HAMILTON, ON – Let’s face it: It’s been a difficult AHL season for the Hamilton Bulldogs. The team finished the season in last place in the league, and this attributable to a combination of inexperience on the ice and behind the bench, poor play, and bad luck. Sunday, the ‘Dogs at least turned in a strong effort for the fans in their season finale, though they would ultimately fall to the Rochester Americans by a 4-1 score.
The Bulldogs got off to a strong start, generating some opportunities but this without showing any killer instinct to create high percentage scoring chances. It would end up biting them as a harmless looking Luke Adam shot was deflected by Maxime Legault and squeaked through starter Jacob Gervais-Chouinard to put the visitors on the board. The goal seemed to deflate the home side, as the momentum they had been building slipped away for the remainder of the first.
It returned in the second, however, in a period the Bulldogs impressively dominated. The first quality chance belonged to Nathan Beaulieu, the player named the team’s MVP for the 2012-13 season prior to the game. Beaulieu collected a Charles Hudon feed and very nearly split the Rochester defense, but in the end could only muster a weak shot on goal.
Next it was Louis Leblanc – a player certainly not receiving any end-of-year awards after a disappointing season – with a clear shorthanded breakaway. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get the puck to settle, and wound up fanning on a shot attempt after putting a move on Matt Hackett.
A powerplay would allow the Bulldogs to draw even. Frederic St. Denis took a Greg Pateryn pass and skated in off the point, beating Hackett cleanly with a quick shot. And the team wouldn’t stop there, with glorious chances to go ahead, coming off the sticks of Beaulieu, Adam Ross, and Sebastian Collberg, all turned away by Hackett’s glove.
The saves seemed to spark the Americans, as a Beaulieu pinch left Rochester captain Matt Ellis completely alone in front of Gervais-Chouinard, who had a strong game in only his second professional start, easily sliding the puck past the fallen netminder and restoring the Amerk lead.
The ‘Dogs didn’t quit, battling hard to try to draw even in their 2012-13 swan song into its final period, but Hackett was repeatedly up to the challenge. An Alex Belzile shot met his glove. A nifty move by Frederic St. Denis saw his wraparound saved, with a Belzile rebound opportunity meeting the same fate. When the netminder wasn’t standing on his head, he was also benefiting from some less-than-opportunistic Bulldogs, as Sebastian Collberg – turning in a standout effort in only his second North American game – narrowly missed two rocket shot chances from the slot.
But try as they may, as has been the story many nights this season, the comeback effort fell short, with the Americans prevailing on the back of Hackett’s 29 stops. Phil Varone put it out of reach in the final minutes, alone in front at the end of a 2-on-1 rush, sliding a backhander between Gervais-Chouinard’s pads. An empty netter by Frederik Roy was all the scoring to be seen at Copps Coliseum until the Fall.
A disappointing result to cap a disappointing season for the Hamilton faithful, but the addition of many Hab prospects for the stretch run gives all some positives to bank on for the near future. One bright spot was the play of Collberg, who is expected to return to Sweden next year where he is under contract with Frolunda, but looks to have a promising career ahead of him. The Swede missed Saturday’s game as the club chose to not force him into a 3-in-3 situation coming off a concussion, but generated scoring chances on both Friday and Sunday night. “It was two weeks ago that my season was over and of course I wanted to play more. Easy decision for me to come here. I was in Montreal for a week with the doctors and practiced all of last week. It was good to have two games instead of none.”
On his concussion, Collberg assures that he is 100% and wouldn’t have played if he wasn’t. The adjustment to North America has looked natural on ice, but he does note some challenges in the different style of play. “The smaller rinks make it go a little quicker and it’s a tougher game out there. I’ve started getting used to it after two games, but everyone is stronger and bigger so I have to be stronger around the net. I’ll work on that back home.”
Collberg’s goal in joining the Bulldogs was simply to continue improving his game, as the Swede isn’t thinking of changing his mind as to where he’ll play next year, excited about a new coach in Frolunda and a mix of younger players.