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IceCaps game report

Top Line Carries Bulldogs to Win Over Crunch [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Gabriel Dumont | Mike Blunden | Louis Leblanc | Sylvain Lefebvre

MONTREAL, QC –  Coach Sylvain Lefebvre has long talked about needing a 60-minute effort, and it seems his team is finally listening. For the second night in a row, the Hamilton Bulldogs competed hard from puck drop to final whistle, defeating a quality opponent in the Syracuse Crunch by a 4-1 final. The game was the Bulldogs’ first of two trips to the Bell Centre in Montreal this season, and represented their third straight victory, coming immediately on the heels of what had been a six-game losing straight, and propelling the team back above the .500 mark.

Mike Blunden has brought life to Gabriel Dumont and Justin Courtnall, with the three forming Hamilton's best line this week. (Photo by Rabita Naqvi | Rocket Sports Media)
Mike Blunden has brought life to Gabriel Dumont and Justin Courtnall, with the three forming Hamilton’s best line this week. (Photo by Rabita Naqvi | Rocket Sports Media)

Though the most dominant players on ice in a sloppy opening period were the Crunch’s Vladislav Namestnikov and Nikita Kucherov, it was Hamilton’s most dangerous line – that of Mike BlundenGabriel Dumont, and Justin Courtnall – that opened the scoring. Dumont led a great individual rush, opening up a 2-on-1 with Blunden, and forcing the lone defender to commit before dropping the puck on to Blunden’s stick. From there, all Blunden had to do was fire a shot through Cedric Desjardins and up just under the bar for a 1-0 lead. Blunden, Dumont, and Courtnall have been Hamilton’s best unit since being put together a few games ago.

If the first period was relatively even, Hamilton took the play to Syracuse in the second. Desjardins held the Crunch in the game as long as he could – notably robbing Greg Pateryn on a hard shot from the blueline and Christian Thomas on a quick one-timer – but in a period where the ‘Dogs outshot Syracuse 15-8, he could only resist for so long. At the 11-minute mark, Martin St. Pierre led a rush and dropped the puck on to the stick of Morgan Ellis, who stepped right into a big one-timer, netting his first goal of the season.

Next it was the top line going back to work, as Geoff Courtnall pressed hard on the forecheck, and caused the Syracuse defense to turn over the puck. It bounced out to Blunden, who returned the earlier favour to Dumont, receiving a pass with an empty side of the net in front of him, and making no mistake in one-touching it for his first of the year and a 3-0 advantage.

Syracuse looked like they had gotten one back shorthanded, when the Kucherov – Namestnikov pair led a breakout, but after a first shot block by a diving Christian Thomas, the goal scored when the puck was kicked back out front was waved off as the net had been knocked off its moorings. It was the second disallowed goal for the Crunch on the night, after earlier having one reversed due to incidental contact with Dustin Tokarski in front of the net.

Hamilton reverted into a defensive shell for much of the third, clearly intent on making Tokarski earn the win. The goaltender stood tall until a goalmouth scramble with under five to play saw a puck trickle through him, with credit given to former Hab defenseman J.P. Cote. While losing the shutout was unfortunate for Tokarski on a personal level, the Bulldogs held the lead the rest of the way, with Blunden finishing a great night at the office by hitting an empty net. The 4-1 victory was Hamilton’s third straight straight win, coming immediately on the heels of what had been a six-game losing straight, and propelling the team back above the .500 mark.

Other than the sixty minute effort, the talk post-game focused on the jackpot Lefebvre hit by putting Dumont, Blunden, and Courtnall together. Not only were they the team’s spark offensively, but they matched up against Kucherov and Namestnikov most of the evening, shutting down the pair that looked far too good to be playing at the American Hockey League level.

“I just saw him out there. We practice 2-on-1s pretty often, and we try to go together because we know we’re on the same line. I knew he was gonna post out there. I knew if I had [that defenseman] beat, if I left it there for [Blunden], he was gonna score,” described Dumont of his set-up on Blunden’s first marker.

“Justin came in and we didn’t know much about him. He fought for his place on the team, and since the beginning of the year, he improves every game. He works very hard. Fearless. He completes us pretty well since we play a pretty simple north-south game,” Dumont added on the third member of his trio, whose name didn’t appear on the scoresheet on this night, but whose eff0rt was instrumental to creating Dumont’s goal.

Blunden had equally as glowing reviews for his linemates. “Justin and Gab just work their butts off. I try to do the same thing. We work the D down low, and we scored a couple of goals tonight. We talk a lot, and it’s going well, so hopefully we can keep it going. I’ve really enjoyed our line.”

The Bulldogs complete a “home and home” with Syracuse, travelling to visit the Crunch Saturday night, with the Tampa Bay Lightning affiliate looking for revenge.

 

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IceCaps game report

MacAulay, Bulldogs Leave Texas Seeing Stars [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Stephen MacAulay | Nick Tarnasky | Sylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON – Sometimes all it takes is one win to rebuild a team’s confidence. Losers of six straight, the Hamilton Bulldogs snapped out of that skid Saturday night, with a shootout road win over Lake Erie. The momentum gained accompanied the team back to Copps Coliseum Tuesday night, where the team’s anemic offense came to life in a dominating 6-1 victory against a strong visiting club in the Texas Stars.

Despite the team’s struggles of late, one cannot criticize the way the Bulldogs have been coming out of the gate. Tuesday night was no exception, as Justin Courtnall – one of the team’s better forwards over the past five games – got the offense rolling, bowling Texas defender Hubert Labrie at the Hamilton blueline and skating down ice, creating a 2-on-1 rush with Mike Blunden, whose shot would be turned aside by Christopher Nilstorp.

Fresh off a fight in practice earlier this week, Tarnasky scored two goals to lead the Bulldogs' offense. (Photo by Rabita Naqvi | Rocket Sports Media)
Fresh off a fight in practice earlier this week, Tarnasky scored two goals to lead the Bulldogs’ offense. (Photo by Rabita Naqvi | Rocket Sports Media)

But moments later, the line drew the game’s first powerplay, and with William Wrenn in the box for a trip, Hamilton got on the board. Martin St. Pierre spotted a pinching Christian Thomas – who plays the point on the man advantage – and he in turn sent a cross-crease pass to Nick Tarnasky. It took three whacks at the puck, but the tough winger eventually made contact, batting it through a sliding Nilstrop for his sixth of the season.

Much of the rest of the first was spent in the Bulldogs’ end, as the team’s defenders – notably Jarred Tinordi – were guilty of poor breakout passes and frequent turnovers. Fortunately, Dustin Tokarski, now firmly entrenched as Hamilton’s rightful number one netminder in making his second straight start and fourth in the team’s past five games, was sharp, with a handful of stops on heavy shots from the perimeter.

If the way Hamilton ended the opening period was a concern for the second, the Bulldogs didn’t waste much time putting that fear to rest. Less than three minutes into the middle stanza, Joonas Nattinen centered a puck for Stephen MacAulay – called up from the ECHL and playing his first career AHL game – whose shot deflected to Steve Quailer standing just outside the blue paint. Quailer was able to swiftly kick the puck up to his stick, and one-touch a shot just inside the post for his first marker this year.

MacAulay and the Bulldogs kept coming, making this a night to remember for the native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia (pretty sure he’s the first ever decent hockey player to come from there). Steve Qualier and Louis Leblanc combined to start a dangerous-looking odd-man rush, and Leblanc spotted a wide open MacAulay at the opposite side of the net, with the former Halifax Moosehead winger making no mistake in one-timing a shot past Nilstorp.

The home team would add one more goal to their lead before the second was in the books. Maxime Macenauer won an offensive zone face-off, and a Jarred Tinordi point shot was tipped in front by Tarnasky, whose second of the night tied him with the injured Sven Andrighetto for the team lead in goals on the season and put the ‘Dogs up 4-0.

Typical of a team with such a big lead, the Bulldogs came out sluggish to start the third, and it would cost Tokarski his shutout bid. American Hockey League leading scorer Travis Morin spotted winger Colton Sceviour in the slot, and his one-timer beat Tokarski far side, reducing the Hamilton lead to three.

While it was an unfortunate turn of events for Tokarski, his teammates weren’t about to let this one slip away. Erik Nystrom fired over the net on a breakaway, but shortly thereafter picked the pocket of blueliner Cameron Gaunce for another chance in alone, and this time lifted the puck over Allen York – in for Nilstrop after Hamilton’s fourth goal – but under the bar. Rounding out the scoring on the night, the goal was Nystrom’s first tally since crossing over to North America this season, coming in his fifteenth contest.

Other than the offensive explosion, the other story on the night was the physical undertone of the game. Five separate fights broke out throughout the evening, all real tussles with punches thrown. Justin Courtnall was involved in two of the altercations, while Gabriel Dumont and Steve Quailer suqarely pounded their opponents, and a Steve Quailer third period bout completed a Gordie Howe Hat Trick. Hamilton won the night both on the scoreboard and in the back alley in their hardest fought game to date.

Named the game’s first star, MacAulay was understandably all smiles about his AHL debut after the game. “I thought I was playing pretty well in Wheeling, but I didn’t even score a goal in twelve games. (The Hamilton coaching staff) kinda liked me in training camp but they thought I could learn a bit in Wheeling. They want me to be strong in my own end, kill penalties when asked, and compete every night. That’s what I tried to do tonight and luckily I got the bounces offensively,” said the 21-year old.

Sylvain Lefebvre felt this win was a long time coming, having seen improvement in his troops over the past couple of outings. “Guys were ready for the battle from the start of the game, and I want to say it’s the first sixty minutes we played. We played well Friday and Saturday too, and this is a continuation of our play. We understand that we have to play hard every night. We have to battle, and we have to work harder to get our goals. A game like tonight will hopefully snap as out of little funks as a team, and as individuals,” summarized the head coach.

Riding a two-game win streak, the Bulldogs next travel to Montreal for the first of their biannual games at the Bell Centre Friday night. After a debut like this one, it’s safe to say MacAulay has earned a prolonged stay in the team’s line-up.

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IceCaps game report

‘Monster’ Second Period Spoils Thomas’s Bulldog Debut [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Joonas Nattinen

HAMILTON, ON – Losers of five straight, the Hamilton Bulldogs needed to turn a page Friday night if they wanted to avoid squandering a good start to the 2013-14 season, finding themselves a game below .500 entering action at Copps Coliseum. Whatever coach Sylvain Lefebvre said to the team during a lengthy meeting the day prior looked like it was going to prove effective early on, with the Bulldogs building an early lead, but the same old mental lapses crept back into their game come the middle stanza, ultimately costing the club a chance to take the first half of a key divisional home-and-home. A third period insurance marker by former Hab J.T. Wyman sealed the deal, solidifying a 5-3 victory for the visiting Lake Erie Monsters.

There was good news for the Bulldogs before the game got underway, as it was announced that Christian Thomas had been cleared medically from the sports hernia he suffered during Montreal Canadiens’ training camp, and could thus officially join the team, set to make his season debut. He began on a line with Martin St. Pierre and Nick Tarnasky, while also playing the point on Hamilton’s top powerplay unit beside Nathan Beaulieu.

But it would be another line that would allow the Bulldogs to open the scoring midway through the first period. A great individual effort saw Gabriel Dumont work a puck out front, eventually finding Justin Courtnall for an easy tap-in.  The period ended with the Monsters getting into penalty trouble, resulting in them starting the second two men short.

A highlight-worthy Nattinen goal looked like it would signal a good night in Hamilton, until another 2nd period collapse burried the 'Dogs. (PHOTO: BERNARD BRAULT, LA PRESSE)
A highlight-worthy Nattinen goal looked like it would signal a good night in Hamilton, until another 2nd period collapse buried the ‘Dogs. (PHOTO: BERNARD BRAULT, LA PRESSE)

When a team fails to cash in on a 5-on-3 powerplay, it can sometimes be a turning point for their opposition. It looked for a moment like this would be the case, as Lake Erie generated a solid chance off the rush in the moments after the second penalty had expired, but Robert Mayer staved off the attack. The Bulldogs ensured they would maintain momentum by turning the puck back up ice, as a great burst of speed from Stefan Fournier created a two-on-one opportunity, with Joonas Nattinen diving to reach a pass and deflect it by a sliding Sami Aittokallio for a 2-0 lead.

It never comes easy for a team looking to snap a skid, however. Less than three minutes after Nattinen’s goal, the Monsters won an offensive zone face-off back to Gabriel Beaupre, whose point shot beat Mayer cleanly – one he’d undoubtedly like to have back. Lake Erie immediately resumed buzzing off the ensuing draw, and Guillaume Desbiens completed a passing play at the lip of the crease just thirty five seconds later, evening the score and forcing Lefebvre to call a timeout in the efforts of settling his troops down.

Any effect of the timeout was shortlived, as two minutes after the tying goal, the Monsters forced Mayer into a highlight-reel one-timer save. The netminder was unable to avoid kicking out a rebound on to a Lake Erie stick, and Lady Luck smiled on the visitors when a centering pass deflected into the Bulldogs net off Magnus Nygren‘s skate without a maroon sweater in sight.

When it rains, it pours, and for the second time in a week, a full second period storm struck Hamilton. While it didn’t come close to matching the dubious team record set the previous Friday against Grand Rapids – allowing four goals in 1:13 – the team would surrender its fourth consecutive marker, as Mitchell Heard collected his third point of the game with a lucky deflection of a point shot that bounced way up high over Mayer and into the cage. The line of Tarnasky, St. Pierre, and Thomas – a source of excitement pre-game – fell to -3 on the night on the insurance marker. The goal signaled the end of the night for Mayer, replaced by Dustin Tokarski for the second time in as many starts.

Facing a sixth straight defeat, undoubtedly Lefebvre has started to feel some pressure for his own job security, and his second intermission speech awoke the slumbering ‘Dogs. Led by the bottom six lines of Gabriel DumontMike Blunden, and Justin Courtnall, and Joonas NattinenSteve Quailer, and Stefan Fournier, Hamilton fired whatever they could at Aittokallio, looking to get back into the game, and it was Blunden who would corral a puck in the slot and fire a shot just inside the post to draw back within one. The Finnish netminder would stymie any further attempts, however, until Wyman benefited from an off-balance Tokarski to bank a wraparound in off his pad, giving the Monsters all the production they needed for a win in Steeltown.

Where do you go from here? The optimist would say the only place is “up,” but other than eventual returns of the injured Patrick Holland and Darren Dietz, no further roster upgrades are in sight, given the Canadiens’ improving health. Sometimes it only takes a single win to reverse the trends and find some positives to build on, and Hamilton will get that chance right away on Saturday, as they visit the Monters before returning home for a rare Tuesday night game against the Texas Stars.

 

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IceCaps game report

‘Dogs Spoil Early Lead, Drop Shootout to Heat [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO:   Sylvain Lefebvre | Justin Courtnall |

HAMILTON, ON – Slow starts have been a recurring theme for this year’s Hamilton Bulldogs, but they shirked the trend Saturday night, pouncing on a tired-looking Abbotsford Heat squad right from opening puck drop to take an early 2-0 lead. However, in a reverse of the usual Bulldog set-up, the team suffered a second period collapse, with the Heat drawing even and ultimately prevailing in a shootout, 3-2.

1450090_10151936344620589_458323810_nDespite not appearing on the scoresheet, coach Sylvain Lefebvre had been quick to call out strong play from the line of Justin Courtnall, Joonas Nattinen, and Steve Quailer just a day earlier, and it was that line that would open the scoring against the Heat. A strong forecheck from the energy trio generated a defensive turnover that popped on to Courtnall’s blade, and a quick spin-o-rama rifle beat starting netminder Joni Ortio. Ortio got the call due to Reto Berra‘s call-up to Calgary earlier in the day, leaving the Heat to call upon 40-year old personal trainer David Harris as an emergency back-up goalie.

After scoring two powerplay goals for the comeback win against the Toronto Marlies a night earlier, the powerplay would click again to extend the home team’s lead. In similar fashion to the day before, the play was started by strong work by the point pair of Magnus Nygren and Nathan Beaulieu. While Nygren was the shooter against Toronto, this time it was a Beaulieu shot which would see a rebound land on the stick of Martin St. Pierre – he who scored both powerplay goals Friday – for an easy tap-in and 2-0 lead. The second goal came at just the 5:39 mark of the first, and with changing netminders not an option, the Heat was forced to call a timeout to try to get back into the game, but the period would end with a 14-7 Hamilton shot advantage.

Playing with the lead is a relatively new concept for this year’s Bulldog team, and it unfortunately showed in the second. Just a minute in, a defensive end turnover landed on the stick of former Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flame forward Blair Jones and he was quick to fire one past a falling Robert Mayer to cut the lead in half. The situation worsened when already down a man, Gabriel Dumont collided with Ortio during a shorthanded rush and got called for goaltender interference. It must have been a terrifying minute for Harris on the Abbotsford bench, as Ortio lay on the ice, slow to get up, but was fine in the end and stayed in the game.

The Bulldog penalty kill – led by a great period for an under-siege Mayer – managed to kill off the lengthy 5-on-3, but the Heat kept coming and eventually found a way to get a second puck behind the Hamilton goalie. At the tail end of a late-period Bulldog penalty, a Jarred Tinordi clearing attempt was knocked out of the air by Drew MacKenzie, who would eventually find Jones to rocket his second of the night to the back of the cage. The game remained tied through 40 minutes, and the evening out of the shot clock properly reflected what had turned from a one-sided romp into an entertaining and wide-open contest.

If the second period was full of scoring chances at both ends, things tightened up in the third, as neither team could capitalize on opportunities with the man advantage. The biggest notable was that despite sitting on the bench, Nathan Beaulieu didn’t take a shift, wearing a full face shield and visibly reaching up to feel his face numerous times.  However after the game, Coach Lefebvre confirmed that Beaulieu was benched for the final frame and was not suffering from an injury.

After no scoring in the third, overtime also solved nothing, with few chances at either end, sending the Bulldogs to their third shootout of the year. The team’s lack of success there continued, as none of Sven AndrighettoMartin St. Pierre, or Erik Nystrom could beat Ortio, while all of Markus GranlundCorban Knight, and Blair Jones put pucks past Mayer to complete the comeback.

The Bulldogs still add another point to their strong start to the season, now sitting at 5-2-3. They are next in action Wednesday night in Rochester, before a game at home against the Grand Rapids Griffins on Friday.