HAMILTON, ON – After having a six-game win streak snapped two weeks ago, the Hamilton Bulldogs all spoke of how important it was to avoid the peril of their early season: following each step forward with an equivalent or worse step back. Despite a valiant effort to prevent a new skid, firing 32 shots on Toronto Marlies’ goaltender Drew MacIntyre, the boys from the Hammer were unable to find the back of the net Saturday night, dropping a 2-0 decision for their third loss in the past four outings.
The Bulldogs – looking to rebound from last week’s loss to the bottom feeding Utica Comets – started strong, as an early Christian Thomas scoring chance off a Sven Andrighetto set-up forced Drew MacIntyre into a tough save and Wade MacLeod into a hooking penalty. Thomas would also have the best chance with the man advantage on a Morgan Ellis rebound, but MacIntyre was sharp right from opening puck drop.
Frustrations began to mount as the ‘Dogs saw two powerplays and a Sven Andrighetto breakaway go unrewarded, prompting Jarred Tinordi to drop the gloves with tough guy David Broll in a clash of heavyweights. Lots of swinging, but few punches landed either way, so Sam Carrick and Gabriel Dumont decided to keep the intensity high later in on the period in a lightweight bout.
As often happens in hockey, when a team has the better scoring chances but fails to cash in, it only takes one opportunity for the other team to open a lead. Martin St. Pierre was called for a poor penalty late in the first, interfering with a forechecking Brad Staubitz, something the captain has been guilty of far too frequently this season. Greg Pateryn was caught hobbled in front of Dustin Tokarski after blocking a hard point shot, allowing Greg McKegg to beat him to a rebound and tuck the puck just inside the post on the Hamilton netminder, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead.
The ‘Dogs were again the better team at five-on-five in the second period, but a continued failure to make anything of their rushes or powerplay opportunities bit them once again. After Joonas Nattinen deftly set up linemate Stefan Fournier with a quick drop pass, only to be turned aside by MacIntyre, Hamilton was handed a powerplay opportunity when a scrum near the benches resulted in a too many men call against Toronto. Rather than seizing the opportunity, however, the home side allowed Jerry D’Amigo to break in alone. While being hooked to the ice, D’Amigo managed to direct the puck towards the net, fooling Tokarski who followed the sliding man rather than the abandoned disk, which trickled past him and into the cage.
Hamilton was given a great chance to get back into the game in the third period, as Brandon Kozun – making his debut for the Marlies after being acquired for Andrew Crescenzi a couple of days ago – took back-to-back penalties, giving the trailers four minutes of near uninterrupted powerplay time. The Bulldogs failed to generate much in the way of sustained possession or pressure, squandering their chances once again, and running into a wall of MacIntyre on the best opportunity as Gabriel Dumont and Mike Blunden batted away at a Greg Pateryn rebound.
Toronto was able to coast the rest of the way, preserving ex-Bulldog MacIntyre’s first shutout of the season. The struggling powerplay – 0 for 7 on the night – was an easy target on which to pinpoint the night’s defeat. “For me on the powerplay, I have to shoot pucks, get the pucks through,” suggested Morgan Ellis, whose team-high five shots came with a good dose of powerplay ice time thanks to Nathan Beaulieu‘s call-up to Montreal. “[Beaulieu] is a good puck-moving defenseman. He finds seams. For me, being out there, I just have to keep it simple and get pucks through, and hopefully one of them goes in.”
Coach Sylvain Lefebvre wasn’t as concerned about how Beaulieu’s loss impacted his man advantage, but reiterated the need fo it to be better. “Our powerplay was not good tonight. Our powerplay wasn’t doing very well even when Nathan was here. It’s been a current theme right now. Even when we were playing well and getting some wins, the powerplay wasn’t much of a factor. We have to find a way to grind it out. Maybe we’re doing too much. When we did well on the powerplay, it was getting shots from the point and traffic in front.”
The coach also scoffs at the notion of his team being streaky. “I’m tired of hearing that we’re streaky. We try to win every game. We try to put some wins together, and obviously we’re not trying to put some losses together. We want to get back on track. We think we’re a good team. We gotta get better and stronger mentally.”
Lefebvre’s troops will have a chance to prove they are strong mentally by getting right back on the ice Saturday night in Lake Erie to take on the Monsters. They’ll then return home to complete an always difficult three games in three nights stretch Sunday against Chicago.
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 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.
HAMILTON,ON. — You might think that a hockey practice is rather routine: stretching, skating and drills. That may be partly true but there’s always something different. It’s a time to watch the skills of the players but more importantly see the interactions between teammates and the coaches. Last time, I told you (and showed you photos) of the small fight between Darren Dietz and Nick Tarnasky.
Today started like any other practice. The players got on the ice and started their drills right away, split into white and red jerseys. It was good to see the older players being vocal, encouraging the younger players in the drills. Something I found interesting (and wouldn’t have seen otherwise) is that the coaches actively participated in the drills rather than just instructing the players.
But what was the most fascinating to me was when goalie Dustin Tokarski returned to the ice without a jersey or protective gear and began going through the motions of saving phantom pucks and recovering for the next stop in his mind. He is a very focused athlete.
Enjoy the photos. I look forward to your comments.
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.
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 Blunden, Gabriel 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.
If you are a regular reader of All Habs Hockey Magazine, you know that we do things differently and you tell us that it’s one of the reasons you keep coming back. In addition to our comprehensive coverage of the Montreal Canadiens, we also commit to providing you the most in-depth coverage of prospects in the organization. Being a Canadiens fan means you want to keep current on the progress of future stars too.
One of our Senior Writers, Dan Kramer, is in his second full season of providing you game-by-game reports for the Hamilton Bulldogs from the press box. We are pleased to introduce to you Rabita, another member of All Habs team who will be providing you with images from Copps Coliseum. Her experience in sports photography will tell you the story from Hamilton in pictures.
We have more changes in store for you that are just around the corner. We think that you’ll like them.
HAMILTON,ON. — I’m used to be on the field as a sidelines photographer. But I knew that this photo assignment was going to be different when the pucks slammed against the glass, quite startling when one is looking through a camera lens. And the speed. Being rink-side gave a whole new appreciation for the speed, even at this level. The guys are really fast which made it a challenge to capture them in motion sometimes.
The Bulldogs wasted no time getting warmed up and beginning their drills. The team worked hard all through the practice in preparation for Tuesday’s game against the Texas Stars. There was plenty of chatter on the ice with teammates encouraging each other. Players seemed to pair up reserving conversation with one partner. And the coaches showed their fun and joking side at times too.
At one point, the ‘communication’ became intense. Nick Tarnasky, playing the role of the veteran, felt that a rookie defenceman wasn’t taking things seriously enough. He and Darren Dietz exchanged rough language and eventually dropped the gloves. The minor dispute was settled quickly by the coaches and fellow teammates. Just the emotion of the game.
All in all, today was an incredible experience photographing the Bulldogs. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to capture the skills and emotions of these talented players.
I am pleased to join the All Habs team. I will be telling you the stories of Hamilton Bulldogs through pictures this season. I hope that you enjoy them. I’d love to hear what you think. Please leave me a note in the comment box.
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.
09/19/2013 2:37 PM -MONTREAL, QUEBEC – Montreal Canadiens and Hamilton Bulldogs General Manager Marc Bergevin announced today Hamilton’s training camp roster. The Bulldogs will begin camp tomorrow, Friday, September 20th with 18 forwards, 11 defencemen and four goaltenders.
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.
HAMILTON, ON – If the key to Hamilton’s victory over the Abbotsford Heat on Wednesday night was getting out to a quick start, someone must have changed the locks Friday.
Starting from goaltender Robert Mayer right on out, the Bulldogs – despite gaining reinforcements in the form of Gabriel Dumont and Jarred Tinordi – were sloppy, and the Heat capitalized to avenge their prior 5-3 loss with a 4-2 victory.
Michael Bournival had the game’s first scoring chance right off the opening face-off, but was turned aside by netminder Danny Taylor. Heat forward Ben Walter was more opportunistic, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead at just the 1:04 mark.
Abbotsford would then extend their lead on the powerplay, when Jarred Tinordi got his stick on a Max Reinhart point shot – a mistake coach Sylvain Lefebvre most certainly would have let him know about – and it got through Mayer. It was a whirlwind day for Tinordi, being sent down from Montreal in the morning, but unfortunately the deflection would be only the start of his troubles on the night.
Hamilton clawed back to within one on a powerplay marker of their own, with Morgan Ellis ending a 34-game pointless streak, slapping a pass from Frederic St. Denis past Taylor. Ellis earned time on the second powerplay unit with Nathan Beaulieu in Montreal on a call-up.
The goal seemed to wake the ‘Dogs up, but back-to-back penalties taken by St. Denis gave the momentum right back to the Heat. After a first call, it wouldn’t take long for the second call to prove costly, with Sven Baertschi‘s tough angle shot bouncing off Tinordi’s skate at the side of the net and beating Mayer up high, restoring a two-goal advantage.
The second period would see the Bulldogs get back within one again, this time on a solo effort by Gabriel Dumont – also sent down from the Canadiens that very morning. Dumont’s first shot was blocked in front, but the grinder went hard to the net, collected his own rebound, and snapped it to the back of the goal.
That Dumont’s goal came from going hard to the net was no coincidence, as the hardnosed forward benefited from some strong role models during his time in Montreal. “I learned a lot of things. You watch guys play. Guys like Brandon Prust. Guys like Colby Armstrong. They’ve been around for a while. Kind of the same player as me too. Travis Moen. Ryan White you know. Look at these guys, see what they’re doing everyday. They have great work ethic. Learn from these guys and try to do the same thing here,” he summed up after the game.
Unfortunately for the home side, history would repeat itself. Any gains in momentum from Dumont’s marker were quickly erased when Mayer – who seemed to have a lack of focus throughout the game despite also making numerous highlight reel stops – mishandled a puck behind the net, forcing Greg Pateryn into a penalty call. And again the Abbotsford powerplay would make Hamilton pay, as Ben Street caught Mayer cheating sliding across the goal, slipping a shot along the ice through Tinordi’s legs – yes him again – and in shortside.
“It’s frustrating,” said Tinordi. “It happens. I didn’t see a shot coming, it went off my stick and in. One went off my skate. Obviously those goals were my fault, so I just try to tell Mayer we’ll get it back for him.”
Danny Taylor stood tall in the third stanza as Hamilton had its chances to reduce the Heat lead, notably an opportunity for Dumont that greatly resembled his earlier goal. A save on his first shot popped the puck up, and Dumont would show hunger for the puck, skating through the defensemen to bat it out of midair, but Taylor was ready with a second stop.
It would take a weird bounce to provide an exciting finish, as Alex Belzile couldn’t control a pass, but it would be accidentally put on net by Zach McKelvie and squeak through Taylor, some puck luck going the right away after Tinordi’s series of unfortunate events through the first two periods.
That was as close as the ‘Dogs would get, as despite buzzing in the offensive zone for the final minute with Mayer on the bench, the team couldn’t get much on goal in their attempt to force overtime. The playoffs seem like an unreachable target tonight, but a roster full of tryouts looking for job security for next season is back in action Saturday night hosting the Rochester Americans.
TORONTO, ON – The Fall of 2012 saw the professional debuts of a number of bluechip prospects with the Hamilton Bulldogs. There was no greater hype, however, than that surrounding two of the Montreal Canadiens’ most recent first round picks in Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi, high profile defensemen who play quite opposite games.
Few doubt Tinordi’s eventual progression into a sound NHLer. From his 6-foot-7 frame to his recognized leadership as captain of the OHL’s London Knights, he is the makings of a character defensive blueliner that can be so important to a winning team. The questions as he moved to Hamilton surrounded whether his lack of offensive production made him too one-dimensional, and if he’d be able to keep up with a faster pace of play at the next level.
Tinordi scored 16 and 14 points over his two years in the Ontario League respectively, so big numbers weren’t to be expected in the AHL, but he hasn’t looked uncomfortable with the puck at all. Of course, there is the occasional awkward defensive zone bobble which isn’t uncommon for a young man continuing to grow into his large body, but his four points thus far on the season are only one back of Morgan Ellis and two of Brendon Nash, both considered to have more offensive upside. He scored his first professional goal on December 16th, a marker temporarily taken away and given to Gabriel Dumont, but later returned to Tinordi whose point shot deflected in off a defenseman rather than the pesky ‘Dog in front. The one goal matches the total he scored in his entire first season in London.
Though he won’t turn 21 until February, Tinordi’s off-ice presence is already felt in the Bulldogs’ locker room. With injuries to veterans Aaron Palushaj and Blake Geoffrion, and Darryl Boyce‘s tryout contract not being extended, the American d-man was rewarded with the team’s third A added to his sweater, at the least on a temporary basis. Teammate Frederic St. Denis was quoted as supporting the decision, identifying Tinordi as a “great leader,” in an interview with Dogs’ play-by-play man Derek Wills, and saying he earned the letter with his voice among teammates.
Tinordi still needs time to shore up some defensive zone play, but any concerns about skating haven’t proven problematic, as he is actually quite agile for his size. Though he is more physical than, say, Hal Gill, there is also hope that he takes the body more frequently once he becomes more comfortable with positioning and pace against better competition.
Whereas much of what Tinordi has accomplished can be credited to his attitude and motivation, success has always seemed to come all too easy for fellow prospect Nathan Beaulieu. His father, Jacques, is a Canadian Hockey League coach (currently heading Alex Galchenyuk‘s Sarnia Sting), and Nathan had the benefit of playing under pops for his first year with the Saint John Sea Dogs. When he had to emerge from his comfort zone under a new coach – now Montreal Assistant Coach Gerrard Gallant – he enjoyed being part of a thoroughly stacked roster that posted a 53-12-3 record. Beaulieu’s 45 points in 66 games that year ranked 7th on his team, ahead of names like Jonathan Huberdeau and Zack Phillips.
In his draft year, Beaulieu’s production remained consistent, as the Sea Dogs improved their record further to finish 58-7-3 in a year they would go on to capture the Memorial Cup. How easy were the points coming? Beaulieu’s +/- had ballooned to +44, and with Huberdeau now leading the way offensively, he was putting up strong numbers sometimes even on off-nights.
The following season saw Beaulieu improve upon his prior point-per-game numbers on an as-dominant-as-ever Saint John roster. So what is the concern with the 6’2″ 194 lbs rearguard? The main issue has seemed to be between the ears, where the Ontario native had been accused of giving up on plays (see: last year’s Canada-Russia WJC game), taking lazy or undisciplined penalties, and occasionally making risky passes in his own end.
There has been a bit of that in Beaulieu’s adaptation phase, though he started the season out showing impressive skill as one of Hamilton’s more dependable defenders (he maintained a +2 rating through October). The points, however, weren’t coming for the first time in Beaulieu’s career, and he hit a bit of a rut. The Bulldogs were no Sea Dogs or Team Canada, and Beaulieu had to deal with stronger opposition for the first time in years. Did his play trail off a bit because of inconsistency in his game? Simple frustration? Was it the normal learning curve of a rookie?
We may never know, as a turning point seemed to be the calendar switching over to December. Prior to this month, Beaulieu’s stat line read just 2 assists through 16 contests. In December, he has impressively been a point-per-game player thus far, registering his first professional goal along with 7 assists in 8 games. He has been rushing the puck with more confidence, and though he still at times makes ill-advised breakout passes, his overall game is coming along with the point production.
Off the ice, Beaulieu and Tinordi are quite familiar with each other, having been teammates in numerous development camps and squaring off at the Memorial Cup and World Junior Championships. They seem to have developed a good friendship, chatting frequently and usually leaving the dressing room together at game’s end. While they’re a rather unlikely pairing on-ice given they’re both left-handed shots, and though they both have some work still to do before reaching the NHL, their complimentary skill sets should have them continuing their journeys together in Montreal Canadiens sweaters before too long.
[For live coverage of Hamilton Bulldog home games straight from Copps Coliseum, be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DanKramerHabs. Next up: Friday ,December 21st at 7:30 PM against St. John’s. And keep checking http://www.AllHabs.net/ for frequent Bulldog updates!]