HAMILTON, ON – It seems the margin between the Hamilton Bulldogs being a competitive team this season and being one that struggles to stay out of last place in the Western Conference was a slim 18. That 18 is the number sophomore forward Michael Bournival wears in the AHL, as Friday night his pair of goals helped the team to a 4-2 victory over the Milwaukee Admirals, improving to 2-0-0 during the winger’s three-game conditioning stint. His return, coupled with solid goaltending from Dustin Tokarski has people in Hamilton believing that a late-season surge to at least make the playoff race interesting is indeed still possible despite the precarious situation in which the club finds itself.
The Bulldogs are no strangers to strong opening periods, but their efforts wouldn’t go unrewarded Friday night. After an 0-for-2 cold streak, Hamilton’s powerplay came to life with Patrick Cehlin in the box just past the five minute mark. Marek Mazanek was scrambling in the crease as a puck came back to Nathan Beaulieu at the point. His heavy slapper went well wide, but ricocheted off the end boards and right back out to Michael Bournival, who quickly batted it into the deserted cage for a 1-0 advantage.
Another powerplay – the third of four Hamilton would be gifted in the opening stanza – allowed the home team to extend their lead. Greg Pateryn accepted a Martin St. Pierre feed along the blueline, and the d-man took two steps in before firing a wrist shot top shelf past Mazanek, earning his 11th marker on the season. The goal tied Pateryn for fourth in the AHL in that category among all d-men.
Just as common as strong openings has been second period collapses in Hamilton this season, but the Bulldogs were determined not to let up this time around. It was again Bournival in the centre of the action, taking a pass as he charged to the net, and being awarded a penalty shot on a slash despite still managing to get a shot off. With a second opportunity, the former Shawinigan Cataractes captain made no mistake, letting go a quick wrister that deflected off the far post and in.
Milwaukee would try to make a game of it, catching the pair of Morgan Ellis and Drew Schiestel flat-footed in their own end as Mathieu Tousignant found Michael Liambas uncovered on in the slot for a one-timer that beat Tokarski, reducing the lead to two.
Whereas on many nights the first goal against results in a dip in the intensity and level of play of the Bulldogs, Friday they stormed right back to the attack. With Nick Tarnasky creating havoc in front of the goal, a Greg Pateryn point shot deflected off the pugilist’s active stick just as an Admiral defender collided with Mazanek, resulting in the puck trickling through the helpless netminder. A four-goal outburst is a rare occurrence for the team’s anemic offense, evident in the 12-1-0 record they’ve posted when accomplishing such a feat.
After a couple of ineffective third period powerplays for Hamilton, the Admirals found one final breath of life. An odd scrum after an uncalled Mike Blunden board resulted in Hamilton being called for not one but two minor infractions. With both Nathan Beaulieu and Maxime Macenauer in the box, Milwaukee quickly capitalized on the 5-on-3 opportunity as Taylor Beck‘s big point shot beat Tokarski bar-down.
Despite sustained pressure from Milwaukee for the remainder of the powerplay, the ‘Dogs defense – backed by a solid performance from Tokarski – was up to the task, shutting things down the rest of the way in preserving the 4-2 victory.
Coach Sylvain Lefebvre was understandably in a cheerful mood following the win, praising the night’s first star. “I just talked to Montreal, and we’re gonna keep [Bournival],” he joked, before quickly confirming that it was in fact just a three-game conditioning stint. “He never stops working, and he’s a good guy to have around. Everybody loves him. He’s a quiet guy, and just goes about his business.”
While not entirely happy with Sven Andrighetto‘s performance, coach Lefebvre also confirmed he will continue the experiment of skating the Swiss forward at centre. “Wednesday’s game was a better game for him. Tonight he didn’t have the same spark, but he made some good plays with Bournival and Thomas. I’m gonna keep him at centre for now. I think he enjoys playing there and he gets chances.”
Bournival himself was fairly critical of his own play despite his two goals. “I think I need to improve some things in my game, especially defensively. There are some things in my game I need to work on, and I’m gonna try to do that tomorrow. I need to be a little sharper.”
The final game of Bournival’s return to the ‘Dogs will be Saturday night at home against the Abbotsford Heat. It’s the last contest in Hamilton prior to a nine-game road trip that will ultimately decide the team’s end-of-season fate.