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Feature

Down on the Farm – Where do ‘Dogs go From Here?

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

HAMILTON, ON – In a season filled with ups and downs, one wouldn’t be wrong to single out last weekend as the Hamilton Bulldogs hitting rock bottom.

The ‘Dogs had a golden opportunity to close the gap on the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with three games all at their home barn of First Ontario Place. Moreover, two of the three games were against rivals also battling for that last spot. It seemed the time for this streaky club to make a statement was “now or never,” with 13 of their final 18 games beyond the weekend being on the road.

If any messages were sent to the league by way of Hamilton’s play, it was unfortunately not what coach Sylvain Lefebvre and his staff were looking for. Though the team was “in” all three games, opening the scoring each time, the only conclusion that could be drawn from an 0-3-0 record is to expect a third straight year of no playoffs in the Hammer.

If Sylvain Lefebvre wasn't feeling the heat prior to last weekend, it has doubled in intensity. (PHOTO: CANADIENS DE MONTREAL)
If Sylvain Lefebvre wasn’t feeling the heat prior to last weekend, it has doubled in intensity. (PHOTO: CANADIENS DE MONTREAL)

Lefebvre had few answers following Sunday’s loss to Lake Erie – a defeat that allowed the Monsters to vault pass the ‘Dogs in the standings and drop them to last place in the Western Conference. Few answers to why second periods have haunted the team all season. Why the first goal against seems to deflate the entire bench. Why the spring in the team’s skates off the opening face-off doesn’t last longer than twenty minutes. Why the club has regularly been unable to cash in scoring chances that would put games away.

He’ll tell you they don’t try to lose games. That they work on scoring every day. That they aim to be consistent. That nobody is giving up. But what message does it send when the team fails to execute on three consecutive nights at the most pivotal point of the season? Have they quit on the staff? On each other?

Lefebvre showed he wasn’t backing down from the challenge Sunday, playing what one might say was his last card: making captain Martin St. Pierre a healthy scratch. Discussed previously here on All Habs was that – despite leading his team in scoring – St. Pierre has been a disappointment this season. Often soft and/or invisible at even strength, his points have come almost exclusively with the man advantage. Further, he was frequently guilty of undisciplined penalties in the offensive zone. His compete level just wasn’t where it was expected to be for a player known as a perennial all-star in this league.

Clearly, it was about sending a message to both St. Pierre and the rest of the team. But it meant taking a team that has scored the second fewest goals in the AHL and depriving it of the man with nine points more than his closest ‘mate on the season. The ‘Dogs may have only managed three total goals in the Friday and Saturday games, but the captain had been in on all of them with three helpers.

So, it didn’t work. For one period, it looked like the gamble – which some suggest may have meant the head coach putting his own job on the line – would pay off as Christian Thomas had the game’s only goal. But a missed Sven Andrighetto penalty shot in the second opened a door for the Monsters to hang around long enough to beat Devan Dubnyk – which they did, four times.

In addition to specifically pointing to that Andrighetto shot as a turning point, Lefebvre called out his powerplay failing to produce. On a normal night, he’d be right. But on a night where you’ve chosen to sit one of your two true skill forwards – and your top powerplay point producer – in the press box, it becomes hard to hide behind poor special team execution. There is something far more wrong in Canada’s Steeltown.

It starts with the construction of the team, which is on general manager Marc Bergevin and his staff. The young squad clearly needed a veteran presence on the blueline, and adding Davis Drewiske with just over one quarter of the season to go is too late to be truly impactful, even if the rugged d-man was the team’s best at the position this weekend. Second, just as was the complaint about Bergevin’s work in Montreal prior to landing Thomas Vanek, he went out of his way to over-acquire tough, character players, skimping on the skill needed to put pucks in the net.

Then there’s Lefebvre himself. Questionable platooning of goaltenders and odd line combinations have plagued his two seasons behind the bench, and while he hasn’t always been given the best elements to work with, one has to ask the same question as they do with the Canadiens: which players have truly improved under their head coach?

Hab fans will quickly point out Hamilton’s main role as a development team, and the transitions of Brendan GallagherMichael Bournival, and soon Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi as successes. But how much of that is strictly on the players themselves, given we’re talking about two first round picks and two players who continue to play in the exact same style they have since their junior days? Of the hold-overs in Hamilton, who is better than last year? Not Beaulieu who was utterly dominant in the final quarter of 2012-13. Not Louis Leblanc – at least not significantly, as it would be hard to be worse than last season. Not young veterans like Mike Blunden and Gabriel Dumont. Certainly not Patrick Holland whose game has fallen off the planet. Maybe Morgan Ellis, but that only after Lefebvre was basically forced to insert him into the line-up after holding him out as a healthy scratch for the first month. Greg Pateryn may have improved his production significantly, but he was rock solid in his own end last season, which hasn’t always been the case this year.

So what’s next? The good thing about the American Hockey League is that Lefebvre is right in saying players can’t give up. The Toronto Marlies had a slogan of “Every game is a tryout,” which could be no truer. Even once the seemingly inevitable happens and the team is mathematically eliminated from post-season contention, players must continue to try to perform to earn new contracts or consideration for call-ups to the Canadiens.

Theoretically, there should be an influx of much-needed talent for the final few games, as the likes of Charles HudonBrady VailMac Bennett, and perhaps even Jacob De La Rose would be eligible to join the club once their current teams are eliminated from the CHL playoffs (and SHL in De La Rose’s case). The four – along with Dalton Thrower who will be having season-ending ankle surgery – should be Bulldogs next Fall, but do you even want them around the group for the remainder of the current campaign with seeming leadership disarray? That question will likely be best answered by player development coaches Patrice Brisebois and Martin Lapointe, both of whom spend considerable time with the group in Hamilton.

The 2014-15 Bulldogs will likely look a lot different than this year’s edition, both on and off the ice. While Bergevin made a statement hiring a very young and inexperienced coaching staff to lead his AHL affiliate, he’ll need to make quick judgments on their future considering the impressive group of prospects that will be making the transition from juniors over the next two seasons, with their development vital to the big club’s future.

 

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IceCaps game report

Monsters Silence Bulldogs as Captain Takes a Seat [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Post-game audio: Christian Thomas | Sylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON – With three home games in three days, this weekend was pivotal for the Hamilton Bulldogs to climb back into the AHL Western Conference playoff race.  As the team plays 13 of their final 18 games on the road, it was critical for them to close the gap on the 8th and final spot in front of their own fans. But as much as the team got off to good starts, taking an early lead in all three contests, they failed to collect the four or six points they critically needed. And on Sunday, playing to salvage some positives out of the despair, they failed to even pick up two, dropping a 4-1 decision to the Lake Erie Monsters, who leap-frogged the Bulldogs in the process, dropping Hamilton to last place in the West.

Devan Dubnyk held Hamilton in the game early on, but the goal support failed him. (PHOTO: Hamilton Bulldogs)
Devan Dubnyk held Hamilton in the game early on, but the goal support failed him. (PHOTO: Hamilton Bulldogs)

Pre-game in Hamilton was unusually eventful, as first there was a notable absence from the team’s warm-up. Captain Martin St. Pierre was announced as a healthy scratch; the latest development in what has been a trying season for the veteran, despite his two assists yesterday. Though St. Pierre may lead the Bulldogs in scoring, almost all of his production has come with the man advantage, nearly invisible at even strength, and frequently guilty of poor penalties. Regardless of his play, benching your team’s top scorer and dressing room leader when as a club you struggle to produce is a bold move. So bold, one might argue, that it represented coach Sylvain Lefebvre‘s last straw tactic to try to get his team to play up to their potential, conceivably putting his own job on the line in doing so.

Next, there was almost a second curious storyline as the Bulldogs had only four skaters on ice throughout the national anthems. Nick Tarnasky was missing in action after being announced as part of the starting line-up. The pugilist raced down the hallway from the dressing room and on to the ice just prior to puck drop, ending any conspiracy theories, and then immediately dropped the gloves with Guillaume Desbiens off the opening face-off.

In Devan Dubnyk‘s second start since joining the Bulldogs, it was his teammate Morgan Ellis who made certain the netminder was sharp early on. Two blatant defensive zone giveaways gave the Monsters the game’s first two quality scoring opportunities, but both times the 6’6″ keeper had the last word, swallowing up any rebounds.

After their goalie’s heroics, Sven Andrighetto got the home team’s offense rolling. A solo rush saw him weaver between defenders before firing a wrister on goal, but despite the ensuing scramble, neither he nor Maxime Macenauer could tap a rebound past Calvin Pickard.

Andrighetto would make good later on in the frame, finding Christian Thomas alone at the top of the face-off circle, with the sniper making no mistake in firing a one-timer top shelf to open the scoring. The Swiss winger would nearly got on the scoreboard himself moments after the first tally, taking a delayed feed from Davis Drewiske during 4-on-4 play, but again Pickard resisted.

Strong firsts are nothing new for this year’s Hamilton Bulldogs squad, but the second frame has been their nemesis. A slow start was reversed following a Sylvain Lefebvre timeout, with the ‘Dogs carrying the play for much of the middle stanza without being able to add to their lead. The best chance came as Hamilton was awarded a penalty shot on a call most recently seen at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. With the puck on Louis Leblanc‘s stick in the attacking zone, a Monster defenseman inadvertently batted a broken stick along the ice at the puck-carrier, and the refs were quick to whistle play down and point to center ice signalling a penalty shot.

Coach Lefebvre went with his most dangerous skater for the shot, but Sven Andrighetto‘s quick backhand to forehand deke was matched with an equally quick Pickard pad.

A common problem for the boys from the Hammer as been failing to capitalize on chances, and thus allowing other teams to hang around for too long. That was the case again in this one, as Nathan McIver would leave his side shorthanded, guilty of an extra two minute penalty prior to a fight with Daniel Maggio. Immediately off the face-off in the ‘Dogs end, David van der Gulik fired a hard wrister up and over a falling Dubnyk to tie the game.

Another common problem has been second period collapses, and in a case of “jamais un sans deux,” van der Gulik was again Johnny on the spot just three minutes later, accepting a dish from Andrew Agozzino completely uncovered the slot and beating Dubnyk with a heavy release.

If the team’s season was on the line in the third period, they disappointingly didn’t play like it. Managing only four shots the entire frame, any hopes of a comeback were wiped out when Matt Hunwick pinched into the high slot on the powerplay, converting on a van der Gulik pass and beating Dubnyk just under the bar blocker side. Michael Schumacher added a fourth tally off a Hamilton turnover, sliding a backhand five hole on the Hamilton netminder in a game that was already out of reach.

Post-game, coach Lefebvre wasn’t entirely happy with his team’s effort, but saw Sunday as a game that could have gone either way. “The powerplay didn’t come up big. Tonight if Andrighetto scores on the penalty shot, it’s 2-0. Our second periods have been nowhere to be found this year. We gain momentum in the first period, then we come out in the second and we’re flat. I don’t know what it is.”

Certainly one of the “what it is” is a lack of scoring, for which the coach also has few answers. “We work on scoring everyday. I wish we could score more goals, but that’s how it is right now and we have to play well defensively. Last night, the empty net goal was the thirteenth this year. We’re in games, but we just can’t find a way to win games when we have to comeback from behind, and scoring is part of it.”

How does a last place team stay motivated with eighteen games remaining in the season and the already slim hope of a playoff berth now requiring nothing short of a miracle? “If we stop believing and we quit, no one is going to benefit from that. It’s our job as coaches and our job as players not to quit, and to battle till the end. Guys are playing for their lives, playing for their livelihoods and their jobs. That’s the plain and simple truth,” summarizes the coach, alluding to the fact that at least on an individual basis, players remain in competition for NHL call-ups.

And then there’s the captain. The team’s lone goal scorer on the night, Christian Thomas, didn’t hide his disappointment in St. Pierre’s absence from the line-up. “It was definitely tough. He’s a presence in the room. He’s a good leader; older guy, brings veteran status out there, but we come to the rink and whatever the lines are, we can’t change it and just have to do our thing out there. He definitely helps, but today I’m not going to blame it cause he wasn’t playing, but we should have showed up more.”

Coach Lefebvre didn’t shy away from tackling the issue of his controversial line-up decision head on. “[St. Pierre] was a healthy scratch tonight. Not happy with his game. Been talking to him a few times, sending him messages here and there not happy with his game. Sometimes as a coach, you have ways to get guys going. Hopefully he’ll rebound and get to playing the way he can play. He’s our captain. He’s the guy that sets the tone, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Things won’t get any easier from here on out, as after three-in-three at home this weekend, they’ll play three-in-three in different cities on the road next week.

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Feature

Down on the Farm – Playoff Flame Dwindling

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

HAMILTON, ON – With 23 games remaining in their regular season, the Hamilton Bulldogs find themselves in an unfortunately all too familiar spot: near the basement of the Western Conference standings and quickly losing hope of a playoff berth.

A gutsy effort from a tired team Sunday allowed the Bulldogs to snap a four-game losing skid and rekindle some confidence – if only within the walls of the club’s dressing room – but a 3-7-1 record over the last eleven games has the ‘Dogs trailing eighth place Milwaukee by seven big points.

Jarred Tinordi was the bright spot on the southern Ontario squad during the NHL’s Olympic break, playing his best hockey of the season and thus surplanting Nathan Beaulieu as first call-up when action resumed. Not only had the big man picked up his physical play and shored up his defensive lapses, but he was even contributing offensively,  making it an optimal time for Marc BergevinMichel Therrien, and company to assess his development this year against competition of a higher level.

What’s been eating the ‘Dogs has been a major lack of offensive production with underperformers throughout the forward line-up. It seems the team needs starter Dustin Tokarski to put up superhuman save percentages to have any chance to win hockey games. Encouraging is that captain Martin St. Pierre has found his game to an extent after a disappointing first half, leading the way with two goals and five assists in the past seven games.  However, it has coincided with prolonged slumps for both Christian Thomas (one point in the last eight games) and Louis Leblanc (one point in the last 14 games), counted on to be two of the more dangerous scorers, leaving the team still looking for solutions.

The 'Dogs will need all-star level performances on-ice and leadership excellence off of it from St. Pierre as they navigate the final third of the season (PHOTO: BRANDON TAYLOR via HAMILTON BULLDOGS)
The ‘Dogs will need all-star level performances on-ice and leadership excellence off of it from St. Pierre as they navigate the final third of the season (PHOTO: BRANDON TAYLOR via HAMILTON BULLDOGS)

Coach Sylvain Lefebvre seemed to have found something Sunday, separating St. Pierre from his usual higher skill partners like Patrick Holland and Sven Andrighetto, and instead skating him with two bigger grinders in Nick Tarnasky and Stefan Fournier. The result was St. Pierre’s third and fourth even strength goals of the year, earning him first star honours in a 3-1 victory. Though Andrighetto collected an assist in the game, the change won’t help reignite his game, mired in his first true slump of the year with one point in five games as his previously hot line with Maxim Macenauer and Thomas has gone quiet.

What’s Trending

With the NHL’s trade deadline now less than a week away, the future of Louis Leblanc with the organization has been a major topic of conversation. The 23-year old winger is coming to the end of his entry-level deal, and thus where he’ll spend next season is hardly a certainty. Leblanc has played 50 games with the Canadiens, but 42 of them were back in his pro rookie season when he was pressed into service due to injuries. He didn’t look out of place in an eight-game stint this year, but was ultimately returned to the Bulldogs when veterans had recovered from bangs and bruises, victim of his exemption from the waiver wire.

Where does all of this leave the 6’0″ Pointe-Claire native? He hasn’t turned into the player Trevor Timmins hoped he had snatched up on draft day in 2009, but he has shown he can play a simple, responsible, and safe game, taking a regular shift without looking outclassed.The question is whether or not this game fits into Marc Bergevin‘s longer-term plans.

Truthfully, this is a question best left unanswered for the time being. If Leblanc is dealt by deadline day, expect his value to be little more than fellow former first rounder Kyle Chipchura when the Canadiens cut ties with him, sending him to the Anaheim Ducks for a fourth round draft choice. This next-to-nothing return (given the minuscule odds of a fourth liner having an NHL career) means it is likely better to hold on to hope with Leblanc, giving him every opportunity to make the Montreal roster out of next year’s camp – a chance he was never afforded this past Fall. While the Canadiens may not particularly miss having Chipchura’s rights, even he has developed into a respectable third liner, again of more use than the majority of players chosen after the third round.

For anything less than a second round pick, at this point, the Habs are better off holding on to Leblanc, provided they are willing to look past their previous unwillingness to open doors for him. He showed signs of life early this AHL season with a stretch of eight points in four games, but his production has since gone south. His biggest improvements have been in the area of on-ice discipline – no longer guilty of the frequent lazy penalties he took a year ago – and simple but smart decision-making with the puck. He has come to terms with the fact that he isn’t going to be a skilled top six winger in the professional ranks, and is rounding out his two-way third line game.

 

Leblanc and the Bulldogs are next in action on February 28th as they host Lake Erie. For any shot at the post-season, they’ll need to win nearly all of their next eleven games, seven of which are at First Ontario Place. After that stretch, they embark on a difficult nine-game road trip, only returning home when there are just three games remaining in thee season.

 

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IceCaps game report

St. Pierre, Pateryn Help ‘Dogs Snap Skid vs. Rampage [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Post-game audio: Martin St. Pierre | Sylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON –  It’s do or die time for the Hamilton Bulldogs.

A season characterized by an inability to build any kind of real momentum where every win streak was followed up by a losing streak of equal or greater length left the ‘Dogs in 15th place in the AHL’s Western Conference, eight points out of a playoff spot with 24 games remaining. Thus, every game is a must-win here on out, starting with Sunday’s tilt against the San Antonio Rampage, who sat five points up on Hamilton coming into the game.

Pateryn's two assists and strong defensive play earned him the game's second star. (PHOTO: BRANDON TAYLOR via HAMILTON BULLDOGS)
Pateryn’s two assists and strong defensive play earned him the game’s second star. (PHOTO: BRANDON TAYLOR via HAMILTON BULLDOGS)

With their backs up against the wall and with the added hardship of completing a three games in three nights in three different cities, the Bulldogs – against all odds – delivered one of their best performance in weeks, getting ahead early and responding well to a Rampage push back in holding on for a 3-1 victory before their home fans at FirstOntario Centre.

After tentative play from both sides for the first few minutes, Hamilton broke through to open the scoring on an odd-man rush. Greg Pateryn carried the puck across the blueline and put a hard wrister off Jacob Markstrom‘s pad, bouncing right onto the stick of a waiting Martin St. Pierre. The captain made no mistake in one-timing the rebound to the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.

Maxim Macenauer came very close to extending the home team’s lead moments later, taking a feed from Sven Andrighetto alone in front, but getting denied by a sprawling Markstrom. Justin Courtnall had an equally promising chance on a solo rush, but couldn’t get proper wood on his shot as he was hacked at by a Rampage defender.

The period ended with penalty trouble for the ‘Dogs. Mike Blunden took a poor offensive zone call, and then his partner-in-crime Gabriel Dumont was given an additional two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct for complaining about the referee’s decision, leaving Hamilton down not only two men, but two key penalty killers.

Hamilton survived the dual calls with great work from Joonas Nattinen even creating two rushes while down three-on-five. But a penalty to Louis Leblanc for an defensive zone hook just prior to the midway mark would allow San Antonio to even the score. Ryan Martindale pounced on a rebound loose in front of Dustin Tokarski, and his shot would bounce off Quinton Howden‘s stick before finding the cage.

But the tired ‘Dogs looked anything but, not relenting after letting the visitors back into the game, and restoring their lead with just under eight minutes to go in the middle stanza. In a play reminiscent of the team’s first marker, Nathan Beaulieu fired an accurate point shot that was redirected by St. Pierre in front, but turned aside by Markstrom. However, it was again St. Pierre with a second effort, finding the loose puck bobbled by the netminder and swatting it behind him.

The Rampage looked for an equalizer before the second was through, but a mishandled puck by Garrett Wilson ended one threat, and a diving block by Greg Pateryn broke up an odd-man opportunity.

That set the stage for Hamilton to put the game away early in the third. After a strong shift from Sven Andrighetto and Christian Thomas generated multiple chances, the ‘Dogs were sent to the powerplay, and it didn’t take them long to make good. A Pateryn shot from the line was redirected by Nick Tarnasky, bouncing off bodies in front and landing on the tap of Mike Blunden parked at the side of the goal. The veteran made no mistake in quickly batting it into the empty net to give his side a two goal edge. From there, the defense was able to insulate Tokarski sufficiently to preserve the victory, putting an end to a four game skid at the season’s most critical juncture.

St. Pierre has struggled to produce at even strength this season, but turned in a strong performance with some unfamiliar linemates. Typically paired with fellow skill players like Patrick Holland and Christian Thomas, St. Pierre spent the night on a line with grinders Nick Tarnasky and Stefan Fournier.

“They’re trying to juggle the lines around, and it’s a good thing about our team that we have a lot of depth. Everybody knows their role in the system, and it’s about finding good chemistry. Obviously me, Tarnasky, and Fournier found it today. Kudos to them.  They work hard, and they deserve credit for this,” indicated the captain with a smile.

Part of the reasoning for moving St. Pierre on to a line with bigger bodies is to generate better net-front presence, something the team has lacked all season. “(Markstron) is a big goalie, but we worked on it last week in practice. Getting our cycles going, body position, and getting some traffic. Our D has been getting good shots, but there’s no one in front. I think my second goal was a prime example of that. I’ll take those goals every day.”

Coach Sylvain Lefebvre confirmed that the change was a conscious one, and will be key if the team is to post the kind of winning percentage it needs from here on out to squeak into the post-season. “(Markstrom) is a big guy. Look at our third goal. (Blunden) at the side of the net and Tarnasky in front. That’s why I put Tarnasky on our last two powerplays. We don’t score too many highlight reel goals. We score grind-it-out goals. That’s our trademark. That’s who we are. Some nights we don’t pay the price as much and it shows.”

NOTE: The Bulldogs played without Jarred Tinordi, announced as a healthy scratch during warm-up. This was a surprise at first, given he has been the team’s top blueliner of late, but made more sense when he was announced as a call-up to the Montreal Canadiens just after 5 PM. On the d-man’s progress, his coach had this to say: “He started slow with disappointment probably when he got sent down early in the season, but throughout the rest of the time, he’s been a force back there. He played big minutes, played against top lines. Even scored a few goals lately and had powerplay time yesterday. He deserves this.”

Categories
Feature

Down on the Farm – Snakebitten ‘Dogs Hit the Road

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

HAMILTON, ON – It was a weekend of ups and downs for the Hamilton Bulldogs. Despite solid efforts that had their head coach proud in all three outings, a 6-2 Saturday night offensive outburst on the road was sandwiched between two snakebitten losses at Copps Coliseum. The 1-2-0 weekend  means the ‘Dogs have now lost four of their last six games on the heels of a season-high six-game win streak, dropping them out of a playoff spot for the time being, though they of course remain in the thick of the race.

Hamilton was dealing with the absence of some top players during this stretch, as both Nathan Beaulieu and Louis Leblanc were up in Montreal. Moreover, Sunday’s game required a gutsy effort by the d-men who were in the line-up, as not only was it a third game in less than 72 hours, but the club lost Morgan Ellis – he who I mentioned last week had taken on a far bigger role with the squad – to an apparent shoulder or arm injury midway through the game, forcing them to play out the final period and a half with just five blueliners. It is unknown how long Ellis will be out for, but as a security measure, the ‘Dogs signed ECHL’er Myles Harvey – a 25-year old 6’5”, 225 lbs pro rookie – to a professional tryout agreement.

TRENDING UPWARDS

Thomas joins the Canadiens with goals in his past two AHL games. (PHOTO: BRANDON TAYLOR, via HAMILTON BULLDOGS)
Thomas joins the Canadiens with goals in his past two AHL games. (PHOTO: BRANDON TAYLOR, via HAMILTON BULLDOGS)

– Christian Thomas: Thomas and Sven Andrighetto (who I mentioned last time as trending upwards, and I’m trying to avoid using the same players in consecutive installments) have been Hamilton’s best two forward of late, and coach Sylvain Lefebvre has stuck them together on a line in Louis Leblanc’s absence. In his second year as a pro, the 5’9” 21-year old winger missed the first part of the season with a sports hernia, produced when he returned to the line-up, then seemed to hit a bit of a wall which could have been a conditioning issue due to the time off. Of late however, he frequently leads the team in scoring chances, which helped him collect two goals and an assist over the course of the weekend. While not as feisty as fellow little man Brendan Gallagher, Thomas doesn’t shy away from going to the net. He’s just as comfortable hanging around the high slot, though, as that is where he can unleash his greatest weapon: a rocket launcher arsenal of powerful shots. As a reward for his recent good play and to see how he can handle tougher competition, the Canadiens called Thomas up Thursday evening. The timing is especially nice for the prospect given Montreal plays Tampa Bay on Saturday, and Thomas’s father – former NHL’er Steve Thomas – is a player development consultant with the Lightning.

– Maxime Macenauer: With skilled wingers like Andrighetto and Thomas on the first line, one might expect an equally skilled center like Martin St. Pierre to be the trio’s pivot. But one would be wrong, as that honour has been bestowed upon Macenauer, who has been a coach’s favourite in Hamilton right from the start of the season. You’ll never be “wow’ed” watching him play, but the 25-year old Laval native seems to do all the little things right on the ice. He plays a jack-of-all-trade, master-at-none type of role, capable of killing penalties, winning face-offs, clearing the puck in defensive situations, and dishing to teammates. At 6’0” and 200 lbs, he’s average sized, which about sums up most of his other abilities as well. He works hard and will rarely put you in a trouble situation for sending him out on the ice. For these reasons, Lefebvre may see him as a safety net, which has resulted in significant ice time at even strength, on the powerplay, and on the P.K.

– Jarred Tinordi: If you were to compare Tinordi’s play in Hamilton to how he looked in Montreal during this year’s training camp, it has been a disappointing season for the 21-year old. At 6’6” and 218 lbs, you would hope to see him working on his physical game at the AHL level, but the hits have been few and far between this season, deciding his style was better suited to playing a positional defensive game rather than running around and chasing the opposition. Unfortunately even that has taken some time, as he is far from an impermeable forcefield in his own end, but part of that may simply be confidence. Undoubtedly Tinordi had illusions of grandeur starting the year in the NHL, and the return to the American League was a difficult transition, but since being moved to the top pairing with Greg Pateryn, his game has taken a step forward. Playing with a partner that he doesn’t have to worry about covering for, he seems more confident in his own skates. Though still not throwing big hits, the American behemoth is an adequate crease-clearer, and unlike a Doug Murray or Hal Gill, is a very smooth skater, able to pick his spots and support offensive breakouts despite what his low point total would make one think. If not overly physical during game action, Tinordi never shies away from after the whistle scrums, always there to stand up for a teammate and dropping the gloves with semi-regularity.

 

IN A RUT

There's nothing wrong with a powerplay specialist that leads your team in scoring, but the Bulldogs had greater hopes when signing St. Pierre. (PHOTO: BRANDON TAYLOR, via HAMILTON BULLDOGS)
There’s nothing wrong with a powerplay specialist that leads your team in scoring, but the Bulldogs had greater hopes when signing St. Pierre. (PHOTO: BRANDON TAYLOR, via HAMILTON BULLDOGS)

– Martin St. Pierre: It is imperative that Sylvain Lefebve separates St. Pierre from linemate Patrick Holland to get at least one of the two should-be-AHL-stars going. They have been paired at five-on-five for some time now, and the line has become a virtual black hole for the Bulldogs, generating little in the way of offensive opportunities despite the skill sets of its members. Though he may lead the team in scoring, captain St. Pierre has been a disappointment this season, unable to play an offensive catalyst role at even strength, and frequently guilty of poor or lazy penalties. In the face-off dot, the team relies heavily on Macenauer and Joonas Nattinen, effectively limiting St. Pierre to a role of powerplay specialist. While that definitely has its uses, it’s not the high impact signing the Bulldogs believed they had bagged when inking the veteran last summer. Plus-minus may not be a high quality statistic, but his -7 being second worst on the team to only Nick Tarnasky is very reflective of his play this year.

– Mike Blunden: It’s hard to dislike Mike Blunden. The former second round selection of the Chicago Blackhawks is a model teammate and works hard every shift. He can play a physical game with his 6’3” frame, and positions himself well in the slot to obtain scoring chances nightly. Unfortunately his weak skating and mediocre hands have betrayed him this season, as the ‘Dogs needed him to take on a more offensive role on a team with little experienced firepower. Though he remains the team’s fourth leading scorer, he has been ice cold in 2014, with only 1 assist and a -2 rating in his past nine games. When the team is winning, it’s easy to laugh at the number of great Gabriel Dumont set-ups that Blunden fans on or fires wide. But when the goals are tougher to come by, what should be a dependable and productive line has been letting the team down at times.

– Greg Pateryn: This isn’t to say that Pateryn has been bad, but just as I spoke so very highly of him earlier this season, it’s fair to point out that the Pateryn of the past five or so games hasn’t been playing up to that level. Part of it may be learning to play with Jarred Tinordi after spending significant time beside Nathan Beaulieu, but Pateryn has only a single point to go with a -1 rating in his past nine games while looking more human in his own end following a dominant start. The injury to Ellis and the absence of Beaulieu will put a lot of pressure on Pateryn and Tinordi as the Bulldogs head out for an extended road trip, so the team needs the 23-year old to be at his best, rather than committing the kind of turnovers we’ve seen most recently.

The Bulldogs head out west this weekend for two games against the Abbotsford Heat, and remain on the road for stops in Rockford, Milwaukee, Binghamton, and Toronto. They’ll return home to the newly renamed FirstOntario Place (formerly Copps Coliseum) for a date with the Texas Stars on February 15. As the team finds itself in a playoff battle in the second half of the regular season, home crowds been gaining steam in Hamilton creating a great atmosphere, so be sure to check the team out if you’re in the area, with tickets available at http://www.hamiltonbulldogs.com/.

 

Categories
Feature

Down on the Farm – State of the ‘Dogs

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

HAMILTON, ON – As the Hamilton Bulldogs approach the halfway point of their 2013-14 season, If one were to summarize it in a single word, it would be inconsistency.

A strong start with only two regulation losses in their first ten games was quickly wiped out by a five game losing streak. Then just when it looked like this season may be a repeat of the last, the ‘Dogs rattled off four straight wins, backed by stellar netminding from Dustin Tokarski.

The two men most responsible for Hamilton's success this season are goaltender Dustin Tokarski and defenseman Greg Pateryn (PHOTO: HAMILTON BULLDOGS)
The two men most responsible for Hamilton’s success this season are goaltender Dustin Tokarski and defenseman Greg Pateryn (PHOTO: HAMILTON BULLDOGS)

The club then idled for a spell, with a 3-3 record over their next six contests, before going cold once again with a second five-game skid in the first half of the year.

But Santa had some renewed hope tucked away in his sack for Bulldog fans, as the holidays brought with them a five-game surge for the boys from Canada’s Steeltown that now has them right in the thick of a playoff race in the AHL’s Western Conference.  It has been a rollercoaster, to say the least, and the real Hamilton Bulldogs will need to rise to the occasion early in 2014 to continue to gain ground on rivals who currently hold games in hand.

In Hamilton’s favour is that they sit in the American Hockey League’s weakest division, only three points back of the leading Toronto Marlies (who have two games in hand, mind you) despite being just three games above .500.

Also arguably in their favour is that they haven’t depended on a single player – or even single line – to carry them offensively this year. When the team is losing, this can be seen as a negative, as there hasn’t been a single forward they can go to for offense in a time of need. In fact, their inability to score often mirrored the problems of their parent club in Montreal. But in the American Hockey League, relying on a single player is a risky strategy, as not only do you live in fear of losing that player himself to injury as you would in any league, but you’re also at risk of losing that player to any injury or trade by your NHL affiliate.

Sure Martin St. Pierre has a sizeable lead on his teammates in terms of points with 25 in 32 games, but the undersized AHL veteran has been rather ineffective at even strength this season, padding his stats with the man advantage. Despite what the stat sheet says, his play thus far can be qualified as underwhelming.

Louis Leblanc’s nine goals lead the Bulldogs, but his game has been hot and cold, disappearing for stretches much like many of his fellow skaters. To his credit, Leblanc has managed to simplify his game this season – perhaps realizing his professional forte won’t be as a finesse/skill player – and cut down on poor undisciplined penalties.

Gabriel Dumont didn’t have a start to the season anywhere near like the past year, but one can’t question his effort level, and he has kicked it up a notch over the most recent win streak. At the moment, I would imagine he heads the call-up list among forwards.

Outside of Dumont, Mike Blunden is the other “safe” call-up at forward, but he’s often a Bulldog equivalent of Travis Moen; frequent recipient of scoring chances only to miss the net.

Patrick Holland got a deserved taste of NHL action earlier this season, and has progressed his game by showing intensity in all three zones. That said, he has failed to improve on his productivity from his rookie AHL season. A player who scored 109 points in his final year in the WHL, Holland was expected to take on more of the offensive load than he has thus far.

If there’s a forward who has delivered well throughout the season up front, it’s pro rookie Sven Andrighetto. The Swiss winger has eight goals and 15 points in his first 23 AHL games, despite missing a full month of the season with injury. Andrighetto is a rather one-dimensional offensive player, so the Montreal brass is likely to want him to mature further before any call-up.

While the forwards have been inconsistent, Hamilton’s MVP to date (perhaps outside of Tokarski) has been their rock on the blueline. Though Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi get all the press in Montreal as former first round picks, it’s Greg Pateryn that anchors the Bulldog defense. Both Beaulieu and Tinordi have struggled as sophomores, with the former frequently looking disinterested on ice, and the latter neither playing physically nor being air-tight defensively. But Pateryn has been getting it done at both ends of the ice (his 15 points in 28 games and plus-11 both lead all Bulldog blueliners) and appears about as ready to make the jump to the NHL as any second year pro could be.

A revelation of late has been the resurgence of Morgan Ellis, practically written off earlier this season as he bided his time as a healthy scratch. Ellis has a strong reputation as a leader on and off the ice, and to his credit, took it in stride, seizing his opportunity when given and establishing himself as a top four blueliner on the squad.

Expanding our coverage of the Hamilton Bulldogs here at AllHabs.net, this column will be a weekly feature on Thursdays for the remainder of the season, updating which Bulldog players are trending upwards or downwards, and highlighting some names you may be less familiar with down on the farm.

 

Categories
Multimedia

Bulldogs in Pictures: Dogs Put Through Intense Workout [GALLERY]

By Rabita, Photojournalist, All Habs Hockey Magazine

HAMILTON,ON. — It was a sea of red when I entered the arena today.  Half of the team decked out only in red jerseys did skating drills in Copps Coliseum. Like lots of skating. It was definitely a high-cardio practice.

(Photo by Rabita Naqvi | Rocket Sports Media)
(Photo by Rabita Naqvi | Rocket Sports Media)

In total there were nine players participating including goalie Dustin Tokarski.  The net was outfitted with a goalie target with cutouts for players to practice their shots.  Martin St. Pierre came out in a white jersey and practiced alone with one of the coaches.

At the end of the intense session, the coaches praised all the players in red jerseys, patting them on the back.

It was then time for the other half of the split squad all in white jerseys. The drills were similar but they were divided into four groups.  The practice ended with all players trying to score on goalie Robert Mayer.

Enjoy the photos! I welcome your comments.


Categories
IceCaps game report

Second Period Collapse Sinks Bulldogs Against Griffins [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Martin St. Pierre | Sylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON – Military Appreciation Night won’t go down as one to remember in Hamilton. Despite the Bulldogs playing the defending Calder Cup champion Grand Rapid Griffins relatively evenly most of the night, a total defensive and goaltending collapse midway through the second period saw the visitors deposit four pucks into the ‘Dog net in a 1:13 span to take over the game en route to an easy 6-1 victory.

Sven Andrighetto drew even with Louis Leblanc and Nick Tarnasky for the team lead with his 5th goal of the season in the blowout loss.
Sven Andrighetto drew even with Louis Leblanc and Nick Tarnasky for the team lead with his 5th goal of the season in the blowout loss.

The Bulldogs had generated the better early-game chances when a harmless looking shift in their defensive end saw a puck pop up to Cory Emmerton. The long-time veteran of the Detroit organization caught the puck, dropped it and fired a quick shot with perfect accuracy, wringing off the post and in past a slow-to-react Robert Mayer.

In an ironic twist on Military Appreciation Night, it was a lack of discipline that then got the home team in further trouble, as first a Greg Pateryn board and then a Maxime Macenauer high stick left Hamilton two men short. A unit of Gabriel DumontNathan Beaulieu, and Jarred Tinordi collapsed tight to the net to protect Mayer, but after Dumont took a shot off the right hand leaving him hobbled, AHL superstar Gustav Nyquist found 22-year old Swede Calle Jarnkork at the top of the face-off circle to blast a one-time shot to the back of the net.

There was reason to suspect another comeback effort may have been in the cards for the Bulldogs as they buzzed out of the gate to start the second period. One wraparound chance looked like it may have crossed the goal line, but video review could not conclusively prove that the puck had gone in under Petr Mrazek.

Truthfully, there was no reason to suspect the meltdown that would occur next, starting at the 10:52 mark of the middle stanza. In fact, while it didn’t entirely reflect the balance of play, Hamilton led 22-10 on the shot clock at that point. But then, just after the ‘Dogs had failed to draw within one on a powerplay opportunity, a harmless looking wrister from just inside the blueline off the blade of Andrej Nestrasil somehow went right through Mayer. And the Griffins were hardly done there. Twenty-three seconds later it was Jarnkrok, again on a Nyquist feed, firing his second past the ‘Dogs starter. If that wasn’t enough, a quick rush off the ensuing face-off saw Mayer leave a Nestrasil rebound just outside the blue paint where Mitch Callahan was able to tap it in past the floundering keeper. Three goals in 33 seconds made it a 5-0 game and ended the night for Mayer, paving way for Dustin Tokarski.

Even if a 5-0 game seems out of reach, sometimes changing netminders can help to settle a side down, but that wasn’t the case on this night. The Bulldogs would surrender their fourth goal in a 1:13 span as Teemu Pulkkinen got his stick on a Ryan Sproul shot off the rush on the first shot Tokarski would face.

Typical of a blowout, the third period was a penalty-filled affair as refs kept whistles in their mouths to keep things in check. Despite the numerous powerplays, there were few chances either way, until Sven Andrighetto spoiled Mrazek’s shutout bid with the man advantage on a shot from just inside the blueline in the game’s final minute.

Post-game, captain Martin St. Pierre was at a loss to explain how this game got away from his troops. “It was just a mental breakdown. There’s no fatigue or anything else to blame. It doesn’t matter who’s on the ice after a disallowed goal or after they score one or two really quick. It’s just a matter of bouncing back and forgetting about that. But we just dwelled on it and we shot ourselves in the foot. There’s no one else to blame except us.”

The Bulldogs will take what they can out of this one with less than 48 hours to think about it before they are back in action at home again Sunday against the struggling Utica Comets – a perfect opportunity to rebound.

Categories
Press release

St. Pierre Named 12th Captain in Bulldogs’ History

Hamilton Bulldogs Press Release
10/10/2013 3:37 PM –

HAMILTON, ONTARIO – Hamilton Bulldogs Head Coach Sylvain Lefebvre announced today that veteran forward Martin St. Pierre has been named the 12th Captain in Hamilton Bulldogs history. Defenceman Greg Pateryn and forward Gabriel Dumont have been named Alternate Captains.

“With these three players, we believe we have a group capable of leading in many different ways,” said Hamilton Bulldogs Head Coach Sylvain Lefebvre.  “Martin St. Pierre is an experienced player that has been a captain in the past, Greg Pateryn has also been a captain previously and Gabriel Dumont is a player of great character.”

Photo: Hamilton Bulldogs
Photo: Hamilton Bulldogs

St. Pierre, 30, is entering his 10th season of professional hockey. In January of 2013, the Ottawa, Ontario native became the 83rd player in American Hockey League history to record 500 career points. In 516 career regular season AHL games with the Edmonton Roadrunners, Norfolk Admirals, Rockford IceHogs, Providence Bruins, Binghamton Senators and Springfield Falcons, the 5’9”, 187-pound forward has registered 528 points (151 goals, 377 assists) and 509 penalty minutes. St. Pierre was named to the AHL’s All-Rookie Team in 2005-2006, selected as an AHL First-Team All-Star in 2006-2007 and an AHL Second Team All-Star in 2007-2008. In seven full AHL seasons, St. Pierre has finished among the top 10 in overall scoring four times, has scored 20-or-more goals five times and has produced 60-or-more points six times, setting career-highs in goals (27), assists (72) and points (99) with the Norfolk Admirals in 2006-2007. In 38 career regular season National Hockey League games with the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators, the undrafted forward has collected eight points (three goals, five assists) and 12 penalty minutes.

Pateryn, 23, split last season between Hamilton and Montreal. In 39 games with the Bulldogs, the 6’2”, 222-pound defenceman recorded 12 points (seven goals, five assists) and 27 penalty minutes. In three regular season games with the Canadiens, the Sterling Heights, Michigan native recorded no points and no penalty minutes. Before turning pro, Pateryn played 142 regular season National Collegiate Athletic Association games with the University of Michigan Wolverines, recording 43 points (six goals, 37 assists) and 145 penalty minutes. He was originally selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fifth round (128th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

Dumont, 22, also split last season between Hamilton and Montreal. In 55 regular season games with the Bulldogs, the 5’10”, 186-pound forward recorded 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists) and 83 penalty minutes and received The Bill Sturrup Trophy (Fan’s Choice Award). In 10 regular season games with Montreal, he recorded three points (one goal, two assists) and 13 penalty minutes. In 178 career regular season AHL games, the Ville Degelis, Quebec native has recorded 73 points (34 goals, 39 assists) and 217 penalty minutes. In 13 career regular season NHL games, Dumont has recorded three points (one goal, two assists) and 13 penalty minutes. He was selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the fifth round (139th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

St. Pierre is Hamilton’s first captain since 2012. Previous captains in Bulldogs history include Alex Henry (2009-2012), Kyle Chipchura (2008-2009), Ajay Baines (2007-2008), Dan Smith (2005-2006), Jason Ward (2004-2005), Benoit Gratton (2002-2004), Alain Nasreddine (2000-2002), Scott Ferguson (2000-2001), Rob Murray (1999-2000), Jeff Daw (1998-1999) and Terran Sandwith (1996-1998).

Hamilton’s next game is its regular season and home opener, scheduled for Friday, October 11th at 7:30 p.m. against the St. John’s IceCaps at Copps Coliseum. The club will host a home opener street party starting at 5:00 p.m., which will feature food provided by Maple Lodge Farms, family entertainment, sponsor vendors and a beer garden serving Molson products. Y108 will also be hosting its Drive Show live at the street party from 2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.