OAKVILLE, ON – The Hamilton Bulldogs opened their preseason calendar Friday night, and for the first few minutes, picked right back up where they left off last year. A weak line-up filled mostly with tryouts was dominated early by a Toronto Marlies squad highlighted by some of the Leafs’ top prospects, but fought back to make a game of it after Toronto had staked out a 2-0 lead. In the end, however, a valiant effort would fall short, with a late Spencer Abbott goal snapping a 3-3 tie and en empty netter rounding out the 5-3 Marlies victory.
The Marlies opened the scoring when Mike Condon gave up a juicy rebound on a Kevin Marshall shot, kicking it cross-crease to where Jerry D’Amigo had an easy tap in. Condon appeared shaky when moments later, no one could clear Greg McKegg from in the crease, and his third whack at the puck snuck across the goal line to give Toronto a 2-0 lead. In fairness to the ‘Dogs, their roster contained few players expected to be major contributor to the team this season, while the Marlies iced multiple top Leafs prospects for the first half of a back-to-back.
But the tryouts on the Hamilton side were determined to strut their stuff in what could be their only chance to do so, given the Bulldogs’ short three game pre-season schedule. Though a 5-on-3 proved unfruitful, before the second penalty could expire, a Dalton Thrower point shot was narrowly missed on a deflection attempt by Alex Belzile, but the puck would bounce back in front off Akim Aliu for a Chad Wiseman tap-in before Christopher Gibson could recover, cutting the lead in half. Erik Nystrom – who left Sweden for a mere 25-game tryout deal with the Bulldogs – tied the score with a nifty deflection of a Joel Chouinard blast before the first frame was out.
The Bulldogs stormed out of the gates to start the second period, with the best scoring chance coming from Wiseman again off an Aliu rebound. Aliu was easily Hamilton’s most dangerous forward on the night, but Wiseman couldn’t find the puck in his skates quickly enough to capitalize for what would have been Aliu’s third assist. Though the Dogs were outchancing their rivals, it would be Toronto’s Wade MacLeod who would break the tie, tipping a Sam Carrick point shot past Condon during a delayed penalty.
After appearing shaky on the first two goals, Condon was solid between the pipes, notably robbing a Marlie with a cross-crease dive during a 4-on-3 penalty kill where it seemed he had no chance. The Princeton University alum will be in his first professional season, though he is almost certain to begin in the ECHL with Dustin Tokarski and Robert Mayer in the picture for Hamilton.
The second period ended on a bit of a scary note when Matt Lashoff took a hard hit while pinching in the offensive zone and was slow to get up. That ended his night, and perhaps his entire disappointing tryout with the organization.
Just before the ten minute mark of the third, Kelsey Wilson – the originator of a line-brawl in the game’s first period – appeared to tie the game on a great feed from Belzile, but despite him being the only player near the net, the goal was strangely waved off. The official announcement was that the net had come off its moorings, but the Oakville complex unfortunately offered no in-game replays.
Stefan Fournier would managed to knot things up a minute later, squeaking a shot through Sparks. Fournier nearly went from hero to goat, taking a penalty shortly after his tying goal, but sound goaltending and good defensive work from Chouinard (to go with his pair of helpers) kept it even.
Despite continued strong play from Condon, the Marlies would regain the lead with under two minutes to play. Jerry D’Amigo would spot Spencer Abbott alone on the doorstep after Matt Grassi lost his man in coverage, and Abbott had an easy tap-in to an open side of the net.
Shortly after Condon got to the bench for an extra attacker, Alex Belzile would turn the puck over in the neutral zone, and D’Amigo completed his night as the best skater for either side with an empty netter, icing the 5-3 victory.
The game should have ended there, but there was a strange dust up with fifteen seconds to play. Wilson again dropped the gloves, this time with Sam Carrick, and after a good bout of several blows exchanged each way, a fired up Wilson walked behind Hamilton’s bench, shouting on his way to the dressing room.
Erik Nystrom – Ben Duffy – Jordan Owens
Chad Wiseman – Akim Aliu – Alex Belzile
Justin Courtnall – Joonas Nattinen – Andre Morrissette
Stephen MacAulay – Stefan Fournier – Kelsey Wilson
Dalton Thrower – Matt Lashoff
Jeremy Price – Joel Chouinard
Matt Grassi – Nathan McIver
The Bulldogs are next in action Saturday night with a rematch against the Marlies in Cobourg, Ontario. Their final preseason game is scheduled for Thursday, October 3rd against the Utica Comets in Dundas, Ontario, before opening their regular season at home on Friday, October 11th. You can tune in via radio throughout the season on the new home of the Hamilton Bulldogs, Hamilton AM 900 CHML, which will feature brand new pre- and post-game shows sure to highlight many Montreal Canadiens’ prospects.
HAMILTON, ON – If a number of Hamilton’s core players disappointed this season in leading to the club’s last place finish in the American Hockey League, there were some pleasant surprises among those who joined the team mid-year. Bulldogs fans were treated to sneak peeks of some of the top prospects in the Canadiens’ system, many of whom were auditioned in starring roles with the club.
In this second part of our breakdown of the Bulldogs’ players, we turn our attention to those who played fewer than 20 games with the team this season. As such, the evaluations come with a warning of a small sample size, meaning the grades and descriptions are more first impressions than substantiated career projections.
[This portion of the report focuses solely on players who suited up for fewer than 20 games for the Bulldogs this season. For assessment of the other players, please see Part 1]
OLIVIER ARCHAMBAULT – B-
AHL Numbers: 10 GP, 1-1-2, -3, 10 PIM The Skinny: 20 years old, 5’11”, 184 lbs. His Role: Archambault joined the Bulldogs following the elimination of his Drumondville Voltigeurs from the first round of the QMJHL playoffs (despite his own 6 points in 5 games) as a scoring winger. His Performance: Archambault played an intense game, generating scoring chances nightly. He most frequently played with Alex Belzile and Danny Kristo (both also on this list), and though his numbers were far from impressive, for a pro rookie playing with two other inexperienced forwards, he showed enough to think there may be some further potential there yet. Future Outlook: Archambault must be signed by the Canadiens by June 1st, or the team will relinquish his rights. He played well, but in the end, 2 points in 10 games mean the odds of his earning that deal are probably around 50-50. He would have better odds of returning to Hamilton if he decides he’s willing to start on an AHL contract.
ALEXANDER AVTSIN – C+
AHL Numbers: 15 GP, 2-3-5, -4, 4 PIM The Skinny: 22 years old, 6’3″, 191 lbs. The riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, who still had a better points-per-game ratio than Louis Leblanc. His Role: It was to be a make-or-break third year in North America for Avtsin, who needed to prove he could find some consistency and hit the scoresheet on a regular basis. His Performance: If you saw him in any of the four games he did pick up a point, you’d think he was developing into the homerun swing the Canadiens hoped they were hitting in selecting Avtsin. His game would start at a high level when he was inserted into the line-up, but he was unable to keep up that energy, as it would fade in the games to follow. Still, on a team searching for any offense like the ‘Dogs were for much of the season, it’s a big mystery why Avtsin couldn’t earn more ice time. Certainly it points to off-ice or health-related issues, though it’s nothing the team would ever confirm. Future Outlook: After being a healthy scratch for much of the season, Avtsin was finally sent to the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers with the year winding down. He wouldn’t appear in any ECHL games, however. Due to contract sliding, it seems Avtsin may still have a year on his deal with Montreal, but at this point, safe to say his bags are packed for the KHL. A shame for a player with all the tools to succeed – size, skating, skills – but just can’t seem to put it all together to overcome an apparent lack of hockey sense.
ALEX BELZILE – A
AHL Numbers: 14 GP, 3-5-8, -4, 11 PIM
The Skinny: 21 years old, 5’11”, 188 lbs. A late season addition you’ve never heard of who outplayed Danny Kristo. And speaks French. His Role: A native of St-Eloi, Quebec, Belzile was signed to a tryout late in the year after scoring 30 points in 40 games for the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators. At the time, it was likely expected for him to serve as a placeholder until some of Montreal’s junior prospects could join the squad. His Performance: Belzile performed beyond all expectations, quickly producing and earning a larger role. He found himself almost immediately on a top line with Patrick Holland and Joey Tenute, not looking out of place there. He was moved from the wing to centre once some of the prospects joined the squad, moving to a secondary scoring line to try to spread balance through the team’s units. Belzile plays a simple game. He has a hard shot, though it lacks accuracy. Despite a lack of size, he goes hard to the net, and while not a real hitter, isn’t afraid to engage physically. Future Outlook: His play should have earned him a longer look with the organization, though I’d be inclined to offer strictly an AHL deal until he can show continued effort over a larger sample size. I could see him starting on such a contract with the Bulldogs, and perhaps earning a two-way NHL contract by year’s end. Would certainly like to see him back.
ALAIN BERGER – C
AHL Numbers: 9 GP, 0-0-0, -6, 4 PIM The Skinny: 22 years old, 6’4″, 194 lbs. If you’ve followed me on Twitter for a while, you know I was obsessed with his shot. His Role: Played on a third or fourth line without real purpose. Not really an energy player. A depth scorer. His Performance: An NHL-level shot, good size, and not much else to like in his game. He could be a liability on-ice, which made him a healthy scratch struggling for ice time. Future Outlook: Berger wanted out, so he and the organization agreed mid-season on an assignment to Bern of the Swiss league. His days with the team are done.
SEBASTIAN COLLBERG – A-
AHL Numbers: 2 GP, 0-0-0, -2, 0 PIM The Skinny: 19 years old, 5’11”, 176 lbs. His Role: By the time Collberg got to North America and received medical clearance from the Canadiens after recovering from a concussion, there remained just a single weekend in Hamilton’s season. Thus his task was to simply gain experience and a taste of the North American pro game, though he was given a phenomenal opportunity to fill in for the injured Patrick Holland on the first line with Joey Tenute and Charles Hudon. His Performance: While he failed to collect his first AHL point, Collberg was highly impressive in his short stint with the squad. It was quite the tease, considering he should be rejoining Frolunda in the Fall to play out one more season in Sweden. Collberg was perhaps the team’s quickest/best skater, and showed off his rocket release, though like Belzile, seemed to miss the net more than he’d hit it. He would park himself in the slot and was always dangerous, while also manning the point on the powerplay. Future Outlook: As stated, he’s expected back in Sweden next season, where his focus should be on adding muscle to his frame. If the two AHL games he played were any indication, however, he’s ready to take on that level should he decide to come over to North America full-time.
Hear Collberg’s own assessment of his time with the Bulldogs exclusively HERE.
BLAKE GEOFFRION – A
AHL Numbers: 10 GP, 4-2-6, -2, 9 PIM The Skinny: 25 years old, 6’2″, 195 lbs. The guy who kinda sorta retired, but then didn’t. Yet. His Role: Geoffrion was expected to be a veteran leader and offensive catalyst on this young team. He had been on fire in the AHL the year prior on a line with Aaron Palushaj and Louis Leblanc before call-ups broke the trio up. His Performance: Geoffrion played hard right out of the gates, bringing his physical brand of hockey on a nightly basis, while firing plenty of rubber at opposing keepers. Sadly, a hard hit by former Hab Jean-Philippe Cote would see Geoffrion’s neck and head hit the ice hard, fracturing his skull, and necessitating emergency surgery. Future Outlook: From all we’ve heard, there seems little doubt Geoffrion will announce his retirement at season’s end, as there has been little progress in his condition. We can only wish him well in his continued recovery to allow him to lead a full, healthy, and happy life after he leaves the game.
CHARLES HUDON – B+
AHL Numbers: 9 GP, 1-2-3, -5, 4 PIM The Skinny: 18 years old, 5’10”, 171 lbs. Phenomenal season derailed by injuries that kept him out of the World Junior Championship. His Role: Hudon has mentioned what a crushing disappointment missing this year’s WJC tournament was in an otherwise standout season for the Chicoutimi captain. Hopefully getting a peak of what AHL hockey is like as the league’s youngest player compensated for that letdown. His Performance: Hudon proved to be a gamer despite his age, quickly earning a promotion to the top line with Tenute and Holland/Collberg. His offensive abilities were evident, as he was one of the team’s more creative players during a final stretch that saw them struggle to produce. Given the game he plays, he’ll need to fill out to make the full transition to this league, but his natural ability is very evident at a young age, seen in his frequent toe drags and challenges of opposing defenders. Future Outlook: Too young to play in the AHL on a full-time basis, Hudon will return to Chicoutimi and will be a lock to play for Canada at next Christmas’s World Juniors barring another injury. He suffered multiple injuries this season, and it’s something to watch as seemingly the only thing that could keep him from a successful pro career. A versatile two-way player, Hudon can fill a 2nd or 3rd line role.
DANNY KRISTO – C+
AHL Numbers: 9 GP, 0-3-3, -1, 2 PIM The Skinny: 22 years old, 5’11”, 185 lbs. Hab fans have been waiting a long time for Kristo to show up. Bulldog fans are still waiting. His Role: There was much hoopla surrounding the signing of top prospect Kristo, and yet he wasn’t immediately given a prominent role on the ‘Dogs like many of the other late-season additions. He played on a third line, mainly with Archambault and Belzile, while initially receiving limited powerplay minutes. His Performance: I can’t say Kristo was bad, but he was mostly unnoticeable in the first 9 games of his professional career. You would occasionally see him make a quality pass or skate well on a forecheck, but that would be the only shift where you’d notice him in a given game. Future Outlook: There is nothing to be concerned about, as the adjustment from college to the AHL can be a big one. Kristo may be less NHL-ready than some had hoped, however, and a season against lesser competition with the University of North Dakota may not have been good for his development. Still, he’ll be a Bulldog again in the Fall and should be counted on as one of the team’s offensive leaders. His experience with Team USA at the upcoming World Championships should certainly help his game reach the needed level. He still projects as a second line winger.
DAULTAN LEVEILLE- C-
AHL Numbers: 19 GP, 0-2-2, -3, 4 PIM The Skinny: 22 years old, 6’0″, 185 lbs. Claims he was once taken in the first round of the NHL draft. Fortunately it was one year prior to Rick Dudley’s arrival in Atlanta. His Role: Leveille was one of the club’s AHL depth signings, and he split the year between the Bulldogs and the ECHL. When injuries and call-ups left holes in Hamilton’s roster, Leveille served as a two-way stop-gap. His Performance: A serviceable gap-filler, Leveille showed little to earn him another contract. A dime-a-dozen type. Future Outlook: Could be back on another AHL deal if the staff felt there was a fit there, but more than likely the team will go in a different direction.
TYLER MUROVICH – C+
AHL Numbers: 18 GP, 3-1-4, -7, 37 PIM The Skinny: 23 years old, 5’9″, 185 lbs. Wait a minute… He actually played how many games this season?! His Role: Allow the the team to dress 12 forwards. And somehow send three pucks to the back of the net. His Performance: When you noticed Murovich was playing, it was often making a simple play like getting a puck deep, or else coming up on the short end of a physical battle. A third or fourth line filler with no NHL aspiration. Future Outlook: See Daultan Leveille.
PETTERI NOKELAINEN – C+
AHL Numbers: 17 GP, 2-2-4, -10, 21 PIM The Skinny: 27 years old, 6’1″, 202 lbs. 51 GP, 3-3-6 for the Canadiens in 2011-12, but the Bulldogs would have preferred swapping him back for Brock Trotter. His Role: Nokelainen centered a second line after clearing waivers once finally healthy. He received big minutes on both the powerplay and penalty kill. His Performance: Joining a team mid-season after missing so much time isn’t an easy task, and unfortunately Nokelainen showed few signs of having been an NHL semi-regular as recently as last year. He used his size to play a tough game, but contributed little at either end of the rink to have any true impact on the team. He was outplayed in all aspects by a first year player in Michael Bournival. Future Outlook: Nokelainen is unlikely to earn a one-way NHL contract at this stage of his career, and if he’s willing to accept a tw0-way deal rather than return to Europe, it will almost certainly be with a different organization.
IAN SCHULTZ – D
AHL Numbers: 2 GP, 0-0-0, -1, 2 PIM The Skinny: 23 years old, 6’2″, 216 lbs. He’ll forever be “the other guy” Montreal got along with Lars Eller for Jaroslav Halak. His Role: Conditioning has been an issue for Schultz throughout his career, and he wasn’t ready to undertake this season, losing his job quickly. His Performance: Disappointing. Schultz seemed on his way to filling his potential as a part-time call-up scrapper last season, and instead his career has been thrown completely off course. Future Outlook: Schultz is an RFA this summer and it is doubtful the Canadiens will qualify him. This update is the only reason he’s even included in this list.
BRADY VAIL – B
AHL Numbers: 12 GP, 1-3-4, +2, 4 PIM The Skinny: 19 years old, 6’1″, 190 lbs. Once upon a time, he was neck-and-neck with Alex Galchenyuk in OHL scoring. True story. His Role: When Windsor failed to qualify for the OHL playoffs, a disappointing year turned to opportunity for Vail as one of Hamilton’s youngest players. He played almost exclusively on the fourth line centering Kyle Hagel and Zack Stortini, receiving just a two-game reprieve and opportunity with players of a higher skill level. His Performance: Despite a lack of playing time and quality linemates, and the fact that even next year he’ll still be too young to play in the AHL, Vail didn’t look at all out of place. A sound defensive forward and penalty killer, Vail showed hard-nosed offensive ability that made him one of the OHL’s tougher centers to line up against. Future Outlook: Vail will be back with the Spitfires and may have a shot at the USA’s World Junior squad in December. Barring any huge plot twists, he’ll be signed at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season and join the Bulldogs once the Spits are done. He projects as a third line center.
MIKE COMMODORE – B-
AHL Numbers: 17 GP, 0-2-2, -4, 26 PIM The Skinny: 33 years old, 6’4″, 225 lbs. Yet still refuses to give in to popular outcry and wear the number 64. His Role: Hamilton’s blueline was exceptionally young with no fewer than four rookies playing significant roles. Injury and disappointing play from Frederic St. Denis had the team in the market for another veteran presence, and Commodore most frequently formed a giant pairing beside Jarred Tinordi. His Performance: When in the line-up, Commodore performed respectably, though he wasn’t the defensive rock on D to cover for rookie errors the team hoped he’d be. Worse, a wonky groin meant he was rarely at 100%, and was likely a significant factor in the ‘Dogs not extending him beyond his tryout period. Future Outlook: After his stint with the Bulldogs, Commodore eventually found work with the Texas Stars, and will continue to attempt to earn his way back to the NHL with another club.
MATT GRASSI – C+
Bulldog Numbers: 3 GP, 0-0-0, +0, 0 PIM The Skinny: 24 years old, 6’3″, 215 lbs. His Role: A defensive blueliner having finished his career at Michigan State, Grassi’s size made him an intriguing tryout to compensate for call-ups and injuries on the back end His Performance: Grassi seemed solid enough that I was surprised when he was released after only three games, though he didn’t display any standout skills. He played decent minutes and was mostly unnoticeable – a compliment for a defensive d-man – though giveaways in his final game may have ultimately led to the club’s decision to set him free. Future Outlook: Grassi’s size alone should see him land with at least an ECHL squad next year if he decides to continue to play hockey rather than pursue other interests with his college education.
PETER MERTH – C
AHL Numbers: 7 GP, 0-1-1, -5, 8 PIM The Skinny: 25 years old, 6’3″, 225 lbs. Captained the Wheeling Nailers this season after wearing an ‘A’ a year ago. His Role: Merth got a taste of AHL action with the Penguins last season, and so the Bulldogs rewarded their ECHL affiliate’s captain with a chance to show he could improve on his debut in the league. His Performance: A strong two-way player at the lower level, Merth is an example of just how steep the step can be, as he failed to leave a positive impression on the Bulldogs. Merth can make a solid breakout pass, but coverage in his own end and skating were not his biggest strengths. Future Outlook: He is currently with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for depth on their playoff drive. Seems like he has a home with the Nailers, so could be back in Wheeling next year, but unlikely to be signed by the Bulldogs or Canadiens.
PETER DELMAS – C
Bulldog Numbers: 3 GP, 0-2-0, 3.49 GAA, .865 SV% The Skinny: 23 years old, 6’2″, 188 lbs. His Role: Delmas provided necessary organizational depth in goal as a third stringer for the Bulldogs, spending the season with the Wheeling Nailers and posting decent ECHL numbers. His Performance: Unfortunately, unlike the last two seasons, Delmas did not perform up to expectations when pressed into AHL action. His three appearances left much to be desired. Future Outlook: With one year remaining on his contract, there was hope Delmas could at least be Hamilton’s back-up goaltender next season, However, based on this year’s results, the team may look outside to fill that role while relegating Delmas to a final year as the Bulldogs’ number three.
JACOB GERVAIS-CHOUINARD – B-
Bulldog Numbers: 3 GP, 0-2-0, 3.24 GAA, .905 SV% The Skinny: 21 years old, 6’1″, 173 lbs. His Role: With two goaltenders already battling for ice time, it was a bit of a head-scratcher when the Bulldogs brought in Gervais-Chouinard after Sherbrooke’s season had ended in the QMJHL. He would see limited action over the course of the final weeks in hopes of earning a contract now that his junior career is over. His Performance: Though he didn’t play much, the Sherbrooke native was sound when called upon, generally starting games on the nervous side (including allowing a few softies) but settling in as they wore on. His rebound control could use work, but he showed determination in scrambling/fighting to get in front of second chance opportunities. Future Outlook: Given how little he played, it’s hard to assess whether the organization sees a future for the young netminder. That he started the team’s final game of the season should be a positive sign, but even if he does earn a contract, the club may choose to bring in another keeper still to ensure their bases are covered.
DUSTIN TOKARSKI – A-
Bulldog Numbers: 15 GP, 6-8-0, 2.22 GAA, .927 SV% The Skinny: 23 years old, 5’11”, 190 lbs. Nicknamed ‘Ticker’ after the picture of comicbook hero The Tick on his mask. His Role: Tokarski was acquired for a struggling Cedric Desjardins to split time with Robert Mayer in goal. At just 23 years of age, he remains a prospect to be developed, so the team hoped to see the goaltender who won a Calder Cup championship last Spring and had represented Canada at the World Juniors back in 2008-09. His Performance: In that regard, the Bulldogs got exactly what they wanted, as Tokarski started his career with the organization on fire. His three Hamilton shutouts came in his first 10 games with the squad, and while his consistency would wane over the final stretch, he showed enough to remain a future potential NHL keeper. Moreover, he has the right attitude off the ice, always his own harshest critic with a thirst for continuous improvement. Future Outlook: While he split time with Mayer this season, Tokarski should enter 2013-14 as Hamilton’s undisputed #1. He provides the Canadiens with a legitimate call-up option should injury require reinforcements in goal.
HAMILTON, ON – For the third night in a row, the Hamilton Bulldogs got behind the eight-ball early against a superior opponent and couldn’t muster enough of a comeback effort to get back in the game, dropping a 3-0 decision to the Oklahoma City Barons Sunday afternoon.
It was a big night for one member of the Bulldogs’ squad, as Sherbrooke, Quebec native Jacob Gervais-Chouinard made his first start at the AHL level. The 21-year old was tested early and proved shaky, popping a Jonathan Cheechoo shot up in the air and being unable to track it in his own crease behind him before Philippe Cornet could pounce on it and tap it home. Moments later a centering pass was found in a scramble in front of the net by Mark Arcobello who also beat Gervais-Chouinard for a quick 2-0 lead for the visitors.
The young netminder would settle down – despite highly unorthodox rebound control – as Hamilton was outshot 11-1 halfway through the first. The shots trend continued into the second, but it would take until the Barons’ 30th shot – coming at almost exactly the midway mark of the second period – for them to next solve the ‘Dogs keeper. A powerplay had the Hamilton defense somehow leave Cheechoo all alone in front, allowing him to collect a pass off his backside, spin around, and beat an out of position Gervais-Chouinard. It marked the third time in as many nights that Hamilton fell behind 3-0.
A brief spark ignited when coach Sylvain Lefebvre reunited the team’s former top line of Alex Belzile – the team’s best forward in the game – Joey Tenute and Patrick Holland. The three instantly generated the second period’s best scoring chance, drawing a penalty on the sequence, but a dismal powerplay failed to produce a quality chance on goal.
Despite the likes of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Magnus Paajarvi, and Justin Schultz – all of whom played for the Barons during the lockout – being up in the NHL, the Barons present an experienced roster (Cheechoo, Ben Eager, Garret Stafford, and more in addition to quality prospects Arcobello, Anton Lander, Toni Rajala, and Teemu Hartikainen) which was simply too much for the young Hamilton squad to handle. They would have to do little more than sit back and coast the rest of the way, with the home side managing only one other chance of note, when ex-Hab and Bulldog Yann Danis would stonewall Louis Leblanc standing all in front and taking a 3-on-1 pass perfectly from Petteri Nokelainen, one of the few big saves he was forced to make in earning his first shutout of the season.
The Barons would close out the scoring with a Toni Rajala centering pass that was inadvertently kicked into an empty cage by Nolekalinen, putting a cap on a slow but very one-sided affair.
With the team mathematically eliminated from the post-season, the bigger concern than the loss were injuries suffered by two key members of the Bulldogs. Neither Michael Bournival not Patrick Holland – two guys Montreal may well have added to their Black Aces list to keep skating into the playoffs – was unable to finish the game. Coach Sylvain Lefebvre confirmed it was a lower body injury for Bournival (seen post-game walking without crutches) and that both he and Holland would be evaluated tomorrow.
Belzile was recognized as the Bulldogs’ hardest worker on the night, but he failed to explain why the team got off to such slow starts all weekend long. “It’s hard to say. Maybe it’s the preparation. Or little details like trying to gain momentum quickly and to not lose it. Sometimes it’s just lucky bounces we didn’t get, but we need to keep pushing.” On his own performance and efforts to earn a new contract with the organization, the impressive AHL tryout explained, “Every game I need to be a little more intense on the ice. It’s one of my greatest tools, so I need to use it to bring something to the team. I hope I’ll be back, but I don’t want to think too far ahead. Game by game, I’ll bring my 100% to show I have my place here.”
Just three games remain in the 2013 calendar for the Hamilton Bulldogs, and after losing Steve Quailer to an injury Friday, they may be further undermanned if neither Holland nor Bournival can return next weekend. They will get some reinforcements, however, as Sebastian Collberg agreed to a tryout contract with the squad Sunday morning and will debut at home next Friday night.
HAMILTON, ON – They say the first game home after a lengthy road trip is one of the toughest to win. But if Wednesday night was an indication, the Hamilton Bulldogs aren’t familiar with that expression.
After posting a 1-3-0 record on the road over the last two and a half weeks, the ‘Dogs returned to Copps Coliseum with a decisive victory, chilling the Abbotsford Heat by a 5-3 final score in a game they controlled for two periods but would ultimately have to survive a third period collapse.
Hamilton got off to a good start with the game’s first quality scoring chance as Alex Belzile narrowly missed getting to the rebound of a Joey Tenute shot. Belzile was promoted to the Bulldogs’ top line with Tenute and Patrick Holland for the night – despite it being only the third AHL game of the tryout’s career – based on his production (a goal and two assists) in his two prior outings.
The Bulldogs would make good of their second opportunity however. Michael Bournival took a couple of strides off a Nathan Beaulieu pass and fired a hard wrister off the post and in on netminder Danny Taylor. With Gabriel Dumont in Montreal Bournival led the ‘Dogs in scoring coming into the game with 24 points in 56 contests, and the marker tied him with Patrick Holland for second on the team in goals with 8.
As rare as it has been for Hamilton to score first this season, on this night, they wouldn’t stop there. First Frederic St. Denis would one-time the rebound of a Philippe Lefebvre shot past a helpless Taylor. Brady Vail picked up his first professional point (in his third game) with an assist on the tally. Then just five minutes later, feel-good story Hamilton local Joey Tenute would collect a Belzile pass and fire a rifle top shelf.
The second period saw the Bulldogs add to their lead with a powerplay marker to make it 4-0. Nathan Beaulieu showed great agility in executing a quick spinorama at the point before feeding back to Patrick Holland. Holland would in turn send the puck cross-ice to Greg Pateryn whose slapshot found the back of the net for his 6th in just 27 games. Robert Mayer would close out the period with a number of quality stops as Abbotsford held a 27-16 shot advantage through 40 minutes, though those totals hardly reflected the balance of play.
Nothing has come easy for the boys from Steeltown North this season and this game would not be an exception. The Heat came out buzzing to start the final stanza and markers from Max Reinhart and Roman Horak quickly made it a two-goal affair. Hoping to settle his troops down, coach Sylvain Lefebvre wisely called a timeout.
And it seemed to work. Again the new top line went to work with Holland flashing skill to break in alone on goal, and while he was stepped, Tenute was Johnny on the spot for his second of the night, restoring a three-goal lead. Belzile registered his second helper of the game on the goal – his fifth point in just his third game – and was impressive throughout the night, regularly going hard to the Heat net.
Ben Street would reduce the Heat deficit to two, but that was as close as this one would come, as the Bulldogs pick up a hard-fought and well-deserved win despite what the shot clock might have one think. The win was made all the more impressive by the fact that no fewer than six players were making their Copps Coliseum debuts in the game.
“It’s a little weird for me, just cause I’ve never experienced anything like this,” explained Vail who – given his young age – will return to the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires in the Fall. “I’m here to experience what it’s like at the next level and learn from the pro guys; what it takes, the work ethic, off-ice stuff. All the little things really. Good to get [the first point] out of the way, and hope I get a few more.”
Belzile, playing his first year outside of Quebec and a little self-conscious about his English, is also looking at this as a learning opportunity. “[The AHL] is way faster [than the ECHL]. Just the intensity – you can’t compare them. You have to be smarter – know what you’re going to do with the puck before it comes. Those little details, and I hope [my adjustment] is going to continue the same way.”