veteran forward has hurt the club as it is forced to rely on rookies and secondary players to lead the charge. The team is particularly lacking down the middle, forced to convert wingers to the center position on its top units. There is hope general manager Marc Bergevin will seek to replace Darryl Boyce, who was released early from his PTO, with a player who better fits such a role, but it was easier to find one last summer than it will be mid-season – even during an NHL lockout.

“We have to realize what kind of team we are. We’re not a team with a bunch of 50-goal scorers. We have to outwork teams,” said Gallagher on a night where he was the only one to bulge the twine. This may be true, but Hamilton is also a team with a young defense core who could use a few cushion-y leads to develop in a less pressure-packed environment than the current one where it seems any single mistake can end a game.

The loss drops the ‘Dogs to 10-13-1-2, the furthest they’ve been from their goal of a .500 record in two weeks courtesy of their third defeat in a row. Development is a work in progress for this young squad, and the fact that the injury list on this night included Aaron Palushaj (shoulder), Blake Geoffrion (head), Mike Commodore (groin), Greg Pateryn, and Frederic St. Denis (flu) isn’t helping get the team in getting back into the win column.

The injury situation on defense allowed the newly-signed Cody Wild to make his Hamilton debut, and he didn’t look out of place, jumping in the rush at times and nearly contributing to an equalizer in the third after crashing through the crease. He took a spot on the second powerplay unit with Brendon Nash.

The ‘Dogs will have to keep taking this season one game at a time, growing and learning with each bump and bruise along the way. They won’t have much time to dwell on this defeat, however, as they’re back in action for a final pre-Christmas match-up tomorrow evening.

 

(Featured photo courtesy of HamiltonBulldogs.com)

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IceCaps game report

‘Dogs Keeping Pace After Big Win

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Quailer | Desjardins | Lefebvre

TORONTO, ON – The early season struggles of the Hamilton Bulldogs have been a popular topic of discussion among Hab fans who find themselves virtually as locked out as the players themselves.  In a normal season, with less focus on the AHL squad, the concerns of most would be placated by the valid excuses of the team’s youthful inexperience, some undisciplined depth players, and a lack of bona fide scoring talent.  But this season, though we’re just 20 games in, the scrutinizers are already talking about Sylvain Lefebvre‘s suitability as a Head Coach or management’s effectiveness at assembling a balanced roster.

(Photo by Kaz Novak | Hamilton Spectator)
(Photo by Kaz Novak | Hamilton Spectator)

The reality of the situation is – just as things always are with the big club – the team’s difficulties have been greatly overblown.  With 20 points, they do sit tied for 2nd to last in the American Hockey League, but they remain just 1 game below .500 and also hold games in hand on most of the other clubs.  In fact, last night’s 1-0 win over the Lake Erie Monsters was big for keeping pace with other teams even at such an early point of the year, moving within 6 points of their divisional rival in 4 fewer games.  This is also important as the Monsters are currently holding down the 8th and final playoff position in the AHL’s Western Conference, meaning it is far too early to give up hope on the baby Habs’ season.

In many ways, last night’s game illustrated much of both the good and bad we’ve seen from Hamilton this year.  As many predicted it would be, scoring is a challenge for the Bulldogs who lack veteran stars to lead the offense.  Yes, Aaron Palushaj and Louis Leblanc are proven at this level and have NHL experience, but the loss of Blake Geoffrion has left the team searching for new sources of goal-production.  Finishing ability is not a strength of the team, even of leading point-producer Brendan Gallagher, and it was apparent last night with just one goal on 45 shots, due to a combination of a hot opposing goaltender and few second chance opportunities with limited traffic in front of the net.  But when your golden opportunities land on the stick of a Kyle Hagel, or Mike Blunden holds down a spot on your top powerplay unit (over a player like Leblanc) – both of which occurred yesterday evening – it is to be expected that goals are hard to come by.

With veteran Zack Stortini sitting as a healthy scratch (being one of those underperforming depth players whose lack of discipline has hurt the club), it was an unexpected source that could have hurt the squad with an untimely penalty.  The Bulldogs were already down a man when netminder Cedrick Desjardins was bumped by the traffic in the crease.  Angered by the lack of a call, mid-play, Desjardins rose and slammed his blocker and stick against the crossbar, knocking the net off its moorings and stopping play, leading to a delay-of-game call.

Explained Desjardins after the game, “There was a lot of traffic in front and I couldn’t see anything, so I was frustrated.  I put my team in a situation, so I had no choice but to bail them out.”  And that he did, with some of the Monsters’ best chances of their 29 shots coming during that 5-on-3 advantage in the 2nd period.

On the positive side, the team’s defenders and group of defensive forwards were successful in shutting down the Lake Erie attack with it certainly not being Desjardins’s busiest night or most difficult shutout.  The recently inked Mike Commodore has been getting increasingly comfortable on the back end and brings a calming veteran influence to a group of youngsters.

The hero on this night was – eventually – Steve Quailer, with a brilliant individual rush on a powerplay that had been dying for one to go in.  After making a nice move to enter the zone, Quailer drove to the net, and though the finish wasn’t quite what he was going for – the puck was swatted into the net by a sweeping defender’s stick – it filled the arena with joy, allowing stuffed animals to rain down and litter the ice on the team’s charitable Teddy Bear Toss night.

“I was going for the Forsberg move, but he (the defenseman) actually made a good play and jammed my stick.  The goalie followed me and it went in, so it was pretty lucky I guess,” admitted Quailer post-game.  Lucky in this instance perhaps, but Quailer did what few ‘Dogs have this season aside from Gallagher, which was charge the net, and that – plus the fact that the marker came with the man advantage – is something that the team must work on doing more of in the games to come.

After assembling their first back-to-back wins since the opening 2 games of the season, the ‘Dogs now head out on a 4-game road trip.  They return to Hamilton on December 21st for a two-game stand pre-Christmas.

 

(Featured image by HamiltonBulldogs.com)

 

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IceCaps game report

Marlies vs Bulldogs: Mayer Backstops Dogs to Home Opener Win

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

HAMILTON, ON – A packed house filled the lower bowl of Copps Coliseum as the Hamilton Bulldogs upended the Toronto Marlies 4-1 in the first home game for Montreal’s AHL affiliate this season, improving to 2-0-0 to start the year.

Mayer has stood tall two games into the season (Photo by Jennifer Kuhn)

Many were disappointed when it was revealed an injury would prevent Cedric Desjardins from starting the season with the Bulldogs, but undoubtedly the biggest benefactor from this situation is Robert Mayer.  On at least this night, Mayer – who many have criticized to be lacking confidence in his game at times – was spectacular, turning aside 39 shots, including many highlight-worthy stops, and having his shutout bid broken only by an accurate Jake Gardiner howitzer in the third period.  Deservedly, Mayer was recognized as the game’s first star for his efforts.

The ‘Dogs got off to a bit of a slow start, caused in part by early penalty trouble, but they took cues from their goaltender, and Louis Leblanc – fresh out of the box – buried a pass from Darryl Boyce in the dying moments of the first period.  The play was started by Jarred Tinordi with a good breakout pass from his own end, earning him an assist and thus his first pro point.

Hamilton was outshot 16-6 in the first, yet escaped up 1-0, and the line of Steve QuailerBlake Geoffrion, and Brendan Gallagher had opportunities to add to it.  But ultimately it would be Patrick Holland – with his first professional goal – who found a loose puck in front of the net and doubled the Bulldogs lead.

If the Geoffrion-centered line was Hamilton’s tops through a period and a half, it largely disappeared for the remainder of the game.  Fortunately, other players took over, with Aaron Palushaj being the most dangerous forward for either side throughout the third period. His goal put the game out of reach at 3-0, but he could have had one or two others with the way he handled the puck in the attacking zone.  Of importance, his marker came on the powerplay, an area in which Hamilton had looked really weak up till that point, and definitely something the team needs to improve upon.  But Palushaj converted a precision pass from Holland, finishing the play with a hard snipe, and went on to earn honours as the game’s “Hardest Working Bulldog” (a feature Hamilton runs in addition to the three stars) for a thoroughly impressive 20 minutes.

Corbin has impressively fit right in on Hamilton’s blueline (Photo by Journal de Montréal / Jean-François Chaumont)

There were a significant number of Leaf jerseys in Copps Coliseum, and the Toronto faithful were given something to cheer about on Gardiner’s goal at 10:12.  But the ‘Dogs skaters did a solid job shutting it down the rest of the way, with their impressive defensive unit strutting its stuff.  Jarred Tinordi notably had some good shotblocks and clears, though he also bobbled the puck on a few occasions.  Greg Pateryn certainly follows the adage of playing the man and not the puck, and stood up a few Marlie forwards.  Antoine Corbin impressed, and seems to be establishing himself as a deserving AHL’er after earning his contract through a training camp invite.  And lastly Nathan Beaulieu‘s skating and skill level were on display at several points during the evening with rushes that might remind many of P.K. Subban.

Louis Leblanc with his second of the night sealed the deal into an empty net, and thus game 1 of a home-and-home (to be completed Saturday) went to  the ‘Dogs.  Despite expected animosity when these rival clubs face-off, there wasn’t a significant amount of rough stuff on this night, with just one near-fight between Brendon Nash and Nazem Kadri, the latter of whom used his opponent’s helmet as a weapon at one point, jabbing from behind.  Tempers did flare after the final whistle, which led to Zack Stortini rushing back into the fray from near the Hamilton bench, but the referees were very quick to step in before anything got out of hand.

The Bulldogs kept the same lineup as their season opening shootout win, meaning Alexander AvtsinAlain Berger, and Joonas Nattinen (who may still have the flu) were scratched, while Cedric Desjardins and Morgan Ellis have yet to be cleared to return to action.