ST. JOHN’S, NL. — On the eve of the St. John’s IceCaps first game of the year in Hartford against the host Wolfpack, one cannot help but feel the buzz that is brought to the city this time of year. Typically every October you can feel it in St. John’s, but this year, under new management and new affiliation there is something special about being connected to the most storied franchise in sports.
In the Coleman’s Cup Training Camp series against rival Toronto Marlies, the IceCaps came back from a Game 1 loss to win games 2 and 3, and the first training camp series win of the franchise history. Game 1 occurred in Stephenville, NL during the IceCaps annual road trip to start the year. Jeremy Gregoire and Morgan Ellis tallied goals for the IceCaps but it wasn’t enough as they lost in the final minute to the Marlies.
Game 2 took place in Corner Brook, NL and was a complete reversal; the IceCaps went out and hammered the Marlies 5-2 on the back of last year’s rookie standout Daniel Carr as he registered two goals. Other scorers were Stefan Fournier, Connor Crisp and Markus Eisenschmid.
Game 3 was held in Gander, NL. The boys took over with a 5-4 shootout victory over the Marlies. Carr registered the lone goal in the shootout, following up a strong performance through the camp. Nikita Scherbak finally seemed to find his groove with a goal and two assists for a game high three points. Joel Hanley, Bud Holloway and Gabriel Dumont were the other goal scorers.
In the four years that the IceCaps have called St. John’s home, they have managed a 50 per cent success rate at finding the playoffs. It’s not necessarily the best percentage, but when they’ve made it to the dance they’ve stuck around all night, making it to Eastern Conference Finals in their inaugural season, and following that up with a loss to the Texas Stars in their third season in town. The exciting part of this is never in those four years did the team ooze the potential it possesses with this combination of young prospects and veterans.
With final cuts from the Canadiens last week, the baby Habs managed to find support in the likes of former Calder Cup Champion and World Junior Champion, Dustin Tokarski. He’ll add to a goalie tandem which has already proved to be competitive between blue chip prospect Zach Fucale and hometown favourite Eddie Pasquale.
Also clearing waivers or being sent down were former AHL Defenseman of the Year, Mark Barberio, incumbent Captain Gabriel Dumont, Christian Thomas, Charles Hudon, Sven Andrighetto, Nikita Scherbak, and Michel Therrien’s favourite pet project Jacob De La Rose.
New projected lines look like we could see Carr – McCarron – Scherbak as a fixture which was present during the Canadiens rookie camp and into regular camp. JDLR could also see time on a top unit with Andrighetto and Hudon. Dumont, Thomas and Gregoire/Bozon may round out the top 9.
The impressive part of these line combinations is the versatility with many of them playing multiple positions through junior and pro ranks.
This provides the IceCaps with potentially the deepest front nine in the Eastern conference, but certainly the most potential. If the Canadiens can remain healthy this year, residents of St. John’s will be in for a treat watching this team and you can feel the anticipation in the air.
ST. JOHN’S, NL. — Connor Crisp was drafted 71st overall by the Canadiens in the 2013 Entry Draft. The Alliston, Ontario native split his junior career between the Ontario Hockey Leagues Erie Otters and Sudbury Wolves where he collected 308 penalty minutes over 184 games.
In his rookie year with the Hamilton Bulldogs Crisp continued to use his hands creatively in his 39 games played registering 102 penalty minutes. He will be relied on heavily by the IceCaps to provide grit to a lineup which is primarily young players making the transition to the professional level. Traditionally a left winger, Marc Bergevin and company projects Crisp to be a guy that can step into a fourth line role if needed. In junior hockey, Crisp found ways to contribute on a regular basis, but he struggled quite a bit registering just two goals and three assists throughout 2014-15, to become an effective player for the Canadiens he will have to find a way to emulate a Brandon Prust or Patrick Maroon on both sides of the puck.
At 6-foot-3-inches, 226 pounds, the hard hitting forward imposes his will on his opponents, however walks a fine line which saw him sit three games last season for leaving the bench to partake in a brawl against the defending Calder Cup champions, Texas Stars, last December. It’s been a long time since the Canadiens have had an effective enforcer, the aforementioned Prust was the Canadiens closest resemblance but he lacked the size and often found himself mismatched against the heavyweights of the NHL. Although, a dying breed, a heavyweight can prove to be a physical presence and is often a locker room favourite among his teammates. Crisp has an uphill battle to make the NHL, serving similar size and grit as the Canadiens former first round pick Mike McCarron, with a lesser offensive upside.
In the meantime Crisp can take in hockey in St. John’s, learn from Sylvain Lefebvre and his coaching staff. He figures to be an immediate fan favourite in a city that has lacked any legitimate enforcers in the Jets entire tenure at Mile One Center. Meanwhile he can look to a character such as Maroon in Anaheim taking in first line minutes with all-stars/Stanley Cup winners, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry as inspiration. Maroon paid his dues with Adirondack and Syracuse/Norfolk over five years before making his debut, Crisp can only work hard and hope for similar results.
By Dale Lamontagne, Hamilton Bulldogs Correspondent, Bulldogs Hockey Report
HAMILTON, ONT — On Friday, the Hamilton Bulldogs played their first game of three game weekend set against the American Hockey League leading team, Utica Comets, and defeated them by a score of 3-0 – in a game that was well deserving of a win.
Tonight, the Bulldogs played their second game in two nights against the Lake Erie Monsters, the AHL affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche at the FirstOntario Centre, and were defeated by a score of 2-1.
The first period came to an end at the FirstOntario Centre with a scoreless game. However, there was a ton of action and good scoring chances.
It didn’t take long for another scary incident to happen. This time, involving Connor Crisp, who was checked from behind by Daniel Maggio and that would spark a scrum with Joe Finley and Darren Dietz defending their teammate. Crisp then went off to the dressing room.
Surprisingly, Maggio did not receive a game misconduct and only went off for two minutes for roughing. But when he made his return to the ice after serving the minor penalty, Bulldogs forward Jack Nevins dropped the gloves with him and Nevins would have the advantage by landing a handful of punches and bringing him down to the ice. The crowd then loudly cheered and both players continued to chirp each other from the penalty box.
Fast forward two periods and we saw forty minutes of hockey played in Hamilton and still, there was no goal scoring.
It’s quite clear that the Monsters are not making many friends in Hamilton. Why? Well because they were hitting players way too many times from behind and the refs still did not kick a player out for it. Crisp, who was hit from behind in the first period, did not return and that raised a few eyebrows.
Putting the shenanigans to the side, there were a few good scoring chances for both teams, and the Monsters did score, but it was waved off due to a hand pass. So the game remained scoreless. For a time, at least.
But in the third period, the first official goal of the game came just 28 seconds into the frame, thanks to Joey Hishon who scored the nice breakaway goal giving the Monsters a 1-0 lead over the Bulldogs.
So in the third period we finally saw some scoring action and this time, the Bulldogs answered with rookie Charles Hudon slapping home a beautiful one timer to make it a tie game. It was Hudon’s 11th goal of the season, too.
With 3:15 to go, the Monsters then took a late 2-1 lead thanks to a goal from Trevor Cheek who scored from inside the slot with a crowded net in front of Mike Condon.
The Bulldogs called a timeout with a minute or so left and Condon sat on the bench for the extra attacker, but they could not find the back of the net and the Monsters held on for the 2-1 win on Saturday night.
The Bulldogs are back in action tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. as they host the Oklahoma City Barons, the AHL affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers.
By Dale Lamontagne, Hamilton Bulldogs Correspondent, Bulldogs Hockey Report
MILTON, ONT — The Hamilton Bulldogs announced on Thursday afternoon that forward Connor Crisp has been officially medically cleared to play and has been re-assigned to the team. Crisp missed the first three games of the 2014-15 regular season after sustaining a shoulder injury.
The 20-year-old could make his 2014-15 Bulldogs’ debut during the team’s ‘three games in three nights’ weekend, which begins Friday in Toronto against the Marlies.
Note from practice
Bulldogs play-by-play guy Matt Holmes tweeted that Nathan Beaulieu was paired along side Greg Pateryn at practice, while the first line of Michael Bournival, Sven Andrighetto and Charles Hudon remains in tact.
Line up changes have not yet be officially made and should be made more clear come game time on Friday.
The Bulldogs take on the Marlies tomorrow at Ricoh Colliesum in Toronto and I will be in attendance. The puck is expected to drop shortly after 7:00 p.m. EST.
MONTREAL, QUE. – Montreal Canadiens and Hamilton Bulldogs general manager Marc Bergevin announced today the Canadiens have assigned 17 players to the Bulldogs, including nine forwards, seven defencemen and one goaltender.
The players assigned to Hamilton include (* indicates an injury): forwards Tim Bozon, Daniel Carr, Connor Crisp*, Stefan Fournier*, T.J. Hensick, Charles Hudon, Patrick Holland, Jack Nevins* and Nick Sorkin; defencemen Mac Bennett, Morgan Ellis, Joe Finley, David Makowski, Magnus Nygren, Bobby Shea and Dalton Thrower*; and goaltender Michael Condon.
Hamilton’s training camp will open on Tuesday, Sept. 30 with media availability at FirstOntario Centre at 10 a.m. before the team travels to Newfoundland and Labrador later that day for the Mary’s Cup pre-season series with the St. John’s IceCaps. A complete training camp roster will be announced tomorrow.
Hamilton Bulldogs 2014-15 season tickets, flex tickets and group tickets are on sale now. For more information, call 1-866-DOGS-TIX or visit hamiltonbulldogs.com.
Listen to all Bulldogs regular season and post-season games live on Hamilton’s AM 900 CHML, on www.900chml.com or watch live on www.ahllive.com. Catch every Friday night home game live in high definition on Cable 14.
HAMILTON, ON – There’s no hiding that it was a tough year in Hamilton. A team with a lot of fresh faces showed early season promise, before inconsistencies and midseason slumps left them in a similar spot to a year ago, battling to stay out of the AHL’s Western Conference basement. When the Bulldogs finally seemed to start putting things together late in the season, it was simply too late, with too much ground to make up in too little time.
The blame for a third straight year without a playoff spot can be put on many, but there were also some standout performances that deserved recognition. Below is a review of the years of all players to have dressed for at least 5 games for the ‘Dogs this season.
Sven Andrighetto – A
The diminutive speedy Swiss winger made his professional debut just a little more than three months after the Canadiens made him the 86th overall selection of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He produced right from the get-go with 7 points in 8 games in his first month, and quickly become a fixture on the team’s top scoring line, finishing with the best points-per-game average of anyone to spend significant time with the team this year. Andrighetto, 21, seems to be good for at least one shifty highlight-reel rush a night, and likely would have produced more than 17 goals and 44 points in 63 games (which still rank him among the league’s top 20 rookies) if he had better offensive linemates to work with. Certainly he looks to have an NHL future, but the question will be whether Montreal can really stand to add another 5’9″ body any time soon.
Gabriel Dumont – A-
Dumont, 23, was deserving of co-MVP honours in Hamilton a year ago, but struggled to produce early on this season. Still, Dumont isn’t the player you should be counting on to score on a nightly basis, and he and the next player on this list were the two guys you could count on for a consistent effort night-in, night-out. Dumont’s ceiling seems to be as an intense, hard-working, two-way fourth liner, but as NHL teams most often look to fill those roles with big bodies first, his 5’10” frame will always hold him back. The Quebec-native is under contract for next season, where he will look to build off a strong end-of-season with the ‘Dogs (7 points in 7 games in April) in his continued quest towards a full-time role with the Habs.
Mike Blunden – A-
Blunden and Dumont were inseparable for much of the season, a duo that coach Sylvain Lefebvre would send out with any third linemate and in any situation, so it’s no coincidence the two paced each other in scoring. While that represented stagnation for Dumont, it was progress for Blunden, whose strong play was recognized with a token call-up for Montreal’s final game of the regular season. A leader on and off the ice, should the pending UFA be retained, he would be a strong candidate to assume the captaincy from Martin St. Pierre. There is no questioning Blunden’s work ethic, but he simply doesn’t have the legs to carry his 6’4″ frame quickly enough to be a regular everyday NHL’er, and his stone hands mean that for every point he was able to produce, two-to-three golden set-ups (typically from Dumont) went to waste.
Joonas Nattinen – B
If you don’t follow the ‘Dogs closely, you’d be forgiven for not knowing Nattinen much prior to this season. The 6’2″ Finnish centre missed all but 24 games due to injury a year ago, but had a strong bounceback campaign in 2013-14. Centering the third or fourth line for much of the season, through his work ethic alone, Nattinen seemed to inspire whichever wingers he was paired with to be at their best. Defensively responsible and strong in the face-off dot, while Nattinen’s offensive output was limited (15 points in 68 games), if he could play with the physicality he shows in spurts on a more consistent basis, he would have all the tools necessary to make a formidable NHL calibre bottom six guy. That said, Nattinen, 23, is an RFA this summer, and is unsure what his playing future holds. If he opts to return his native Finland, the 1:45 he played against the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 18th will allow him to live forever as an obscure Canadiens trivia question answer.
Christian Thomas – B-
There were lofty expectations of Thomas this season following his acquisition in return for vaunted prospect Danny Kristo, and an impressive rookie camp showing. Thomas showed flashes of his potential, often benefiting from playing opposite Andrighetto, but seemed to struggle to find a groove. His biggest weapon is a dangerous arsenal of shots, but unleashing them was dependent on set-ups from linemates, unable to create space for himself with any regularity. In addition to his shooting and despite his 5’9″ frame, the second year pro has the right instincts, willing to drive to the net every shift, and he did manage to increase his point-per-game production modestly from his rookie campaign. At age 21, it’s unfair to directly compare his output (11 goals and 27 points in 54 games) to 23-year old Kristo’s (24 goals and 42 points in 63 games), but Thomas will need aMichael Bournival-like off-season of hard work if he’s to challenge for an NHL spot as early as next season. He has tools, but is another player that will need to develop outside the norm to compensate for his lack of size.
Connor Crisp – B-
Many questioned the Canadiens selecting Crisp as early as they did in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, but the 20-year old improved his production in the OHL this season, and then fit in well during a small stint with the ‘Dogs towards the end of the year. Crisp moves up and down the ice adequately for a 6’2″, 220 lbs physical presence, and produced two goals in his first seven professional games as a result of his driving to the opposition net. It’s too early to speak to Crisp’s longer-term upside, but he has shown enough to earn a contract from the Canadiens, and may ease the “need” for signing a Nathan McIver or Kyle Hagel who brings little to the team (on ice) other than willingness to drop the gloves. He remains a project, but early signs are positive that he could develop into an NHL player.
Justin Courtnall – B-
Courtnall was an unknown coming into the season on an AHL deal, with many penciling him into a role as an ECHL call-up (where he spent most of last year). The nephew of former Hab Russ Courtnall earned every opportunity given to him this year, working his way into the line-up, and then off a fourth line, to spending considerable time with Dumont and Blunden. Despite his limited pro experience, at age 24, there may not be much room for development remaining in Courtnall’s game, but his responsible two-way play and hard work makes him a solid bottom six AHL’er. He only produced 9 points in 62 games, but was a guy you would notice for only the right reasons more often than not. He would be a welcome returnee next season, though it is just as likely he is edged out in the numbers game due to the potential additions of Crisp, Brady Vail, and Jack Nevins.
Martin St. Pierre – B-
I struggled mightily with this grade. Is it possible to give a team’s leading scorer and only proven offensive talent a lower grade than a B-? There was much hoopla surrounding St. Pierre’s signing last summer, as there should have been, given he is an AHL all-star and former point-per-game scorer. At age 30, however, it quickly became obvious that the Ottawa native’s best days were behind him. A majority of St. Pierre’s production (including 6 of his 10 goals) came with the man advantage, and he was frequently invisible at even strength. He was unable to elevate his linemates, and when paired with Patrick Holland – which was often – that line became a virtual black hole. That, in fact, can be identified as a first cause of the team’s disappointing season, as Holland and St. Pierre were expected to be two of the main offensive catalysts. This is not to say that St. Pierre brought nothing to the ‘Dogs, as many spoke to their captain’s leadership and important off-ice presence, and on a team with few truly skilled players, he did contribute important points on some nights. But his inconsistency and lack of intensity were such that coach Lefebvre even made him a healthy scratch for a night late in the season. Given this, I don’t expect him back, but he’ll need to be replaced with another veteran AHL scorer.
Brady Vail – B-
Small sample size for Vail, who saw a strange season end with a quick termination of his Bulldog tryout after just five games due to an ankle injury. Unlike last year, when he managed a goal and four points in a 12-game stint with the ‘Dogs, the versatile 6’1″ forward (and sometimes defenseman) was unable to find the scoresheet in the AHL this time, but to understand his season and future, one must look back to last summer. Vail had a strong 2012-13 campaign on a disappointing Windsor team, and despite looking AHL ready, was forced to return to the OHL because of his young age. Then something went wrong. A disappointing performance at Team USA’s summer WJC camp saw him sent home early in August. He came into Montreal’s rookie camp in September, and was the only drafted player cut prior to the start of the team’s main training camp. Then back with the Spitfires, he wasn’t given any of the leadership letters despite thought months earlier that he may have been next in line for captaincy. But his play and production picked up quickly, and he was one of the primary catalysts that got Windsor into the post-season. One would think the grit, scoring ability, and two-way play the 20-year old has shown would be enough to earn him a professional deal, but it wouldn’t be the first time a player was “blacklisted” by the organization for some unknown reason should he be allowed to re-enter the draft instead.
Nick Tarnasky – C+
If Tarnasky could skate, he would undoubtedly be an NHL player. A vast majority of the 29-year old’s 13 AHL goals this year came from the lip of the crease, as he uses his 6’2″, 224 lbs frame effectively to park himself right there. Unfortunately, he is seldom noticed otuside of that area, as he isn’t the guy you want carrying the puck up ice, and would often be caught down low, resulting in odd-man rushes against and reflected in his team-worst -17 rating. Tarnasky’s other asset is his fighting ability, but even still, while he represented an upgrade on Zack Stortini a year ago, he would just as easily be replaced as return.
Nick Sorkin – C+
Sorkin was given a professional tryout following the end of his college career with the University of New Hampshire, and early on seemed like he’d be no bigger blip on the radar than Matt Grassi the year prior. But Sorkin improved every game throughout his short stint in Hamilton, climbing the depth chart not unlike Courtnall, and working his way on to a scoring line. He moves well for a 6’3″ forward, and seems to understand how to position himself well on the ice to get open in dangerous spots. Still, with just one goal in eight games, he is on the fence for whether he can turn this tryout into a season-long AHL contract for next year. Turning 23 in June, he may be edged out in favour of younger talents.
Louis Leblanc – C
Early on, it looked like Leblanc might have learned his lesson from last season and gotten back on track. The effort was there, he was playing a smarter, more disciplined game, and the results were coming with 8 points in his first 8 games, interrupted by a brief call-up to Montreal in the middle of his hot streak. From there, however, it was all downhill, managing only 20 points in the next 61 contests, and rarely having an impact on the game, typically chasing the play rather than controlling it. Despite decent footspeed, he frequently seems to be a step behind the play, and rarely engages physically. Admittedly Leblanc didn’t have much to work with, shifted down to a third line once his struggles began, and frequently saddled with Tarnasky at even strength, while receiving little powerplay time. But it was on him to prove that he deserved a better opportunity, and he was unable to separate himself from the pack, unlike some others on this list. Leblanc did manage to simplify his game and reduce the poor offensive-zone penalties of which he was often guilty a year ago, but the hope of him becoming an impact player seems to have vanished, and at this point his ceiling is an adequate two-way third liner. That has its value, of course, and at age 23, it’s too soon to declare he’ll never be a full-time NHL’er, but Leblanc himself has to consider his options thus summer as his 3-year entry level contract comes to an end. The most likely scenario is probably a one year deal from the Canadiens to prove himself, unless another team is interested in taking a flyer on a former first round selection, and he is included in an off-season transaction.
Patrick Holland – C
Holland was among Hamilton’s top forwards down the stretch a year ago, playing wing on a top line with Joey Tenute. As such, it was expected that he would play an important role on St. Pierre’s wing this year, but he never quite got going, resulting in a significant and disappointing dip in his development curve. His decline in production (from .4 PPG to .3 PPG) between his rookie and sophomore years came despite continued opportunity to man the point on a powerplay unit, though to his credit, he did manage to round out his game as a serviceable penalty killer as well. As seen during training camp and his short call-up, Holland can be a multi-dimensional player, willing to block shots and battle in his own end, but ultimately his natural ability is in playmaking, and that is the skill that he’ll need to continue to develop if he’s to get another crack at the big leagues. The 6’0″ forward has a year left on his ELC before any decisions need to be made, and he’ll again be expected to play a significant role as a young veteran in Hamilton in 2014-15.
Maxime Macenauer – C
Macenauer, 25, is a veteran of 29 NHL games, though how he ever convinced the Anaheim Ducks that he was good enough to make the roster in 2011-12 remains a mystery. A confident, defensively responsible pivot, Macenauer is clearly a coach’s player, earning the trust of Lefebvre and being handed a regular role as a first line centre between Andrighetto and Thomas, despite a lack of production. His 24 points in 73 games came through playing big (and largely ineffective) minutes on the powerplay and between his skilled wingers, while his most positive impact seemed to come on the penalty kill, where his strong face-off and positioning work helped the P.K. be one of the bright spots on this year’s Dogs team. The team seems to like him, so he could be retained, but on-ice he could easily be replaced (and ideally upgraded) by any AHL veteran free agent.
Stefan Fournier – C-
In his rookie campaign, Fournier would impress one game out of four, notably when playing with Nattinen, but for all the positive flashes, he would find himself back in the press box due to frequent, poor, momentum-killing penalties. Turning 22 later this month, Fournier still has time to work on his discipline and hockey smarts, and the organization can do nothing but be patient given the two years remaining on his entry level deal. Still, he doesn’t have the skills to be more than a third or fourth line AHL forward, and will have to battle for ice time with any new additions to the club for next season.
Jordan Owens / Erik Nystrom / Akim Aliu / Ben Duffy / Stephen MacAulay – D
All five of the above players left the Bulldogs during the course of the season, with only Nystrom technically remaining part of the organization as a player drafted by the Canadiens, but having signed a new deal to remain in Europe. Aliu was a darling of Bulldogs training camp, but his play puttered out early on in the season. MacAulay impressed in his first game in Hamilton after a call-up from the ECHL, but it was a flash in the pan before he and Duffy both opted to further their studies rather than continue playing pro hockey.
Robert Czarnik / Steve Quailer – D
Another less successful experiment was the trade of Qualier for Czarnik. Quailer produced in limited playing time with the Bulldogs, notably when slotted on Nattinen’s wing (a common theme), whereas Czarnik was never given much of a chance, and didn’t make much of the opportunities he did receive.
Greg Pateryn – A
Hamilton’s most consistent defenseman, the 23-year old Pateryn has little left to learn at the AHL level. His 15 goals rank second in the American Hockey League among blueliners and more than double his totals over a four year college career. He backed up his 34 points in 67 games with sound play in his own end, combining physical play with adequate footspeed on his 6’2″ frame. One would think the Canadiens would fine a place for a young, two-way right-handed blueliner with size, but Pateryn hasn’t been given a true opportunity to adapt and learn in the NHL. If the perhaps likely scenario of Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi starting the year in Montreal comes to pass, Pateryn is another favourite to take over as Hamilton captain, able to ease the transition of former D partner Mac Bennett to the pro game.
Nathan Beaulieu – B+
Beaulieu isn’t the player he was down the stretch in the AHL a year ago, where he dominated games in Scott Niedermayer-like fashion. The yo-yo trips to and from Montreal didn’t seem to rest well with him, and – given he’s blessed with all-world skill – it really is the mental aspects of the game that he needs to sharpen. An effortless skater with slick hands and a booming shot, the 21-year old tends to get frustrated or give up on plays when beaten or after making a mistake. Paired with a player like Pateryn or Josh Gorges, there’s no reason to doubt that Beaulieu could play in the NHL as early as the Fall, but he’ll need a responsible partner to help him make the jump. Once he has that learning under his belt, though, there is no reason to think he can’t be a regular top four rearguard.
Jarred Tinordi – B
Clearly the Canadiens have identified Tinordi as the guy they want NHL-ready fastest, a position in the depth chart which can’t be attributed to his AHL play. It’s not that Tinordi had a bad season in Hamilton. There was even a stretch prior to one of his call-ups where he was clearly the ‘Dogs’ best rearguard. But he isn’t particularly physical, gets himself out of position in his own end, and despite strong skating ability and willingness to jump into the rush, has limited offensive production to show for it. Tinordi’s frame and potential can’t be denied, but he’s still very raw in his development, and will need a lot of coaching and patience if he is to live up to expectations and be more than a bottom pair filler.
Davis Drewiske – B
Drewiske was very obviously disappointed to be sent to Hamilton once recovered from injury, and early on in his stint with the ‘Dogs, it looked like he might not stay in the AHL very long. Over his first few games, Drewiske played with the intensity you’d expect from a guy who has been forced to sit out so many months. But after that initial surge of adrenaline wore off, the poor decisions and mistakes seemed to crop up a little more regularly in his game, and you were reminded why the 29-year old has yet to lock down a full-time NHL gig. Drewiske has a year remaining on his NHL deal, but given he is likely under the three above names on the organization’s depth chart, he seems likely destined for waivers and a possible return to Hamilton next year.
Morgan Ellis – B-
A hot-and-cold season for Ellis saw him start the season as a prolonged healthy scratch. When given an opportunity to play, he took full advantage, using the departure of Magnus Nygren and injuries to Darren Dietz to help secure a job in the top four, where he was frequently paired with Beaulieu. Ellis managed a modest improvement in his point production, while gradually improving his all-around game, but remains far more of a project than most believed when he graduated from junior hockey two years ago. He was unable to maintain a high level of play, and the late season saw him return to scratch status in favour of some names lower down this list who have no NHL futures to speak of. Especially given the expected arrivals of Bennett and Darren Dietz, Ellis will need to prove he can remain relevant in the upcoming final year of his entry level deal.
Magnus Nygren – B-
Nygren was impressive upon his arrival in Hamilton, particularly in the offensive zone where his blistering point shot helped him put up 8 points in 16 contests. After a minor injury, however, Nygren decided he wasn’t happy with life on or off the ice in Hamilton, opting to return to his native Sweden to complete the season with Farjestad, where the 23-year old scored at a torrid pace with 12 goals and 20 points in just 25 games. The 6’0″ rugged blueliner was guilty of numerous offensive zone turnovers in Hamilton and needs to improve play in his own end, but his skills can’t be overlooked, and recent comments indicate his willingness to attend Montreal’s camp in the Fall, though his options would be limited to NHL or SHL with no interest in returning to the American League.
Darren Dietz – C+
Dietz’s pro rookie season was interrupted by multiple injuries, limiting him to just 34 games. The 20-year old is still seeking his first professional goal, after coming off a season where he led all Canadian Hockey League d-men in markers with 24. He should play a bigger role in Hamilton next season if he can stay in the line-up, and is likely to be joined by his former Saskatoon Blades teammate Dalton Thrower. Dietz is one of those middle-ground d-men at the pro level, not unlike Ellis, who does everything well enough without any one particular ability standing out. For this reason, it may take him longer to fully adjust to this stage and even longer still to get noticed, but he does have two full years remaining on his ELC to pile on some experience and learnings.
Joel Chouinard – C+
After Courtnall, Chouinard was the best of the players on AHL deals this season (though this isn’t saying particularly much). When it wasn’t Ellis sliding into the team’s top four on D, it was Chouinard, thanks to his defensive effectiveness and quick playing of the puck (and the absence of other viable options). At 24, Chouinard’s potential is likely nothing more than a bottom pair AHL d-man, but this season he helped compensate for the losses of Nygren and Dietz this year that could have left the ‘Dogs in quite a pinch. Unlikely to be back unless for extra depth in the ECHL, Chouinard was a stop-gap that must be upgraded for the team to improve.
Nathan McIver – C
McIver would look like he fit in well one shift out of five, but you’d be reminded of his limited skill set the other four. He basically gets into the line-up because of his pugilistic skills as the truest pure enforcer on the squad, and well, every team carries facepunchers in the American Hockey League. No reason to expect him back next year.
Drew Schiestel – C-
Schiestel was a surprise to go as early as he did in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft – taken in the 2nd round by the Buffalo Sabres – and he has never lived up to the organization’s expectations. The 25-year old Hamilton native showed no signs of getting back on track this year either, frequently misplaying pucks and losing coverage in his own end. The roll he can play is limited to full-time ECHL’er, providing depth as a call-up in case of injury.
Dustin Tokarski – A
Really the only reason the Hamilton Bulldogs were competitive at times this year, Tokarski confirmed his status as one of the top goaltenders in the American Hockey League this season. Sporting a sensational .920 save percentage and a 2.36 GAA, it was thought by some that Tokarski may seek a new challenge overseas or request a trade to another organization for a shot at a full time NHL gig next season, but his agreement to a two-year extension with Montreal provides the Canadiens with strong depth between the pipes. Though the indisputable trend is to favour netminders with size, Tokarski’s quickness and determination compensate for his 5’11” frame. The structure of Tokarski’s new deal speaks to the team’s plans for him, with a two-way contract for next season and an NHL only deal the year after, coincidentally the timing of the end of Peter Budaj’s current stint with the Habs, but this is dependent on his clearing waivers in the Fall.
Robert Mayer – B
Mayer represents quite the mystery in Hamilton. There is no doubt he was regularly outplayed by Tokarski, and yet coach Lefebvre continually sent Mayer out to start more than his fair share of games. And it wasn’t that Mayer didn’t have the talent to play at this level; he turned in some big performances to bank points for the ‘Dogs when it looked like they might still have a chance to reach the post-season. But consistency has always plagued the Czech-born, Swiss-citizen netminder, and you can typically tell from his first shot faced of the night whether he’s going to have a strong or poor outing. The situation is a curious one, complicated by the fact that the Canadiens gave Mayer a two-year deal last summer, meaning he has a year remaining when the Habs would likely prefer to promote 23-year old Mike Condon to the role of backing up Tokarski after he dominated the East Coast Hockey League. Mayer is as good as he will be, while Condon’s development is on a rising curve, so it’s possible the team agrees to allow Mayer to head to Switzerland this summer, or deals him to another club in need of AHL depth.
Devan Dubnyk – B-
Dubnyk was acquired simply because the Bulldogs were playing for their playoff lives in a pivotal 3-games-in-3-nights weekend and starter Tokarski was up in Montreal. Unfortunately, his season of struggles continued in Hamilton with a 3.33 GAA and a .893 save percentage, meaning his visit to Hamilton is certain to have been a mere layover. Dubnyk was a reasonable, proven NHL goaltender prior to this year, so there is no doubt he’ll get a contract from someone for next season in another effort to re-assert himself, but the Canadiens’ organization has no motivation to offer him a prolonged stay.
So it was a tough year. But all is not lost, given the Canadiens will benefit from the experience gained by players like Beaulieu and Tinordi this season as they are promoted to the next level. And turnover from one year to the next in the American League can be so great that this year’s results don’t necessarily spell doom for years to come, even though it was the third straight season without playoff action in the Hammer. How does general manager Marc Bergevin – holding his own part of the blame for not finding the right veterans to fill out his AHL affiliate’s roster – go about turning the team around? A winning roster based on the pieces under contract might look something like this:
Sven Andrighetto – AHL VET UFA – Christian Thomas
Charles Hudon – Jacob De La Rose – AHL VET UFA
Mike Blunden – Gabriel Dumont – Louis Leblanc
Patrick Holland – Brady Vail – Connor Crisp
Greg Pateryn – Mac Bennett
AHL VET UFA – Morgan Ellis
Dalton Thrower – Darren Dietz
Of course, being competitive depends on those AHL VET UFA spots being filled by quality players, and not Drew Schiestels and Ben Duffys, but you can add a real wildcard to the mix in Tim Bozon. Already signed by the Canadiens, Bozon continues his courageous recovery from a bout with meningitis that saw him hospitalized in a medically-induced coma last month. An established WHL sniper, it is unclear at this point where he’ll be in terms of health and physical conditioning by next Fall, and in turn what role he might be able to play in the organization. Also already signed is Jack Nevins, an undrafted prospect who has fit in well enough in a late-season stint with the ‘Dogs after his QMJHL career came to a close. Nevins is interchangeable with Vail and Crisp should the organization choose not to sign either, or reinforces the club’s important depth at this level.
Thanks for following Hamilton Bulldogs coverage at All Habs all season long, and we will continue to follow every development over the off-season.
HAMILTON, ON – With little but pride left to play for, the Bulldogs turned to a surprising starter Saturday night in their return to First Ontario Centre from a nine-game road trip. The same day as Dustin Tokarski signed his new two-year contract with the organization, Robert Mayer was given another chance to prove he has value to Hamilton beyond this season, and he supported a ruthless Bulldog penalty kill that helped stage an improbable comeback from a 3-1 deficit. In the end, however, the visiting Rochester Americans – battling tooth and nail for a playoff spot – would prove too much, prevailing 4-3 in a shootout in the second-to-last game of the season at First Ontario Centre.
Hamilton got the game’s first quality scoring chance when a Christian Thomas point shot hit a crowd of bodies in front of Rochester starter Andrey Makarov. Sven Andrighetto dug the puck out, spun, and fired a backhander on goal, but the netminder had the last word.
Andrighetto would make good on his next drive to the net, however. With five minutes to go in the opening period, the Swiss native entered the Americans zone with speed, cut towards the goal, and saw his shot attempt bounce off Makarov’s pads to a wide open Connor Crisp, who made no mistake in hitting the empty side of the net. The goal was Crisp’s second in his sixth professional game on a tryout with Hamilton.
Rochester would tie the game just two minutes later, however. Nathan Beaulieu attempted a clear off a defensive zone face-off, only to see it kept alive by Tim Schallerat the line. Beaulieu was then beaten to the net by Colton Gillies, who accepted a pass and fired a shot inside the post on Mayer.
A bit of bad luck to start the second, as Mayer made an ill-fated attempt to stop a dump-in behind the goal. A weird bounce had the puck squirt out front to Kevin Porter, who quickly tapped it into the goal before the netminder could recover.
Mayer would redeem himself not long after, sliding across to miraculously stop a Mikhail Grigorenko point-blank shot into what looked like a gaping cage. He couldn’t stop them all, however, as the ‘Dogs were heavily outchanced, and Brayden Irwin found a loose puck at the lip of the crease, slapping a rebound past the keeper just before the period’s halfway mark for a 3-1 advantage.
A 5-on-3 powerplay gave Rochester the chance to put the game out of reach, but strong defensive work by the P.K. unit and even a semi-breakaway for Joonas Nattinen allowed the home side to kill it off. Hamilton seemed to take some momentum from the kill, with each of Gabriel Dumont and Christian Thomas earning quality scoring chances in the period’s final minutes, but both turned aside by the Amerk rookie.
Any chance at a comeback took a serious blow when Dumont was assessed a four minute high sticking penalty as the second period expired. But the aggressive penalty killers got the job done once again, even generating chances for defensemen Nathan McIver and Drew Schiestel.
They say many things can turn the tide in a hockey game, and the two big penalty kills were no exception in this one. The line of Joonas Nattinen, Jack Nevins, and Nick Tarnasky stormed the Rochester crease, and a rebound landed on the Finnish centre’s blade. A slick forehand to backhand shift gave him a clear shooting lane, which he deftly capitalized on to pull his side within one.
The hounds smelled blood with that goal, and Hamilton controlled flow over the next few minutes, but was unable to get anything through to Makarov. Until, that is, Gabriel Dumont turned in a dominant shift. After blocking a shot in his own end, he collected a turned over puck and raced down the ice, roofing a laser beam shot over Makarov’s arm to tie the game.
And the ‘Dogs didn’t stop there. They looked poised to collect a regulation win when in the game’s final minute, the newly assembled unit of Andrighetto, Thomas, and Nick Sorkin – who logged big minutes in perhaps his best AHL game to date – generated three shots on a dangerous offensive zone sequence, but couldn’t seal the deal.
Overtime would solve nothing, and if several big glove saves from Mayer allowed the ‘Dogs to reach the shootout, his play in the skills competition tiebreaker ended things quickly, ceding on three consecutive shots.
Still, the stirring comeback provided an entertaining evening for what was one of the best crowds seen in Hamilton in months, with 6,314 in attendance in addition to 84 dogs for the team’s annual Pucks and Paws night.
“It shows a lot about the guys in the room. Obviously we wish we’d be in the race for the playoffs, and making comebacks to get in, but everybody’s playing for something,” summed up Dumont, the third goal scorer. “The road trip and here today again, the penalty kill was really big for us. We’ve had some success because of special units.”
The shorthanded units were a common theme post-game as a source of motivation that had the bench believing in a comeback. “Obviously with things like that, the team gets some life and power off of it. I can’t say I’ve ever had a 3-on-5 scoring chance before,” added Nattinen, a key role player who had recently spent time in the press box to make room for some of the younger junior call-ups.
Coach Sylvain Lefebvre agreed with Nattinen’s assessment, lauding the efforts of his two-way centreman. “It’s been a tough time for Nattinen. He had some big blocks, and came up with a big game tonight. We killed some big penalties with the 3-on-5 and the four minutes to Dumont. We came up short in overtime and the shootout, but showed some grit and character against a team that needed those points.”
The ‘Dogs close out their schedule with a game in Lake Erie on Tuesday, and then a home date against Syracuse on April 19th. Hamilton fans can get tickets for the last chance to see their team in the 2013-14 season at http://www.hamiltonbulldogs.com/.
NOTES: The game marked the professional debut of Montreal prospect Jack Nevins. Brady Vail will miss the remainder of the season with an ankle injury. Martin St Pierre also missed the game with an injury suffered in practice on Friday. Morgan Ellis was a healthy scratch.
HAMILTON, ON – Just when it looked like the Hamilton Bulldogs might be putting together a late-season streak to at least keep things interesting in the Western Conference playoff hunt, back-to-back losses have essentially killed any remaining dream that the team might stage the most improbable of runs.
After wins at home on Wednesday and Friday, the ‘Dogs were unable to carry momentum into the weekend, dropping a 5-1 decision to the Abbotsford Heat and then falling in the first game of a nine-game road trip on Tuesday by a 4-0 score to the Texas Stars.
If a degree of blame could be laid on goaltender Dustin Tokarski – making only 19 stops on 23 shots – for the first loss, the result in Texas was hardly Devan Dubnyk‘s fault, as Hamilton was doubled up in shots 40 to 20 by the first place Stars. With Michael Bournival back in Montreal, the offensive well has again run dry, and players are left to play for pride and call-ups in a bid to not finish last in the conference for a second year in a row.
But this doesn’t mean that any and all intrigue surrounding the team has vanished. Late in the AHL season, as young prospects complete their junior and college seasons, team rosters are bolstered by an influx of fresh-faced talent. Hamilton is no exception to this ritual, with the Montreal Canadiens adding two new players to the squad on Wednesday.
First is Mac Bennett, an average-sized, mobile, two-way defender who was a third round pick of the team back in 2009. Signed to a two-year entry level contract, Bennett has yet to be officially assigned to the ‘Dogs, but one can assume he will join the team as soon as his semester at the University of Michigan is complete. He may not have the professional experience or the upside, but at age 23 and with four years of college hockey under his belt, he will hit the AHL as a more mature and developed player than a Jarrred Tinordi or Nathan Beaulieu, more in the footsteps of a Greg Pateryn. Speaking of Pateryn, his presence in Hamilton will be a big help to Bennett adjusting to the pro game. The defensemen spent two seasons in Michigan together, including one as partners – chemistry they can reignite quickly at the next stage in their development, especially as Pateryn represents one of the team’s more reliable guys on the back end, making him an ideal partner for a rookie.
In addition to his smart puck-moving game on-ice, Bennett’s off-ice leadership qualities were recognized as an alternate captain in Michigan a year ago, and then the team’s captain this past season. His offensive game didn’t develop as fully as many had hoped when he was drafted, but he has compensated for this by improving his play without the puck. Like many young players, consistency is still a bit of an issue with him, as he could stand to play with more intensity on a regular basis, but hopefully that comes with a new challenge in the next phase of his career.
The other signing is a player most Hab fans will be less familiar with, but one who could stand to surprise given there is a need for a forward of his ilk. Nick Sorkin– a 22-year old undrafted winger – may not be a household name as of yet, but the 6’3″ Maryland-native is coming off a tremendous bounce-back season that followed a year derailed by a broken hand. Having completed his fourth season at the University of New Hampshire at a point-per-game pace (20 goals, 21 assists in 41 contests), Sorkin agreed to a professional tryout with the ‘Dogs for the remainder of the season. Though he’s on skinny side at 195 lbs, he isn’t afraid of playing an aggressive and physical style, and given the lack of scoring talent and size on Hamilton’s present roster, he certainly could find a niche for himself.
It’s not unheard of for undrafted college forwards to make a splash at the NHL level. Though he left school after only a single season at age 21, and his NHL peak was somewhat of a flash-in-the-pan, Dustin Penner might be a good example as the kind of path Sorkin could aspire to follow if he should pan out. Which at this point is of a longshot at best. Those who don’t follow the ‘Dogs closely may not know the name Matt Grassi, a d-man the team signed to a similar tryout a year ago and then retained on an AHL deal this year, but who has only suited up for three games between the two seasons combined. So there’s a chance Sorkin is little more than that, too.
Sorkin and Bennett won’t be alone in joining the Bulldogs. Both Brady Vail and Connor Crisp find their respective squads one game away from elimination in the first round of the OHL playoffs, and thus should be available in the coming days. Then there’s 18-year old Jacob De La Rose, whose season ended days ago, but with whom the organization must make a determination as to what will be best for his development: another season in Sweden, joining Hamilton, or spending a year with the Windsor Spitfires.
Local fans will have only two opportunities to see this next wave in action at home, as nine of Hamilton’s eleven remaining contests are on the road. Tickets for games on April 12th and April 19th are available at http://www.hamiltonbulldogs.com/.