By Dale Lamontagne, Hamilton Bulldogs Correspondent, Bulldogs Hockey Report
HAMILTON, ON — In the second game of the back-to-back between the Hamilton Bulldogs and Grand Rapids Griffins, the ‘Dogs skated away with a nice 5-2 victory to sweep the weekend set against the Detroit Red Wings AHL affiliate.
It didn’t take long to see the first goal of the game.
The Hamilton Bulldogs struck first with Nick Sorkin cleaning up the rebound in front of Jared Coreau, where he backhanded the puck by his glove hand. That was Sorkin’s fourth goal of the season.
The Bulldogs went up 2-0 fourteen minutes into the opening frame, thanks to Davis Drewiske.
Lots of credit goes to Maxime Macenauer, who fed Drewiske a nice pass, where he roofed it top corner with a wicked backhand shot. It was a helluva shot that you rarely see Drewiske do.
Jack Nevins and Chris Burton dropped the gloves right off the faceoff, but the officials would intervene before the two could scrap it out. So both players went off for minor unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and the game was played 4-on-4. Last week, Jarred Tinordi was knocked out flat after participating in a staged fight with a Utica Comets player and officials were quick to make sure the fight did not happen.
With only a handful of seconds left in the 4-on-4, the Griffins cut the Bulldogs lead in half, with Mitch Callahan beating Mike Condon on the blocker side.
Once Nevins and Burton got out of the box, they wasted no time beginning a fight. Both players landed a bunch of punches to the face and head area, but Nevins got the upper hand as he took Burton down to the ice.
The Griffins started the second period on a good note as they were able to tie the game on the breakaway.
Forward Landon Ferraro, son of former NHL’er Ray, scored on the breakaway after receiving the puck at center ice as a Bulldogs player turned it over.
But moments after the Griffins tied the game, the Bulldogs got their lead back after Charles Hudon and Jacob De La Rose had a nice 2-on-1 opportunity. Hudon dished to De La Rose the puck who beat Coreau on the blocker side.
A little after the mid-way mark in the second, Nathan Paetsch was called for slashing, but he was not happy about it as he broke his stick over his net, then slammed the Griffins bench door before heading down the tunnel. Paetsch was given a slashing, unsportsmanlike conduct and 10 minute game misconduct.
Fast forward with 1:35 left, the Bulldogs extended their lead to 4-2 on the power-play.
Forward Hudon blasted the shot from the point and Coreau made the save, but there would be a huge rebound with Daniel Carr tucking the puck away to extend the ‘Dogs lead.
Carr’s goal would send the ‘Dogs into the second intermission up by two goals.
The Bulldogsmade it a 5-2 game just a couple of minutes into the third period, thanks to T.J. Hensick who buried a wrap-around-goal.
The ‘Dogs hung on to their 5-2 lead for the remainder of the period, defeating the Griffins for the second night in a row.
The Bulldogs are back in action next Friday as they host William Nylander and the Toronto Marlies. Game time is at 7:30 p.m. Get your tickets at hamiltonbulldogs.com/tickets.
HAMILTON, ON – It was a quiet week on the ice in Hamilton, as the Bulldogs had only a single game, allowing some of their conference rivals to close out games in hand. Unfortunately they also allowed those teams to gain points on them in the AHL’s Western Conference standings, as their lone outing was a disappointing 3-1 loss to the cellar-dwelling Utica Comets.
It wasn’t for a lack of chances that the Bulldogs dropped their second game in the past three following a season-long six-game win streak. Removing the empty netter insurance goal, the shots on the night were even, and a Hamilton had a number of chances to get on the board early, but failed to cash in. Finding themselves down 2-0 through twenty minutes, the ‘Dogs simply didn’t have it in them to come back, struggling to beat netminder Joe Cannata despite the poor season he’s having.
Of greater significance to Habs fans were the three players called up to Montreal this week. Joonas Nattinen – who I’d highlighted as an unsung hero this season for the ‘Dogs – wasn’t given much of a chance to make his presence felt, centering the fourth line against the Toronto Maple Leafs but seeing his ice time limited to just 1:45. Nattinen will be an RFA this summer, and if he opts to explore options overseas, he will join the ranks of some of the most obscure players to ever wear the CH crest.
Nathan Beaulieu – called up along with Nattinen – has been given a better opportunity and hasn’t looked out of place on the Habs’ back end. His playing has come at the expense of Raphael Diaz – a curious choice to say the least – but his puck-handling and skating abilities are welcome additions and certain upgrades on veterans Francis Bouillon and Doug Murray. It is critical for the Canadiens to begin breaking in their prospect blueliners at the NHL level, as it is difficult to have multiple players making that transition all at once.
Lastly, Louis Leblanc was recalled after Nattinen was sent down to fill a bottom six winger role. Leblanc was Hamilton’s second leading scorer at the time of the recall, and their most productive player at even strength. His overall game wasn’t particularly impressive at the AHL level, but there were few forwards on the ‘Dogs’ roster truly deserving of a call-up, and the Canadiens do have a need to figure out Leblanc’s career trajectory beyond this season sooner rather than later. Leblanc got a slightly greater audition than Nattinen, playing 7:49 on a line with Michael Bournival (whereas Nattinen got Travis Moen and George Parros as wingers), and remains in the mix for the time being, with Ryan White and Alex Galchenyuk still sidelined with injuries.
With underperforming veterans like Bouillon, Murray, Rene Bourque, and Daniel Briere frequently in the Canadiens’ line-up, combined with Montreal’s poor play as a team of late, it isn’t inconceivable that other Bulldog players get NHL auditions before the season is through to inject some youthful energy and enthusiasm. Perhaps it’s the fact that Hamilton is in a tight race for a playoff spot that has made the Canadiens reluctant to pull the kind of moves that would gut their AHL affiliate. Is it just Michel Therrien‘s insistence on favouring is veterans, or is the organization putting heavy value on playoff experience for their young prospects in a case of “Ask not what your Bulldogs can do for you, but what you can do for your Bulldogs?”
In an ideal scenario, Hamilton would remain as hot as their 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games indicates for the next while, providing them a cushion of points on which they can rest their laurels. That would allow the Canadiens to free up some roster spots pre-trade deadline for call-ups, and not leave the Bulldogs shorthanded for too long, as at least some of the organization’s junior prospects would be nearing the ends of their seasons. Hamilton stands to gain the likes of Charles Hudon, Tim Bozon, Brady Vail, Dalton Thrower, and potentially Swedish imports Sebastian Collberg and Jacob De La Rose for a stretch run, and will need open spots for them to fill.
This weekend is a busier one for the boys from the Hammer with a traditional American Hockey League three-in-three. The team has seen exceptional ticket sales for it’s Friday night match-up against the arch-rival Toronto Marlies Friday night, completely selling out the lower bowl at Copps Coliseum, and now opening the upper bowl to fans as well. Considering it’s also $3 beer night, the building should be rocking, and thus if you’re in the Hamilton area, act quick and pick up tickets from www.hamiltonbulldogs.com.
HAMILTON, ON – The Hamilton Bulldogs’ welcome home from a 4-0-0 road trip wasn’t a happy one Saturday, dropping a decision to the Rochester Americans, but the warriors from the Hammer got back in the win column Sunday by outworking the Iowa Wild. Goals from Gabriel Dumont, Nathan Beaulieu, and an empty netter from Nick Tarnasky supported a strong night of work from Dustin Tokarski to earn a 3-1 victory.
The Bulldogs started the night off on a strong note when the initial shift by the line of Christian Thomas, Maxime Macenauer, and Louis Leblanc drew a penalty to Hamilton-native Marc Hagel (brother of former Bulldog Kyle Hagel). The powerplay buzzed for the first minute, with Sven Andrighetto getting the best chance on a deflection of a Martin St. Pierre centering pass, but Johan Gustafsson resisted and the game remained scoreless.
Hamilton continued to press as the far better team in the opening stanza. A strong forecheck from Thomas created a turnover, and the winger himself narrowly missed tapping in the rebound of a Louis Leblanc half-pass half-shot.
One of the few Iowa scoring chances in the first came with the man advantage while Macenauer sat in the box for interference. A miscue between Greg Pateryn and Jarred Tinordi left former Bulldog Tyler Murovich alone in the slot, but his one-time attempt was stymied by a sprawling Dustin Tokarski. The Wild carried the momentum through the rest of the powerplay, and moments later captain Jake Dowell‘s shot beat Tokarski but found pipe.
With the penalty killed, the Bulldogs returned to the attack. Martin St. Pierre led a rush that drew a Corbin Baldwin hooking penalty, and early on in the powerplay, it was St. Pierre again spotting Gabriel Dumont at the side of the goal. Dumont showed quick hands, spinning around and flipping the puck over to his forehead before lifting a shot over Gustafsson for a 1-0 lead – a deserved advantage as the home side led 18-8 on the shot clock.
The Bulldogs looked to continue their dominance in the second, and it was again the line of Thomas, Macenauer, and Leblanc that almost extended the lead. Thomas picked off a puck behind the Wild net and spotted Leblanc all alone in front of Gustafsson, but the winger fanned on his wide-open scoring attempt.
That same shift, Macenauer picked up his second minor penalty of the game, this one in the offensive zone for a trip, in a moment that seemed to swing the game’s momentum around a bit. Iowa’s puck movement on the powerplay was again crisp, and a perfectly-executed give-and-go between Warren Peters and Marc Hagel left the latter with an easy tap-in for a tie game, drawing applause from his hometown friends and family in the crowd.
Key for the Bulldogs was to not fall into the same trip they had a night before, being to play a strong first half, but then sit and watch as the visitors slowly took over after the midway mark. Sven Andrighetto showed there was still fight in the ‘Dogs on this night, as he and Patrick Holland battled hard on the forecheck, before Andrighetto himself worked magic with the puck, weaving around the offensive zone and firing a hard shot from just inside the blueline. His attempt was stopped by Gustafsson, but the rebound came right out to Nathan Beaulieu who ripped it over falling bodies and just under the bar to restore the lead.
A scary moment shortly after the go-ahead marker, as Jim McKenzie boarded Patrick Holland from behind in the Hamilton end. Holland lay on the ice for about a minute following the hit, as Beaulieu was quick to drop the gloves with McKenzie in his defense. Holland was eventually able to get up, leaving the ice under his own strength and returning to action in the third period, while for Beaulieu, the fight completed a Gordie Howe Hat Trick.
The period’s final minute saw the Bulldogs with another penalty to kill as Joonas Nattinen was given the only minor from a large scrum. Heavy pressure from the Wild forced Tokarski to be on top of his game, and the 24-year old was up to the task with numerous key pad saves.
The first half of the third saw both sides squander powerplay opportunities after looking so sharp in periods one and two. During one Bulldog kill, Gabriel Dumont blocked a heavy point shot with his foot and retreated to the dressing room under great distress. He would return to the bench minutes thereafter sporting a noticeable limp, and remained seated there the rest of the night.
Hamilton had a glorious chance to put the game away late in the period, as Nick Tarnasky and Joonas Nattinen swarmed the crease with the puck behind a fallen Gustafsson, but somehow the pair was unable to find the vacated cage.
Tarnasky would redeem himself in the game’s final minute, however. After two key face-off wins from Martin St. Pierre, the hulking forward pressed the Iowa defense with a forecheck, scooping a bobbled puck into the net with the goalie out for an extra attacker. Tarnasky’s ninth drew him even with Louis Leblanc for the team lead in goals.
Coach Sylvain Lefebvre indicated post-game that the Dumont shot block was a big lift to his players that helped carry them through the final minutes. “We know what Dumy’s all about. He’s an inspiration to all the players here. He plays hard every night. To block that shot, sometimes you like to think it’s a game changer. It’s as big as a goal sometimes,” credited the team’s bench boss.
“Yesterday we let the game slip away from us, so today we were on a mission,” summarized one of the night’s heroes, Nathan Beaulieu. Beaulieu has now amassed two goals and three assists in five games in the month of January, and he owes his personal success to satisfaction with his defensive game, which has allowed him to open up his play on a more regular basis. “The first half of the year, I was focused on the defensive half of my game. Now I can jump in a little more and start putting up some numbers.”
Hamilton’s star offensive rearguard came out post-game wearing some unusual headgear. When asked about it, he explained that it was awarded every game to the team’s best player, chosen by its previous wearer. His claim that the tradition had been going on for two years was met with skepticism from the assembled journalists, which led him to clarify, “I’m the only one that actually wears it cause it only fits my head. I have a small head.” Ironic if you consider what some in the media have made of Beaulieu, but he has been nothing but a professional on and off the ice of late as a key contributor to the Bulldogs’ current run.
With the win, the Bulldogs improved to 7-1-1 in their past nine games and avoided the plague of their early season: following up every win streak with a slide of equal length. The team begins the second half of their 2013-14 AHL season at home next Saturday, January 18th, against the Utica Comets.
HAMILTON, ON – The Hamilton Bulldogs came home from a four-game road trip riding a six-game win streak, but a strong first period was insufficient to extend the streak to seven Saturday night against the Rochester Americans. It looked through twenty minutes as though the ‘Dogs might continue the dominance they displayed on the road, but the visiting Amerks got revenge from the first half of the teams’ home-and-home, slowly taking control starting at the game’s halfway point, and then controlling the flow in the final minutes to secure a 3-1 victory.
The game marked Robert Mayer‘s first start since winning the Spengler Cup during a brief loan to Genève-Servette. Mayer was phenomenal in the tournament’s final, particularly as Genève-Servette held on under siege during the third period.
Mayer’s shaky confidence has often been a knock against him throughout his professional career, so the hope was that the championship might give him something to build on back in the American Hockey League, but the extended time off between games saw him look hesitant off the bat. The first shot his way – coming from the blueline – squeaked through him, but fortunately trickled just wide of the cage.
From there, the Bulldogs took over the first period. On the team’s first powerplay at the midway mark of the period, Greg Pateryn took a feed from Christian Thomas along the blueline and took a few strides in from the point before firing a hard wrister past Nathan Lieuwen for a 1-0 lead. The goal was Pateryn’s seventh of the season, putting him just two behind Louis Leblanc‘s team leading nine. As much as Pateryn could help the Montreal Canadiens as an upgrade on D immediately, he has been Hamilton’s MVP through the first half of the season, and would be an enormous loss for the ‘Dogs.
Nathan Beaulieu and Sven Andrighetto had quality scoring chances looking to extend the Hamilton lead before 20 minutes were through. Beaulieu accepted a drop pass and displayed soft hands in weaving through the Amerks’ defense before firing a shot that rang off the post. A few shifts later, Andrighetto’s stickhandling ability allowed him to find open ice in the offensive zone, but his shot was narrowly wide.
The Bulldogs picked up right where they left off in the second period. Gabriel Dumont battled hard in front of Lieuwen on an early powerplay, finally leaving the puck for Mike Blunden to crash the goal and try to sneak one through the Rochester netminder, but to no avail.
After successfully killing ten penalties in Rochester the night previous, Hamilton was again set on not making the night an easy one for themselves. The Americans – who began to find their legs as the period moved on – hemmed the ‘Dogs in their own end for an extended period of time, eventually earning a powerplay thanks to a Christian Thomas failed clear attempt that sailed over the glass. Mayer was forced to make a big save lying on the ice in snow angel formation to help his ‘mates survive the kill.
But Rochester’s momentum only grew from there. Mayer – who also settled down as the game wore on – made the initial stop on a rush, but kicked the rebound all the way back to the point where Chad Ruhwedel was waiting. The blueliner’s shot would be tipped in front by Brandon MacLean to tie the game before Mayer could recover.
The third period started with both teams afraid to make mistakes. The biggest moment in the early-goings was a successful Hamilton kill of a Greg Pateryn penalty. It took till the midway point of the frame for the first real scoring chance, when Maxim Macenauer and Louis Leblanc broke in on a two-on-one. Macenauer opted to keep the puck and identified the nearside top corner, but Lieuwen got the blocker up in time.
Seconds after the unsuccessful rush, Luke Adam – always a thorn in Hamilton’s sign – deftly stickhandled inside the Bulldogs blueline to create room before spotting Johan Larsson alone in the slot. Larsson – acquired from Minnesota as part of last season’s Jason Pominville trade – quickly redirected the pass into an empty net as Mayer attempted to slide cross-crease, giving Rochester its first lead of the night.
By this point, the Americans had taken control of the flow of the game, and coasted the rest of the period with Hamilton unable to generate much in the way of chances to tie the game. Mayer skated to the bench following a Bulldog dump-in, but Rochester recovered, and Luke Adam – yes, him again – lobbed a puck into the empty cage with just under a minute to play, sealing the Amerks victory and ending Hamilton’s run.
“That first goal was really big for us, and I thought we were going to be able to feed off that, but we played one and a half periods of hockey, and that third period we gave the game away,” summarized the night’s second star, Greg Pateryn. “It happens sometimes. We have to break away from it.”
Pateryn was perhaps the biggest reason outside of Dustin Tokarski for Hamilton’s recent success, having found solid chemistry on a pairing with Jarred Tinordi after spending much of the early season beside Nathan Beaulieu. The 23-year old believes he and his new ‘mate can make a solid shutdown duo. “We’re starting to really build some chemistry. We’re talking out there, always trying to get better with the little things. He’s a really good player and I’m really happy to play with him.”
Critical for the Bulldogs is not to fall into the same trap they have earlier this year, where multi-game win streaks were essentially negated by extended losing streaks. They’ll have a chance to put tonight’s loss behind them quickly, as they hit the season’s official halfway point with a home date against the Iowa Wild Sunday. In the words of Pateryn: “We need to not let this loss get to us and take the positives from it. There are a lot of games in the season.”
HAMILTON,ON. — It was a sea of red when I entered the arena today. Half of the team decked out only in red jerseys did skating drills in Copps Coliseum. Like lots of skating. It was definitely a high-cardio practice.
In total there were nine players participating including goalie Dustin Tokarski. The net was outfitted with a goalie target with cutouts for players to practice their shots. Martin St. Pierre came out in a white jersey and practiced alone with one of the coaches.
At the end of the intense session, the coaches praised all the players in red jerseys, patting them on the back.
It was then time for the other half of the split squad all in white jerseys. The drills were similar but they were divided into four groups. The practice ended with all players trying to score on goalie Robert Mayer.
HAMILTON,ON. — It was cold, very cold as I walked through the blowing snow on the way into Copps Coliseum for morning practice. Funny thing is that it didn’t get any warmer inside the arena as the drills began.
Gone was the light-hearted banter, replaced by the coaches being more stern and barking their commands. Yes they definitely were yelling a lot more. Rink-side, there was a chilly mood indeed.
Attending the game, it was incredible to see the boys put the effort and hard work from practice into the game against the Toronto Marlies. It was also interesting to see players show the same characteristics that I had witnessed at the practices. It was weird at first to see such a full stadium — I’m used to just empty seats. But I was happy to see such a good turn out!
HAMILTON, ON – In what Habs fans need to hope wasn’t a preview of Saturday night’s Canadiens – Maple Leafs matchup in Montreal, the Bulldogs turned in a lackluster effort Friday night, dropping an important divisional contest 3-1 to the Toronto Marlies.
If you were to describe the 2013-14 Hamilton Bulldogs in one word, through the season’s first 21 games, it would be “streaky.” Through the year’s first ten games, the team had lost only twice in regulation, which they promptly followed up by losing five straight contests in 60-minutes. A four-game win streak then got fans optimistic that the dark days were over, particularly thanks to inspired play from Dustin Tokarski. But a mid-week blowout at the hand of the Rochester Americans set-up Friday night’s clash with the enemy Marlies at Copps Coliseum as a battle for first place in the division that would prove anticlimactic for the crowd of 6,159 in attendance.
The Bulldogs welcomed two relatively new faces to the line-up, compensating for the recent departures of Erik Nystrom and Magnus Nygren. First was rookie pro defenseman Darren Dietz, returning after missing 16 games with a wrist injury to play just his fifth contest for the squad. The next was Jordan Owens, a journeyman forward who attended Bulldogs’ training camp on a tryout, and was just signed to a professional tryout agreement earlier this week, making his AHL season debut.
The fresh blood helped buoy the team to a solid first period. Despite holding a 9-7 shot advantage, one defensive lapse left the ‘Dogs trailing their Ontario rivals. Morgan Ellis lost a battle in the corner, allowing Josh Leivo to skate out, and Darren Dietz was left in no man’s land, caught between covering the front of the net and moving towards Leivo, allowing the Marlies’ rookie to spot Jerry D’Amigo alone in front. The former U.S. National Under-18 program star was quick to one-time his fifth past Robert Mayer, making his first start in six games.
Hamilton would make matters difficult for themselves early in the second, as Jarred Tinordi was called for delay of game after flipping a puck over the glass. With the penalty about to expire, David Broll patiently waited before roofing a wrister top shelf on Mayer, a perfect shot that exposed the goaltender for a playing a little too deep in his net.
Moments later, Gabriel Dumont – one of the hotter hands in Hamilton of late – prevented the game from getting out of reach on a great solo rush. Weaving in and out of the Toronto defense, he outwaited a committed Drew MacIntyre before sneaking a backhander through the netminder to get back within one.
However, within two minutes, a delayed penalty call against the ‘Dogs combined with another instance of disorganized defensive coverage allowed Toronto to restore a two goal advantage. Sam Carrick was left all alone at the side of the net, and Spencer Abbott found him with a cross-ice dish to net his second of the season. Following the goal, Sylvain Lefebvre called a timeout, but seemed to have little to say to his side, instead simply trying to settle things down and slow the frenetic pace of the period.
There did seem to be some fight in the ‘Dogs later in the period, as Dumont again led a dangerous-looking rush. In a play almost exactly mirroring a goal scored at the Bell Centre one week prior, a quick move set up a pass to an open Mike Blunden at the hash marks, but this time the veteran’s one-time attempt sailed wide. Another chance saw newcomer Owens – getting a good look on a line with Martin St. Pierre and Christian Thomas – drive the net hard and bowl over MacIntyre. The ‘Dogs put a rebound into the empty cage, but the goal would be called back in favour of a two minute minor to Owens.
A late penalty meant Hamilton would have to start the third with a kill before trying to get back in the game, but the team couldn’t muster much offensively despite tightening up in their own end. The best chances to claw back into the game had come in that second period, and the Marlies coasted their way to the victory.
Hamilton looks to snap this new skid right away on Saturday night, as the Lake Erie Monsters visit Copps Coliseum.
BULLDOGS TO HONOUR TI-CATS WITH PRE-GAME CEREMONY FRIDAY
Hamilton Bulldogs Media Release
11/28/2013 7:01 PM –
HAMILTON, ONTARIO – Hamilton Bulldogs Hockey Club President Stephen Ostaszewicz announced today that the club will recognize the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as part of a pre-game ceremony ahead of tomorrow’s game against the Toronto Marlies at 7:30 p.m. at Copps Coliseum.
“The Hamilton Tiger-Cats captured the hearts and attention of the City of Hamilton this past season, capping things off with an appearance in the Grey Cup,” said Ostaszewicz. “They made great achievements as a football club this season and as professional sports allies in Hamilton, we’re pleased to have some of the Ti-Cats team in attendance as we recognize their efforts on Friday night.”
The ceremony planned before the game will include a puck drop and video tribute. Ti-Cats representatives in attendance will include President & Chief Operating Officer Glenn Gibson, running back C.J. Gable, receiver Dave Stala and offensive lineman Mike Filer. The football club’s Eastern Division Trophy will also be on hand.
Tomorrow night’s game will also be Boots & Hearts Night, presented by KX94.7 New Country FM. KX94.7 will be on site for the game and one trip to the Boots & Hearts Music Festival will be given away. The game will be broadcast live in high definition on Cable 14.
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.
HAMILTON, ON – Sometimes all it takes is one win to rebuild a team’s confidence. Losers of six straight, the Hamilton Bulldogs snapped out of that skid Saturday night, with a shootout road win over Lake Erie. The momentum gained accompanied the team back to Copps Coliseum Tuesday night, where the team’s anemic offense came to life in a dominating 6-1 victory against a strong visiting club in the Texas Stars.
Despite the team’s struggles of late, one cannot criticize the way the Bulldogs have been coming out of the gate. Tuesday night was no exception, as Justin Courtnall – one of the team’s better forwards over the past five games – got the offense rolling, bowling Texas defender Hubert Labrie at the Hamilton blueline and skating down ice, creating a 2-on-1 rush with Mike Blunden, whose shot would be turned aside by Christopher Nilstorp.
But moments later, the line drew the game’s first powerplay, and with William Wrenn in the box for a trip, Hamilton got on the board. Martin St. Pierre spotted a pinching Christian Thomas – who plays the point on the man advantage – and he in turn sent a cross-crease pass to Nick Tarnasky. It took three whacks at the puck, but the tough winger eventually made contact, batting it through a sliding Nilstrop for his sixth of the season.
Much of the rest of the first was spent in the Bulldogs’ end, as the team’s defenders – notably Jarred Tinordi – were guilty of poor breakout passes and frequent turnovers. Fortunately, Dustin Tokarski, now firmly entrenched as Hamilton’s rightful number one netminder in making his second straight start and fourth in the team’s past five games, was sharp, with a handful of stops on heavy shots from the perimeter.
If the way Hamilton ended the opening period was a concern for the second, the Bulldogs didn’t waste much time putting that fear to rest. Less than three minutes into the middle stanza, Joonas Nattinen centered a puck for Stephen MacAulay – called up from the ECHL and playing his first career AHL game – whose shot deflected to Steve Quailer standing just outside the blue paint. Quailer was able to swiftly kick the puck up to his stick, and one-touch a shot just inside the post for his first marker this year.
MacAulay and the Bulldogs kept coming, making this a night to remember for the native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia (pretty sure he’s the first ever decent hockey player to come from there). Steve Qualier and Louis Leblanc combined to start a dangerous-looking odd-man rush, and Leblanc spotted a wide open MacAulay at the opposite side of the net, with the former Halifax Moosehead winger making no mistake in one-timing a shot past Nilstorp.
The home team would add one more goal to their lead before the second was in the books. Maxime Macenauer won an offensive zone face-off, and a Jarred Tinordi point shot was tipped in front by Tarnasky, whose second of the night tied him with the injured Sven Andrighetto for the team lead in goals on the season and put the ‘Dogs up 4-0.
Typical of a team with such a big lead, the Bulldogs came out sluggish to start the third, and it would cost Tokarski his shutout bid. American Hockey League leading scorer Travis Morin spotted winger Colton Sceviour in the slot, and his one-timer beat Tokarski far side, reducing the Hamilton lead to three.
While it was an unfortunate turn of events for Tokarski, his teammates weren’t about to let this one slip away. Erik Nystrom fired over the net on a breakaway, but shortly thereafter picked the pocket of blueliner Cameron Gaunce for another chance in alone, and this time lifted the puck over Allen York – in for Nilstrop after Hamilton’s fourth goal – but under the bar. Rounding out the scoring on the night, the goal was Nystrom’s first tally since crossing over to North America this season, coming in his fifteenth contest.
Other than the offensive explosion, the other story on the night was the physical undertone of the game. Five separate fights broke out throughout the evening, all real tussles with punches thrown. Justin Courtnall was involved in two of the altercations, while Gabriel Dumont and Steve Quailer suqarely pounded their opponents, and a Steve Quailer third period bout completed a Gordie Howe Hat Trick. Hamilton won the night both on the scoreboard and in the back alley in their hardest fought game to date.
Named the game’s first star, MacAulay was understandably all smiles about his AHL debut after the game. “I thought I was playing pretty well in Wheeling, but I didn’t even score a goal in twelve games. (The Hamilton coaching staff) kinda liked me in training camp but they thought I could learn a bit in Wheeling. They want me to be strong in my own end, kill penalties when asked, and compete every night. That’s what I tried to do tonight and luckily I got the bounces offensively,” said the 21-year old.
Sylvain Lefebvre felt this win was a long time coming, having seen improvement in his troops over the past couple of outings. “Guys were ready for the battle from the start of the game, and I want to say it’s the first sixty minutes we played. We played well Friday and Saturday too, and this is a continuation of our play. We understand that we have to play hard every night. We have to battle, and we have to work harder to get our goals. A game like tonight will hopefully snap as out of little funks as a team, and as individuals,” summarized the head coach.
Riding a two-game win streak, the Bulldogs next travel to Montreal for the first of their biannual games at the Bell Centre Friday night. After a debut like this one, it’s safe to say MacAulay has earned a prolonged stay in the team’s line-up.