By Dale Lamontagne, Hamilton Bulldogs Correspondent, Bulldogs Hockey Report – Twitter @Dale_Bulldogs
HAMILTON, ON — The Hamilton Bulldogs kicked off their second half of the 2014-15 American Hockey League regular season at the FirstOntario Centre in front of 2,125 fans in a rare Wednesday night game that resulted in their third straight loss on home ice.
The Admirals opened the scoring at FirstOntario Centre after Triston Grant attempted to pass the puck in front of the Bulldogs net for a teammate, but instead defenceman Darren Dietz accidentally scored on his own net after the puck deflected off his skate and in past Mike Condon.
Jacob De La Rose was called for a holding penalty giving the Admirals a good chance to extend their lead by two goals. And they did just that.
On the power-play with 3:35 to go in the period, Milwaukee went up 2-0 thanks to Austin Watson who shot the puck into an open net beating Condon on the blocker side.
But the Bulldogs luck turned with a couple minutes left in the period.
The Bulldogs got a nice power-play opportunity shortly after the Admirals second goal of the game, with Felix Girard going to the box for tripping. But the ‘Dogs continued their struggles on the man advantage, and did not get on the scoreboard in hopes of cutting the Admirals lead in half.
But just as the Bulldogs power-play ended, Daniel Carr blasted a shot from the point beating Magnus Hellberg five-hole to make it a 2-1 Admirals heading into the first intermission.
The middle frame was a very fast-paced period which saw only one penalty, and that would go to Milwaukee’s Girard for interference. But the Bulldogs still trailed the Admirals 2-1 despite only four shots on net. Condon had to stop eight for Hamilton, after the Bulldogs made some cough ups in their own zone, giving the Admirals quality scoring chances.
Unlike the second period, the third would get off to a more interesting start with the Admirals extending their lead to 3-1 with Zach Budish scoring an odd goal in front after the puck bounced up and off of Condon and in.
Midway through the period, Darren Dietz deked his way through the Ads’ defenders tucking away the puck past Hellberg but was waived off as the goaltender was pushed into the net.
The Bulldogs pulled Condon and would have the extra attacker out there to help the ‘Dogs offense get back into the game, but they were not successful with the Admirals netting an empty net goal.
The Bulldogs continue their season long seven game homestand on Friday as they host the Grand Rapid Griffins, the AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings.
By Dale Lamontagne, Hamilton Bulldogs Correspondent, Bulldogs Hockey Report
HAMILTON, ONT — The Hamilton Bulldogs played host to the Utica Comets, the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night, in their first game of a three-game set this weekend at FirstOntario Centre. The Comets, who sit in first place in the North Division entered the game with A 22-7-5 record, good enough for 49 points. The Bulldogs, who are third in the North, entered the game with a 15-14-6 record, and have one win in their past five games.
But tonight, the Bulldogs walked away with the win by defeating the Comets by a score of 3-0 on Friday night at the Dog Pound!
The first period of play would see the Bulldogs take a 1-0 lead, thanks to Nick Sorkin on the power-play, which came towards the end of the opening frame. There wasn’t much action in the period, other than the lone Bulldogs goal. But a little after the mid-way mark in the first, Darren Dietz was hit from behind by a Utica player and was down for several seconds before getting back up with help from the trainers.
The second period would see the Bulldogs score a goal from Daniel Carr, but it would be waved off immediately with 1:25 left in the middle frame. The goal would not count and the ‘Dogs would still have a 1-0 lead after forty minutes of play.
But midway through the period, another scary incident would take place, this time involving defenceman Jarred Tinordi. Tinordi and Andrey Pedan were involved in a staged fight, and Tinordi took a heavy punch to the face area and immediately fell to the ice and was down for a over a minute. Once he got up, with help from teammates, trainers and the officials, there was a ton of blood on the ice. Tinordi went straight to the dressing room and did not return to the game. Head coach Sylvain Lefebvre provided an update after the game and said Tinordi will be re-evaluated on Saturday and will need some dental work done.
If you didn’t see the fight yet, you can watch below (Warning, it may be disturbing.)
Finally, the third period saw a little more action as the Bulldogs scored two more goals to take the game by a score of 3-0. Maxime Macenauer scored the second goal of the game for the ‘Dogs, extending their lead to 2-0 after roofing it past Eriksson. The Bulldogs then scored an empty net goal, securing the win with the goal coming from Jacob de la Rose, who now has four on the season.
With the win, Mike Condon skated away with his first AHL shutout stopping all 27 shots faced.
The Bulldogs are back in action tomorrow as they play host to Lake Erie Monsters, with puck drop expected shortly after 7:00 p.m.
MONTREAL, QUE. – Montreal Canadiens and Hamilton Bulldogs general manager Marc Bergevin announced today the Canadiens have assigned defenceman Darren Dietz and forward Christian Thomas to the Bulldogs. Both players will report to Hamilton and won’t join the Bulldogs for their last pre-season game on Sunday against the St. John’s IceCaps in St. John’s, N.L.
Dietz spent the 2013-14 season – his first as a pro – with the Bulldogs. In 34 games with Hamilton, the 21-year-old recorded five assists and 49 penalty minutes. The 6-1, 209-pound defenceman was selected by the Canadiens in the fifth round (138th overall) in the 2011 National Hockey League Entry Draft.
Thomas split the 2013-14 season between the Canadiens and Bulldogs. In two games with Montreal, the 22-year-old recorded no points or penalty minutes. In 55 games with Hamilton, the 5-9, 179-pound forward recorded 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) and 22 penalty minutes. In three career NHL regular season games with the Canadiens and New York Rangers, he has recorded no points and no penalty minutes. In 133 career American Hockey League regular season games with the Bulldogs and Connecticut Whale, the Toronto, Ont. native has recorded 64 points (31 goals, 33 assists) and 37 penalty minutes.
Earlier on Saturday, the Canadiens also announced that forward Drayson Bowman had cleared NHL waivers and was assigned to the Bulldogs.
With today’s assignments, Hamilton’s training camp now sits at 35 players, including 20 forwards, 12 defencemen and three goaltenders.
Hamilton Bulldogs 2014-15 season tickets, flex tickets, group tickets and single-game 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 Bulldogs 2014-15 Training Camp Roster (updated)
HAMILTON, ON – The Hamilton Bulldogs may have had their winning streak snapped last weekend, but they remained hot, posting a 2-1-0 record over an always-difficult three games in three nights stretch.
With a 19-15-4 record on the season, they currently sit 7th in the AHL’s Western Conference, and the 7-1-1 record they’ve put up in their past nine games has earned them some separation from the pack of teams lying just below the playoff cut-off (though those clubs do all hold games in hand).
Sunday’s win over the Iowa Wild marked the season’s halfway point for the team, and with that a measurable improvement over where they were last season at this time, with eleven more points in the standings.
Every week, we’ll look at three players who have impressed or are moving up in the depth charts, as well as three players struggling with their games at this junction.
– Sven Andrighetto: The Swiss rookie’s stats have been modest since returning from injury in mid-December (one goal and six points in eleven games), but on a team starved for offensive threats, the 20-year old has become a primary catalyst. Nathan Beaulieu may have scored the game-winner on Sunday, but the play was truly all Andrighetto, as he craftily weaved his way through the offensive zone before releasing a howitzer from the point. Admittedly, Beaulieu’s rebound goal was still from a tough angle requiring an accurate shot to finish the play off, but it was certainly never there for him without Andrighetto’s magic. The former Rouyn-Noranda Huskie finished the game with three shots, but was a constant presence in the attacking zone, just as he had been the night prior despite finishing that game with no points and a -2 rating. Despite his small stature at 5’9”, if the Canadiens are looking for a scoring winger to call up, it should be Andrighetto’s turn to make his NHL debut.
– Gabriel Dumont: Another forward who has elevated his game of late is one well known to Montreal Canadiens fans. A second player likely held back by his height limitations (5’10”) with the number of undersized forwards already in Montreal, Dumont and linemate Mike Blunden have become a heart-and-soul pair for the ‘Dogs, being used in starring roles in all game situations. After surprising point totals last season, Dumont started this year slowly, but has picked up his production with four goals and two assists in his past seven games – including a highlight reel marker to open the scoring on Sunday. Unlike Andrighetto – a more one-dimensional offensive winger – Dumont is a three zone player, and as important as his goal was, the team drew even more inspiration from a big third period shot block while killing a penalty in a one-goal match. Dumont retreated to the dressing room in considerable pain, but limped his way back to the bench minutes later, despite the fact that he wasn’t going to play another shift on the night. If the Habs are looking to fill a fourth line role from down in Hamilton, Dumont should be the one making the trip.
– Nathan Beaulieu: For a player who knows he’s never going to be a shutdown defenseman in the National Hockey League, Beaulieu’s early season output was mildly concerning. Beaulieu boasts incredible skating ability and off-the-charts raw talent. He is capable of taking over a hockey game, which we saw frequently in Hamilton towards the end of last season. This year, his intensity and focus have waned at times, but if the last five games are any indication, he seems to be putting things together. Taken away from usual partner Greg Pateryn – the Dogs’ number one d-man and a player with offensive ability of his own – to be paired with the more defensive Morgan Ellis has contributed to Beaulieu opening his game up. The product of this is points in four of the last five games (two goals and three assists), with a tougher outing and minus three rating in Saturday’s loss to Rochester. These are the kind of inconsistencies you have to live with as a trade-off for a player like Beaulieu, and as long as he can keep being good four nights out of five the rest of the way, he’ll be close to NHL-ready by season’s end.
IN A RUT
– Patrick Holland: I’ve made it no secret that I’m a fan of Holland’s game, but his 2013-14 campaign hasn’t built off the successes he enjoyed late last season. Despite playing with skilled offensive linemates Martin St. Pierre and Sven Andrighetto regularly, Holland has managed only one goal and four assists in 16 games since the start of December. He has lost the spot he frequently patrolled at the point on the top powerplay to a combination of Christian Thomas, Martin St Pierre, and even Mike Blunden at one point Sunday (that is, when the ‘Dogs despite to split Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn), despite being on a similar point-per-game pace to his rookie year. To Holland’s credit, he has rounded out his game well. As witnessed during his brief stint with the Canadiens, he is smart in his own end and a willing candidate to get in the lanes and block shots. It’s certainly not unthinkable for him to develop into an Adam Hall-type down the road, but he’ll have to start producing in order to earn another ticket back to Montreal.
– Darren Dietz: Like Jarred Tinordi, Dietz had a strong training camp in Montreal, only to see things fall apart early on in the regular season. For Tinordi, his play began to go south once confronted with tougher competition on a nightly basis, while it was an injury that derailed a good start to the year for Dietz. Tinordi is gradually finding his groove on Hamilton’s top D pairing, but Dietz has lost his battle for a top four position to Morgan Ellis, finding himself instead on a third pair, most frequently with Joel Chouinard. A threat from the point in juniors – he led all Canadian Hockey League defensemen with 24 goals last year – Dietz is still seeking his first marker at the professional level, having recorded just four assists in 22 games, and having his powerplay minutes cut. No reason to panic over a twenty-year old pro rookie, but Dietz’s path to the NHL seems a little longer than those who watched him in exhibition play might have guessed.
– Robert Mayer: Goaltending has been likely the biggest reason for Hamilton’s success of late, meaning it’s no coincidence that Mayer was in Europe on loan for the Spengler Cup during a big portion of it. After nearly wrestling away the starting job from veteran Cedric Desjardins last season, Mayer was given every opportunity to challenge Dustin Tokarski for ice time by coach Sylvain Lefebvre early on this year. Mayer’s play has been wildly inconsistent, and while there was hope that a brilliant performance in the Spengler Cup final that led his club to victory might give him renewed confidence, the 24-year old’s return to Copps Coliseum marked the end of a six-game win streak for the ‘Dogs, while seeing his save percentage on the season dip below .900. It’s not to say the loss to Rochester was Mayer’s fault, but the significant separation between he and Tokarski (who has allowed only seven goals total while winning his past six starts) is becoming more and more evident. It certainly makes one question yet another of Marc Bergevin’s moves this past summer, being to give Mayer a two-year deal while only signing Tokarski for one (though perhaps that was the netminder’s own preference). Easy to repair the mistake of signing a mediocre AHL netminder of course, but still an odd assessment of player talent.
The Bulldogs will allow some other clubs to play out games in hand this weekend, as they have only a single opponent. Saturday, the Utica Comets visit Hamilton in a game the ‘Dogs can’t afford to lose if they believe themselves to be in serious contention for a playoff position, as the Comets currently sit a distant 15th place in the Western Conference. Tickets are available at http://www.hamiltonbulldogs.com/
TORONTO, ON – There were few spots up for grabs in Montreal Canadiens training camp. The team had finished 2nd in the NHL’s Eastern Conference last season, and despite a disappointing first round playoff loss to the Ottawa Senators, the return to health of some key veterans and development of young players have many hopeful that the building blocks are in place for long-term success. With many players returning on one-way NHL contracts, camp held little suspense, and what little there was mostly vanished when Michel Therrien revealed his plans to stick to last season’s line combinations.
Stability is a foreign concept in the American Hockey League. Teams that perform well are generally led by top players, whose outstanding performances see them given shots in the National Hockey League the following season. Few players sign long-term deals to stay in the AHL, and thus seeing players swap teams annually is hardly an unusual sight. Drafted North American prospects come of age for league eligibility, and thus teams are stocked with new young hopefuls.
In Hamilton, coming off a season where the hometown squad finished dead last in the league, the multitude of new faces who will report for physicals Friday will be a welcome reprieve from the memories of a year gone wrong. Thursday, the group that will attempt to start from the bottom and work their way back towards respectability, was announced as the Bulldogs revealed their opening training camp roster.
On it are most of the names you’d expect. Louis Leblanc and Joonas Nattinen return at forward, while Morgan Ellis hopes to take on a larger role on defense. Robert Mayer will again battle for playing time between the pipes. Not listed but undoubtedly soon to join the group once cut from the Canadiens are Martin St. Pierre, Patrick Holland, Christian Thomas, Magnus Nygren, Nathan Beaulieu, Darren Dietz, and Dustin Tokarski. Provided there are no further injuries, no more than one of MichaelBournival, Michael Blunden, or Gabriel Dumont should stick with the Habs at this point either, though the latter two would be subject to waivers if they are to join the ‘Dogs. Injuries on defense may delay the return of a Greg Pateryn or Jarred Tinordi, but at least the former should eventually spend some time in the Hammer this season.
Then you add in the rest of the fresh wave of prospects with Sven Andrighetto, Stefan Fournier, and Erik Nystrom, and this summer’s depth signings in Stefan Chaput, Ben Duffy, Justin Courtnall, Stephen MacAulay, Matt Grassi, and Drew Schiestel, and you start to get a crowded picture.
One imagines a preconceived depth chart might look something like the following:
Patrick Holland – Martin St. Pierre – Christian Thomas
Mike Blunden – Michael Bournival – Louis Leblanc
Erik Nystrom – Nick Tarnasky – Sven Andrighetto
Stefan Fournier – Joonas Nattinen – Steve Quailer
Ben Duffy, Justin Courtnall, Stephen MacAulay, Stefan Chaput
Greg Pateryn – Nathan Beaulieu
Magnus Nygren – Darren Dietz
Morgan Ellis – Drew Schiestel
Matt Grassi, Joel Chouinard
Mike Condon, Peter Delmas
With so many names already penciled in, where does the suspense come into play? Well the names above aren’t the only ones on Hamilton’s camp roster. The Bulldogs have invited a number of others – ranging from high profile veterans and former prospects to the rather obscure – to attend camp on tryouts in the hopes of earning a job with the team.
The first name that stands out is Akim Aliu. The 6’4″ Nigerian winger was a 2nd round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007, but the offense to his game never developed as the ‘Hawks had hoped. He has been labelled a head case with a bad attitude throughout his career, but has been able to reinvent his style of play, sliding into a tough guy / enforcer role that saw him appear in seven total games for the Calgary Flames split over the past two seasons. There tend to be far more fights in the AHL than the NHL, and thus most squads carry multiple enforcer-types, something the current Hamilton roster is light on. Thus, Aliu’s size and strengths could appeal to the team’s management enough to earn him a spot if he can show improved off-ice demeanour.
A more familiar name on the list is that of Alex Belzile. The 22-year old’s first pro season was spent largely with the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators, but he impressed on a late-season tryout with the Bulldogs, scoring 8 points in 14 games while driving the net with regularity despite his very average 5’11” frame. Belzile frequently dressed on Hamilton’s top scoring line, though with the new bodies on the roster it’s tough to see exactly where he could carve himself a niche for the coming season. Still, he has already shown he can cut it, and so he should be considered one of the favoured tryouts to further stack Montreal’s AHL affiliate with forward depth.
A couple of other QMJHL-bred forwards also received invites. David Laliberte, a 2004 Philadelphia Flyers fourth round pick with 11 games of NHL experience, and Maxime Macenauer, a Anaheim 2007 third rounder who played 29 games for the Ducks in 2011-12, seem like they could bring every bit as much to the table as a Stefan Chaput or Justin Courtnall, but decisions will ultimately have to be made. While Hamilton certainly endeavours to put up better results than last year, they remain primarily a development team and need to leave room for prospects to get some ice time amidst the more experienced veterans.
The rest up front: Andre Bouvet-Morrissette is a 6’3″ 22-year old winger coming off his rookie pro season that was split between two AHL and two ECHL clubs… Kelsey Wilson is a 27-year old 6’1″ forward who has bounced around leagues with time in the AHL, ECHL, Austria, and the U.K… Jordan Owens is a veteran of 300 AHL games with a mediocre stat line who is coming off a year in Denmark… Chad Wiseman is a 32-year old Burlington, Ontario native who played nine NHL games between 2002 and 2006 and was once a top AHL scorer, but has been slowed by injuries (he could fill the homegrown scorer void left by Joey Tenute)… Trevor Bruess is an ECHL veteran who gets limited AHL action annually as a temporary injury replacement.
Dalton Thrower will be a name to watch on defense at this camp. Not turning 20 until December 20th, Thrower would be one of the league’s youngest players if he makes the team. But it’s no coincidence the Canadiens have yet to sign their 2012 second rounder to an entry level contract, as Thrower is also eligible to join the WHL’s Vancouver Giants for the coming campaign. If the Canadiens blueline is fairly healthy and thus Hamilton gets both Beaulieu and Pateryn back immediately, it’s likely Thrower will be sent down for a final junior season rather than sitting in the Copps Coliseum press box or heading to the ECHL. That is, unless he forced management’s hand with a standout effort in camp to begin reversing the effects of a disappointing 2012-13 season.
With Tinordi playing like he wants to stay in Montreal, the Bulldogs may be in the market for an experienced blueliner to round out their group. The inside track has to go to Matt Lashoff due to his appearance at Montreal’s camp, but he underwhelmed there, opening a door for the other invitees.
Given the aforementioned absence of toughness in the roster, Nathan McIver might be Lashoff’s biggest competition to earn a deal on D. McIver was a Vancouver Canucks eighth round pick in 2003, and collected 287 penalty minutes in 62 AHL games last season. He also appeared in 36 NHL games between 2006 and 2009, registering one assist and 95 PIMs.
A final notable is another one-time Canuck pick, 2009 fourth round selection Jeremy Price (no relation to Carey Price). The 22-year old two-way d-man completed his stint with Colgate University and then got a five-game tryout with the Chicago Wolves at the tail end of last season, but didn’t show enough to earn a full-time deal. With the prospect of Tinordi, Pateryn, and Beaulieu graduating to the NHL within the next year, the Bulldogs may look at someone like Price to provide extra insurance in case of injuries, trades, and call-ups.
The rest on D: Pierre Durepos is a 21-year old blueliner and former teammate of Nathan Beaulieu‘s, having spent the past four seasons with the Saint John Sea Dogs… Paul Cianfrini is a journeyman whose career took from the OHL to Nipissing University and then to the ECHL for the past two seasons… Jonathan Narbonne is a 21-year old d-man who won a Memorial Cup with Michael Bournival and Morgan Ellis in Shawinigan in 2012.
HAMILTON, ON – One year ago, I wrote an article referring to the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs as potential 2013 Calder Cup contenders. Flash forward to today, and that looks like a foolish prediction given the team’s 30th place overall finish this past season.
It’s easy to see what went wrong. A rookie head coach struggled to get his feet under him early on, and before he knew it, the rug had been swept from beneath him with injuries to both Blake Geoffrion and Aaron Palushaj – the two veteran forwards who were supposed to lead his young team in scoring. The offensive forward who had looked so dominant between the two wingers the season before – Louis Leblanc – was mired in a deep sophomore slump. The other veterans brought in to help a squad full of rookies – Darryl Boyce and Zack Stortini – played so poorly that it was tough to believe they had ever laced up skates in the National Hockey League.
On defense, it wasn’t a banner season for either of the team’s experienced vets. Frederic St. Denis got off to a very slow start, and then battled injuries. Brendon Nash‘s play had him slipping down the team’s depth chart to the point where he was moved for more of a specialist in Jason DeSantis in a failed effort to spark the team’s powerplay, a situation that only became tougher when DeSantis was forced to take personal leave to attend to an ailing parent.
And who could have foreseen goaltending troubles? Cedric Desjardins was as established an AHL netminder as one could have hoped for, but was quickly outplayed by Robert Mayer, a ‘tender that almost no one thought was in the plans beyond the current campaign a year ago.
The rest of the squad was composed primarily of rookies, most of whom had successful introductions to professional hockey. When the lockout ended, losing Brendan Gallagher certainly didn’t help Hamilton’s chances of a second half rebound, but his play in Montreal was a testament to how well he had made the transition from the junior ranks. As were the brief call-ups of Jarred Tinordi, Greg Pateryn, and Nathan Beaulieu, the latter of which was one of the AHL’s top blueliners over the season’s final months.
With so many things going wrong last season, it would be easy to lose hope as a ‘Dogs supporter. But such despair would be misplaced, as the team has quickly gone about readying itself to right the ship, and the 2013-14 edition will be looking to bite back. General Manager Marc Bergevin hasn’t hesitated to bolster the group that finished last season with a number of interesting UFA signings, leaving the current depth chart as follows:
Patrick Holland – Martin St. Pierre – Christian Thomas
Mike Blunden – Michael Bournival – Louis Leblanc
Sven Andrighetto – Joonas Nattinen – Nick Tarnasky
Stefan Fournier – Ben Duffy – Steve Quailer
Nathan Beaulieu – Greg Pateryn
Darren Dietz – Morgan Ellis
Magnus Nygren – Drew Schiestel
The core roster has familiar faces at every position. However, all of Patrick Holland, Michael Bournival, Steve Quailer, Nathan Beaulieu, Greg Pateryn, and Morgan Ellis were professional rookies a year ago. By season’s end, Holland was among the most dangerous ‘Dogs offensively, Bournival a responsible two-way player in the mold of Tomas Plekanec, and Pateryn and Beaulieu formed a legitimate AHL top pairing. Certainly, a big part of the team’s success will depend on the continued development of these returnees.
But the depth chart is also sprinkled with new faces throughout. At forward, the big fish was the signing of Martin St. Pierre, a seemingly perennial AHL all-star who, at 29, has appeared in 38 career NHL games split among three different teams. While undersized, St. Pierre – coming off a year of 26 goals and 59 points in 76 games – is a significant upgrade on Joey Tenute who finished 2013 as the team’s #1 centre and has signed with Malmo in Sweden for 2013-14.
The other new veteran is Nick Tarnasky, a pugilist who will contribute far more than either Zack Stortini or Kyle Hagel managed to last season. Twenty-eight year old, 6’2″ Tarnasky won’t hesitate to drop the gloves to defend a teammate, seen in his 138 AHL penalty minutes last season, but also has greater skill with the puck than a Stortini or Hagel, having scored 16 times in 74 contests for Rochester last year.
Perhaps the most surprising acquisition was that of Christian Thomas, who Bergevin ceded Danny Kristo to the New York Rangers in order to acquire. Kristo joined Hamilton late last season to great fanfare once North Dakota’s year came to an abrupt end. While making the jump from college hockey to the American League can be a difficult one, Kristo did little to impress Bulldog faithful in his short time in Steeltown. That, combined with off-ice behavioural questions, may have motivated Bergevin to deal, and in Thomas, Hamilton adds another professional sophomore, who isn’t the biggest at 5’9″, but plays a tough game not unlike Brendan Gallagher. While he may not quite match Gallagher’s ferocity around the net, he compensates with an extra offensive weapon of a quick and heavy arsenal of shots, used to net 19 goals in his first AHL season. Thomas should be an important part of this year’s Hamilton offense.
Four players should be making their AHL debuts at forward for the ‘Dogs. The first is Sven Andrighetto, a 2013 3rd round pick as an overage player who had begun to tear up the QMJHL after completing his adjustment from junior Swiss leagues to North American style hockey. Another player without the biggest of frames, Andrighetto is highly skilled and has the potential to fill a top six role on the squad once he adjusts to bigger, tougher, and faster competition.
The other three are undrafted players that earned NHL or AHL contracts coming out of Montreal’s July Development Camp in Brossard. Ben Duffy is last season’s QMJHL scoring champion, and earned a contract following a two-goal performance in the scrimmage on camp’s final day, centering a dominant line with Erik Nystrom and Sebastian Collberg. He brings depth to the squad, even if he’ll be battling to avoid starting in the ECHL in training camp, looking to be a more significant contributor than a Stefan Chaput on last year’s team. Stefan Fournier is a big body who can play a physical game but also put up points, scoring 16 goals in 17 games in the QMJHL playoffs before helping the Halifax Mooseheads capture the Memorial Cup. Finally, Stephen MacAulay was a teammate of Fournier’s in Halifax, both in their overage CHL seasons as 20 year olds. MacAulay is more of a two-way forward who – just like Fournier – has been recognized for off-ice leadership and work ethic.
With the Canadiens renewing their ECHL affiliation with the Wheeling Nailers, there remains room to add a forward or two for extra depth should the right fits arise. There is also the possibility that the team’s top forward last season, Gabriel Dumont, is returned to the AHL, though he’d need to clear waivers to do so, and thus there is a chance that either the Canadiens decide to retain him, or that he is claimed by another organization. Another name to keep in mind is Alex Belzile, a player who impressed on a late-season call-up tryout from Wheeling, and who was then invited to Development Camp in July, but has yet to sign for the coming year.
On defense, it is clear Bergevin must continue his shopping for reinforcements. The current top five members of the depth chart are either first or second year AHL’ers, and thus a veteran presence is needed to stabilize the group and share the tougher minutes. Some available names include former Hab Jay Leach, Garnet Exelby, Jim Vandermeer, and Jeff Woywitka.
There are two bright new faces on D with reasonable NHL upside. Darren Dietz capped a solid junior career with a season in which he led all CHL blueliners in goals (24) and participated in the Memorial Cup with the host Saskatoon Blades. A 5th round pick in 2011, he backs up his offense with a sound physical package and will quickly battle a player like Morgan Ellis in the injury call-up hierarchy.
Every bit as intriguing is Magnus Nygren, who brings a similar value proposition to the table with toughness and a booming point shot, but who has the benefit of a couple of years experience playing against men in the Swedish Elite League after having been drafted as an overager in 2011. The 23-year old will make his North American debut after 13 goals in 51 games for Farjestad earned him the title of the SEL’s top Swedish blueliner last season.
The most recent addition, Drew Schiestel, fills a depth AHL/ECHL ‘tweener role left vacant by the unqualified Joe Stejskal. The once Buffalo 2nd round selection was taken far earlier than anyone had projected in the entry draft and at 24 has yet to make his NHL debut.
Missing from the above depth chart is Jarred Tinordi, who will battle with Greg Pateryn for the right to start the season in Montreal at least as long asit takes Alexei Emelin to recover from knee surgery (likely at least till late November). Also absent is Dalton Thrower, who as a late birthday would be eligible to play in the AHL this coming season (like Beaulieu last year). Thrower is coming off a difficult season for Saskatoon, and is thus more likely to return for a final year in the WHL with the Vancouver Giants, who acquired his rights from the Blades after the Memorial Cup.
A glaring weakness in the above depth chart is in goal. Robert Mayer performed well above expectations last season, wrestling the “#1a” tag from Cedric Desjardins, and then competing with Dustin Tokarski for ice-time. Still, he is nothing more than an “average” goaltender even at the AHL level, and would be relegated to back-up duties in an ideal situation.
Tokarski’s case is an interesting one, as the 23-year old still has potential as a future NHL goaltender, but may not see the Canadiens organization as a good fit for his development. Tokarski put up sensational numbers after being acquired by the Bulldogs, with 3 shutouts in 15 games, and a sparkling .927 save percentage and 2.22 GAA. But still coach Sylvain Lefebvre balanced his workload with Mayer’s, unwilling to give the former Tampa Bay Lightning prospect the lion’s share of duty. Adding to this, when the Canadiens needed a goaltender to sit on the bench in the Stanley Cup playoffs following an injury to Carey Price, it was Mayer who got the call to back-up Peter Budaj, rather than Tokarski. The re-signings of both Budaj and Mayer to two-year deals, plus the drafting of Zachary Fucale in the second round this past June further complicate things for Tokarski, who remains a restricted free agent after the Habs qualified him last month.
Enter Mike Condon, a Princeton University standout who was signed to a two-year entry-level deal to further cloud the goaltending pipeline. After completing his college career, Condon appeared in just four ECHL and five AHL regular season games last year, but his .943 and .919 save percentages respectively are enough for one to think that there is some promise to his future. If Tokarski returns – an increasingly bigger IF with each passing day – Condon is likely to start in Wheeling, splitting duties with Peter Delmas, but without Tokarski in the picture, the Bulldogs would be gambling on two highly unproven netminders.
Off the ice, the changes were even more plentiful for the Bulldogs, starting with the introduction of a new Assistant Coach in former Hab Stephan Lebeau. The Bulldogs had just a single Assistant Coach last season following the early dismissal of Ron Wilson (citing philosophical differences with rookie head coach Sylvain Lefebvre), instead opting to rotate player development coaches Patrice Brisebois and Martin Lapointe at times behind the bench. Lebeau is a bit of a peculiar hire considering he is coming out of Bishop’s College – where he coached for the past five seasons – after just two years as a QMJHL head coach. He has no experience at the professional level, on a staff where already Lefebvre has just completed his first season as a head coach at any level (after just two years as an AHL assitant and three years as an NHL assistant) and assistant Donald Dufresne‘s most recent campaign was his first in professional hockey after 10 years as an assistant with Rimouski. The direction seems clear: this is Lefebvre’s team, and improvement will have to come as he grows into the role, managing his staff his way, for better or for worse.
Adding to this were changes to the rest of the off-ice staff, as the Bulldogs attempted to change the team’s culture in letting go virtually the entire equipment management, training, and medical staff. Replacing them are much of the former staff of the Rimouski Oceanic, including Eric Levesque and Francis St. Pierre, both having helped out during Montreal’s development camp, though no formal announcement has been made.
These hires are important in surrounding the impressive group of young men who will be passing through Hamilton over the next few seasons. In addition to the above roster and mentioned players, the Bulldogs may benefit from some added scoring come April. Recent draftees Charles Hudon, BradyVail, and Tim Bozon will be eligible to join the team once their junior seasons are over, and will be full time members in 2014-15. The first two got a taste of AHL action at the end of last season, and contributed even at such a young age, while Bozon represented France at the World Championship, facing off against much older men. Another player who would likely come in to support a playoff run is Sebastian Collberg, who played in two end-of-season games for Hamilton last year, but will return to Sweden for one final season after having signed his entry level deal with the Canadiens.
All of this should make for some exciting hockey this season in Hamilton as the team turns the page on a tough and disappointing 2012-13 campaign. For any Hab fans in the GTA region, the opportunity to watch and follow their team’s stars of tomorrow is not to be missed.
The Hamilton Bulldogs 2013-14 schedule has not yet been released, but the team is currently offering a phenomenal deal to attend 4 games – including the always popular home opener and Toy Toss nights – for under $15 a ticket. For more info, see here.