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End of Season Hamilton Bulldogs Report Card – Part 1

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

HAMILTON, ON – There was a lot of hope and promise surrounding the Hamilton Bulldogs entering the 2012-13 season. Despite the team’s struggles last season, an incoming class filled with some of the Montreal Canadiens’ top prospects, combined with the return of a proven top AHL netminder, meant the team had realistic aspirations of a return to the post-season.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan. The reasons the team was mired in the Western Conference basement throughout most of the season are plentiful. You can blame the combination of too many rookies on the ice and behind the bench. Early injuries to key veterans. Disappointing performances by players from whom more was expected. Not getting the calibre of goaltending it takes to win. Or a sheer lack of scoring punch.

Not everything was negative, however. A number of rookies impressed in their debuts at the professional level, and we saw the graduation of at least one impact player to the Habs. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to be around the Bulldogs throughout the season in Hamilton, and with the peril-filled campaign now in the books, here’s a look at a breakdown of their performances player-by-player.

reportcard

[part 1 of this report will assess only those who played at least 20 games for the Bulldogs this season; part 2 will look at those who played fewer]

 

FORWARDS: 

MIKE BLUNDEN – A

AHL Numbers: 54 GP, 10-12-22, +2, 76 PIM
The Skinny
: 26 years old, 6’4″, 218 lbs. 39 NHL GP in 2011-12. A favourite of Randy Cunneyworth. Grinder.
His Role: Blunden has shown he can produce at the American Hockey League level, so was most often inserted into Hamilton’s top 6.
His Performance: He was frequently one of the few players to actually show up during the team’s tougher stretches, doing it all on the ice. Produced scoring chances (even when they wouldn’t go in for him), played physically, killed penalties, was used on the powerplay. His numbers could have been a little better, but the effort was there night in and night out.
Future Outlook: He would be a good veteran to have back with the ‘Dogs, while being a serviceable call-up should Montreal’s fourth line need reinforcement.

MICHAEL BOURNIVAL – B+

AHL Numbers: 69 GP, 10-20-30, -3, 26 PIM
The Skinny: 20 years old, 6’0″, 187 lbs. Played for Canada at the WJC. Captained Shawinigan to a Memorial Cup in 2011-12. Just don’t remind him that his team first lost in the second round of the QMJHL playoffs.
His Role: Bournival played both center and wing on second and third lines as a pro rookie in Hamilton. He was used in every situation, earning considerable minutes on both the powerplay and penalty kill. A true two-way player, whose offensive game perked up in spurts but was unnoticeable on many nights as well.
His Performance: His 30 points were good for third on the offensively destitute Bulldog roster. Showed the development you hope for from a rookie, becoming more consistent as the season wore on, earning praise from his teammates and coach.
Future Outlook: May never project as more than a third liner, but positive signs he still has NHL upside. Requires more seasoning, likely to spend all of next season in Hamilton once again.

DARRYL BOYCE – C-

AHL Numbers: 22 GP, 1-6-7, -5, 27 PIM
The Skinny: 28 years old, 6’0″, 200 lbs. 84 career NHL GP, scoring 6 goals and 18 points. Allegedly.
His Role: A team full of rookies desperately needed some veteran leadership, and hoped to depend on Boyce – particularly once Palushaj and Geoffrion went down with injuries.
His Performance: Boyce was a disappointment from day one, providing little offense, taking poor penalties, and in no way carrying any sort of heavy load to take pressure off the young players.
Future Outlook: Was let go before the end of his 25-game tryout. Nothing to see here.

STEFAN CHAPUT – C+

AHL Numbers: 48 GP, 5-12-17, -12, 25 PIM
The Skinny: 25 years old, 6’0″, 185 lbs. Think of him as this year’s Phil DeSimone.
His Role: A skilled offensive forward that the team looked to for secondary scoring from a second or third line. He was on an AHL deal and worked his way back up from the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers.
His Performance: On a team crying for any additional offense, Chaput produced at a similar clip to his prior pro seasons. He would show flashes on some nights, and like so many of his teammates, be wildly inconsistent on others. But you couldn’t blame him for a lack of effort. Had his season ended early on the receiving end of a big open ice check.
Future Outlook: A dime-a-dozen type, unlikely to be back. Enough continuity in the roster, need to bring in some fresh blood.

GABRIEL DUMONT – A+

AHL Numbers: 55 GP, 16-15-31, -2, 83 PIM
The Skinny: 22 years old, 5’10”, 186 lbs. A career third/fourth line grinder who just happened to lead the team in scoring.
His Role: Everything. There were many glaring weaknesses at forward on this squad, and Dumont did his best to shore them all up. His physical game kept opponents honest in protecting his very young teammates, and he suddenly started burying pucks on a team starving for any scoring.
His Performance: Had he not missed 21 games with his time spent in Montreal, would have been the easy choice for team MVP. Fearlessly charged the net, fired pucks on goal whenever possible, and played big minutes in every situation. Was this season just an anomaly? Perhaps. As he himself said, the last time he led a team in scoring was probably in Midget or Peewee.
Future Outlook: The fourth line is crowded in Montreal, and there is even less room for more undersized forwards. But Dumont’s game is pure effort, and he is likely to stick with the Habs in at least a 13th forward role in the Fall.

OLIVIER FORTIER – C-

AHL Numbers: 32 GP, 1-1-2, -1, 15 PIM
The Skinny: 23 years old, 6’0″, 185 lbs. Too good for the ECHL. So basically, David Desharnais. Less skilled, but bigger and better defensively. They must be on similar contracts.
His Role: Fortier was Montreal’s third round pick in 2007. The Canadiens opted to let him walk this summer, but then brought him back on an AHL deal for the Bulldogs. He is a two-way forward, but put up strong ECHL numbers, earning him a recall.
His Performance: Fortier’s development was derailed seasons ago by repeated injuries. He got off to a shaky start in training camp, not in peak form, evident in subpar skating. He was a body to fill a spot. A lunchpale blue collar hard worker.
Future Outlook: Not the season Fortier needed to get back in the organization’s good graces. Unlikely to return.

BRENDAN GALLAGHER – A+

AHL Numbers: 36 GP, 10-10-20, +0, 61 PIM
The Skinny: 28 years old, 6’3″, 220 lbs. Actually that’s just how he plays. But you know who this guy is.
His Role: Ideally you don’t depend on a rookie to lead the way up front for your team, but Gallagher quickly assumed the role of offensive catalyst.  And did so with a smile on his face. Never met a shot opportunity he didn’t like or opposing crease in which he didn’t feel at home.
His Performance: His play was far better than his numbers indicated, with a lack of quality linemates and some poor puck luck despite may many shots and chances to blame. A remarkable rookie season that saw him play the exact same way he had in the WHL when making the jump to the AHL, and then ultimately taking that style straight to the NHL post-lockout.
Future Outlook: Gallagher looks to be an impact player in Montreal for years to come. A high-energy second line winger.

KYLE HAGEL – C+

AHL Numbers: 67 GP, 2-4-6, -13, 172 PIM
The Skinny: 28 years old, 6’0″, 205 lbs. The most kind-hearted scrapper since Georges Laraque.
His Role: Hamilton local. Willing combatant. Great teammate and community guy.
His Performance: Seemed like an important cog on the team. Somehow always in the right place at the right time, as opportune scoring chances always ended up on his stick. Unfortunately, you’d rather it have been pretty much anyone else on the team’s stick.
Future Outlook: As a fourth liner or 13th forward, seems like a guy the Bulldogs would want back. A leader off-ice. Every AHL team needs players willing to drop the gloves.

PATRICK HOLLAND – A-

AHL Numbers: 69 GP, 10-18-28, -12, 8 PIM
The Skinny: 21 years old, 6’0″, 175 lbs. Undoubtedly the best former 7th round selection Montreal has ever traded for in the middle of a game.
His Role: To prove that he had game and that his WHL numbers weren’t just a product of playing with two skilled overage forwards. Cemented himself a first line job by mid-season.
His Performance: Holland started hot, went cold for a bit, and then finished out the season as likely the team’s top offensive threat. He was moved to center temporarily then returned to a more comfortable role on the wing. Gained confidence as the season went on, challenging opposing defenders with quick dekes with increasing frequency and often successfully creating quality chances.  Great offensive instincts and played the point on the powerplay for most of the year. Season ended a few games early after taking a heavy hit, but it’s said to not be anything too serious.
Future Outlook: Should be one of the leaders up front for the ‘Dogs next year and a primary call-up option for an offensive forward role.

LOUIS LEBLANC – C

AHL Numbers: 62 GP, 10-8-18, -18, 53 PIM
The Skinny: 22 years old, 6’0″, 190 lbs. If we pretend he was injured and didn’t play this season, you’ll remember him as one of Montreal’s top prospects.
His Role: Leblanc was expected to be a leader for the team up front as a second year pro on a team of rookies. He wasn’t given much of a chance to rekindle last season’s sparks with Geoffrion and Palushaj, and spent most of the year on a third line with limited powerplay time.
His Performance: That said, Leblanc didn’t earn much more than that. Giveaways. Lazy penalties. Little creativity offensively. Decent work shorthanded, but that’s about where the positives ended most nights. Had a good patch or two, though still a wasted/lost season for him on the whole. He was hindered early on by a high ankle sprain – a tough injury to return from – but you can only point to that as an excuse for so long. Have to assume it became more of a mental thing, with frustrations mounting when production didn’t come as easily as it had the year prior.
Future Outlook: It’s too early to give up on Leblanc at 22, especially after not looking out of place in the NHL last season. He’s got enough skill and instinct to bounce back and even make the Canadiens out of camp in the Fall, but he’ll need to put in a lot of work and training time over the summer.

PHILIPPE LEFEBVRE – D

AHL Numbers: 23 GP, 4-3-7, +6, 10 PIM
The Skinny: 22 years old, 5’11”, 186 lbs. Every aspect of his game is about as remarkable as his size.
His Role: Fill a roster spot. Play on a third line. Keep it simple. Don’t get your team in trouble.
His Performance: I had to check three or four times to confirm he finished the season a +6. Really?? On THIS team?! Ok, seriously. Soft, small two-way player with no real discernible skill set.
Future Outlook: He has a year left on his entry level deal, likely to be spent split between the ECHL and AHL.

JOONAS NATTINEN – C+

AHL Numbers: 24 GP, 5-4-9, +6, 8 PIM
The Skinny: 22 years old, 6’2″, 187 lbs. Skinny is a fitting descriptor here.
His Role: A third line center you could think of as a less productive Andreas Engqvist. That may not sound overly flattering, but Engqvist was a great AHL player before heading back to Europe, and Nattinen is still young with potential to reach at least that level.
His Performance: Nattinen was a streaky scorer this season and last, but plays a solid all-around game. Adept in his own end, and willing to take the body. His season was cut short by a shoulder injury, but to his credit, he remained with the team all year, always seen around the dressing room after each game.
Future Outlook: He has one year left on his deal, which will determine his future in the organization. Should be counted upon in a third line role for the Bulldogs.

AARON PALUSHAJ – B+

Bulldog Numbers: 21 GP, 7-3-10, -9, 18 PIM
The Skinny: 23 years old, 5’11”, 187 lbs. 38 GP, 1-4-5 with the Canadiens in 2011-12. A huge fan favourite and leading offensive powerhouse… In the American Hockey League.
His Role: Palushaj was expected to be one of this team’s top players, standing in the spotlight to provide shelter for the first year bunch just getting their feet wet.
His Performance: While the effort was there, his production lagged early on. The magic between he and Blake Geoffrion seen last season was gone. Until the two synched up again. In the sense that a dozen games after Geoffrion was injured, the same fate awaited Palushaj. Pretty amazing he shared honours for being named “Hardest Working Bulldog of the Game” most often at year’s end with two other players despite playing only 21 games.
Future Outlook: You know the story here. When he finally got healthy, the lockout had ended, and Montreal tried to slip him through waivers to return him to the Bulldogs. And he ended up in Colorado, where he has played roughly 3 of every 4 games. RFA this summer.

STEVE QUAILER – B-

AHL Numbers: 64 GP, 6-4-10, -7, 54 PIM
The Skinny: 23 years old, 6’4″, 200 lbs. Scored the goal that saved Christmas in Hamilton with a highlight reel solo effort on Teddy Bear Toss night.
His Role: A third line winger who spent a little too much time skating around trying to keep up with the play. Also to provide the Copps Coliseum press gallery with endless hours of entertainment as a certain Hamilton Spectator columnist enjoyed randomly shouting out “QUUAAILERR!” whenever he would see him on the ice.
His Performance: Occasionally he would have a decent game offensively and you’d come away thinking there was something there. A drool-worthy frame, which he would use on other nights to put opposing players into the boards. Showed enough of a varied set of abilities to be hopeful that there remains some potential in him, but a long-shot project for the NHL at this point, despite having just completed his pro rookie season. Yet another player whose season ended with an injury.
Future Outlook: He’ll be back with the Bulldogs next season. He’s in a similar spot to Joonas Nattinen. That would be two-thirds of a tall third line.

ZACK STORTINI – D-

AHL Numbers: 73 GP, 2-4-6, -14, 241 PIM
The Skinny: 27 years old, 6’4″, 215 lbs. 257 career NHL GP, 14-27-41. And if you saw him play this season, you’d swear that was a joke.
His Role: Stortini was a big fan favourite when he won the Calder Cup with the Bulldogs back in 2007, and memories of that season are the only reasonable explanation for many still being a fan of his this year. A fourth line grinder who – most nights – couldn’t reliably take a regular shift.
His Performance: His physical game came and went, picking up later on in the season. His fights were more of the staged variety than sticking up for teammates. A locker room veteran, sure, but mostly useless on the ice. He seemed a coach’s favourite early on, but his poor play could only go on so long until he was put on the fourth line and played under 10 minutes a night.
Future Outlook: Wouldn’t expect him back. There is enough team toughness that one dedicated enforcer is enough in the squad’s everyday line-up. The veteran that’s needed would score more than six points in 73 games.

JOEY TENUTE – A-

AHL Numbers: 40 GP, 8-17-25, -3, 51 PIM
The Skinny: 30 years old, 5’9″, 190 lbs. The best Bulldog most Hab fans have never heard of.
His Role: After toiling in European leagues since 2008, Tenute didn’t play hockey this Fall. When his hometown Hamilton Bulldogs came calling mid-season, it looked like he’d be a short-term injury replacement. He would finish the season as the club’s first line center.
His Performance: Tenute produces from the get-go for the Bulldogs, quickly earning the upgrade from tryout to AHL contract. A leader on and off the ice, Tenute has a good release, quick hands, and sharp offensive instincts. A veteran of a single NHL game back in 2005-06 with the Washington Capitals, he’s unlikely to ever get another shot on that stage, but did everything that could be asked of him, while always a good, long-winded post-game quote.
Future Outlook: I don’t think there’s anyone who wouldn’t like to see the hometown feel-good story back with the ‘Dogs next season, but the pending UFA would be much more natural on a second scoring line with a bigger or more skilled center to bare the top line workload.

 

DEFENSEMEN:

NATHAN BEAULIEU – A

AHL Numbers: 67 GP, 7-24-31, -8, 63 PIM
The Skinny: 20 years old, 6’3″, 191 lbs. Back-to-back QMJHL championships with Saint John’s under Montreal assistant coach Gerard Gallant – a man who empathizes with Beaulieu’s displeasure over having a French accent placed on his family name.
His Role: Around mid-December, something clicked. Beaulieu grew from a boy to a man, earning a top pairing role – most often with Greg Pateryn once he returned from injury – and holding it till season’s end. Top even strength minutes, number one powerplay minutes, and yes, even big penalty kill minutes.
His Performance: He was named the team’s top defenseman, rookie of the year, and most impressively, M.V.P. He matured on and off the ice. His 31 points tied for the team lead with Gabriel Dumont. And oh yeah, he started the year as one of the youngest players in the league! By season’s end, his confidence was at a point where he never hesitated to try to beat opposing players one-on-one or pull a quick spin-o-rama. He is skilled enough that it all worked more often than not, and when not, his tremendous skating ability often allowed him to correct his own mistakes.
Future Outlook: In a word, bright. Looks to be a certain future top 4 guy in the NHL, and his game will become even more complete as he fills out his frame. There will likely be one opening on the Montreal blueline in the Fall, and Beaulieu starts with an inside track towards locking it down.

ANTOINE CORBIN – C-

AHL Numbers: 30 GP, 1-2-3, -11, 22 PIM
The Skinny: 20 years old, 6’3″, 206 lbs. Played for Prince Albert, Hamilton, and San Francisco all in 2012-13. Three leagues, three very different cities.
His Role: Injuries necessitated the addition of depth players to the Hamilton blueline early in the season, and Corbin had impressed the most in training camp. A bottom pairing blueliner whose minutes were sheltered and who was often a healthy scratch.
His Performance: His size makes you wonder, but nothing to see here. Coaching staff seemed to lose trust in him early, preferring to bestow increased responsibilities on the other five blueliners many nights when he was in the line-up.
Future Outlook: He was a stopgap this season and shouldn’t be difficult to upgrade.

JASON DESANTIS – C

Bulldog Numbers: 27 GP, 2-3-5, -4, 18 PIM
The Skinny: 27 years old, 5’11”, 185 lbs. No relation to the director of the Montreal Impact.
His Role: DeSantis was a late-blooming breakout offensive rearguard for Saint John’s last season and brought in via trade to help a sputtering Hamilton powerplay.
His Performance: Disappointing offensive output and not the most dependable player in his own end. He had personal off-ice issues to deal with this season that took him away from the team for a spell, and may have been a partial cause for his regression on-ice.
Future Outlook: He’ll be a UFA this summer, and given his play, he’s likely to be one of those let go to allow a last place squad to reformulate its core.

MORGAN ELLIS – B-

AHL Numbers: 71 GP, 4-4-8, -16, 57 PIM
The Skinny: 20 years old, 6’2″, 196 lbs.
His Role: Many believed Ellis’s well-rounded game had him closer to the NHL than Nathan Beaulieu or Jarred Tinordi coming into the season. He was slower to adapt than the two first round picks, playing a #4 or bottom pairing role for the ‘Dogs, while taking shifts on the penalty kill.
His Performance: Pretty average. There were few nights where you noticed that Morgan Ellis was in the line-up, though for a defense-first blueliners, that isn’t always a bad thing. Had some trouble adapting to the pace of the game. Not much offense. Not particularly physical. Some raw skills with lots of room for improvement. Didn’t frequently make obvious poor decisions with the puck, so an acceptable first season as a pro.
Future Outlook: Ellis is still very young, but he’s behind the three other Hamilton rookies in the depth chart at present, so he’ll have his work cut out for him should he ever aspire to make the Canadiens. He’ll be a Bulldog again in the Fall on the second year of his three-year ELC, facing new challenges from the likes of Darren Dietz and possibly Magnus Nygren.

BRENDON NASH – B-

Bulldog Numbers: 26 GP, 1-7-8, +5, 39 PIM
The Skinny: 26 years old, 6’3″, 206 lbs. 2 GP with the Canadiens in 2010-11, narrowly missing the Heritage Classic in Calgary.
His Role: Nash missed all of 2011-12 following knee surgery, and had a hard time readjusting to start the current season. He and Frederic St. Denis were intended to be elder statesmen on the Bulldog blueline.
His Performance: The offense in Nash’s game took a step backward, and he lost a step in terms of footspeed. His game picked up a bit after his trade to the Florida Panthers (and San Antonio Rampage), but not enough to make him look like the legit NHL prospect he was in the last season he played.
Future Outlook: He will be an RFA this summer, and is probably more likely to earn an AHL deal somewhere than to be qualified and retained by the Panthers.

GREG PATERYN – A

AHL Numbers: 39 GP, 7-5-12, -12, 27 PIM
The Skinny: 22 years old, 6’3″, 214 lbs. Deserving winner of the “I was called up before Nathan Beaulieu or Jarred Tinordi award.”
His Role: While a rookie himself, at 22 on a blueline with three 20-year olds, Pateryn assumed a leader role. A steady, stay at home type, who can clear the crease and take the body on occasion, Pateryn’s offensive game – notably an accurate point shot – also came alive midseason, earning him a spot in the top powerplay rotation.
His Performance: When Pateryn was called-up to Montreal, he was Hamilton’s top d-man, playing 27+ minutes a night on a regular basis. He and Nathan Beaulieu started nearly every powerplay and penalty kill, with the star rookie attributing much of his progression to learning from the former Michigan Wolverine.
Future Outlook: Pateryn will have his hands full if he wants to stay ahead of Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi in Montreal’s depth chart, but it never hurts to have depth, especially on D. He’ll be an important member of the Bulldogs next season, especially should Frederic St. Denis seek an opportunity with an organization less crowded at the position.

FREDERIC ST-DENIS – B

AHL Numbers: 63 GP, 7-11-18, -2, 24 PIM
The Skinny: 27 years old, 5’11”, 190 lbs. 17 GP, 1-2-3 with the Canadiens in 2011-12.
His Role: To be the veteran leader of a very young blueline, logging the tough minutes in a shutdown role on a squad full of rookies. Or it would have been, had he been healthy and played anything like he did a year ago. Had the lockout no wiped out the first half of the NHL season, he may have gotten some games with the Habs in. But it provided enough time for other to catch up to him and take on bigger roles.
His Performance: It was unfortunately a disappointing season for St. Denis. He admitted as much himself at season’s end, saying he had played poorly much of the way. He recovered his game during the final stretch, gradually reclaiming a role as one of the better d-men on the club, but it was too late for him to benefit from another shot with the Canadiens, as by then his job had been overtaken by three first year players. It is somewhat surprising he wasn’t named as one of Montreal’s black aces heading into the post-season, as he seems a natural leader to keep around with the younger scratches, but it’s an indication as to how management viewed his season.
Future Outlook: He’s still a player who could fill in as needed on an NHL blueline short-term, but at 27 it’s unclear if there is another level to his game that could make him a regular in the league. He would be welcome back with the Bulldogs, but as a UFA, he may opt to join a club with a clearer path to a big league job.

JOE STEJSKAL – C

AHL Numbers: 31 GP, 1-5-6, -5, 16 PIM
The Skinny: 24 years old, 6’3″, 206 lbs. Don’t worry. You won’t have to learn how to pronounce his family name.
His Role: Stejskal got into 55 games as a rookie with the Bulldogs in 2011-12, but it was clear he’d have his work cut out for him to keep with the in-coming class. He occasionally paired with Jarred Tinordi on a giant defensive duo, but also spent considerable time with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers (where, it should be noted, he was no better than with the ‘Dogs).
His Performance: Stjeskal is capable of throwing his weight around, but he isn’t dependable with or without the puck in his own zone, and has no real offense to his game.
Future Outlook: This was the final year of Stejskal’s entry level contract, and it’s doubtful he’s done enough to earn a stay with the organization. His spot would be better filled by an AHL vetaran who can help drag this team out of the AHL cellar.

JARRED TINORDI – B+

AHL Numbers: 67 GP, 2-11-13, -14, 71 PIM
The Skinny: 21 years old, 6’6″, 218 lbs. Or simply, “Tinormous.”
His Role: Tinordi was a second pair player for most of the season, while logging big minutes in shorthanded situations. His production was on par with his yearly totals with the OHL’s London Knights. A captain in London, he earned an ‘A’ on his sweater in Hamilton midway through the year.
His Performance: Typical of a young player with such a large frame, Tinordi needed time to adjust to the correct positioning and speed of the game at this level. Still, his game improved in leaps and bounds over the course of the season, and following his brief stint with the Canadiens, he seemed to look to up his physical play, which had been missing for the most part this season. As he gets more comfortable with play in the professional ranks as well as his own body, it’ll be more natural for him to throw hits without fear of getting caught out of the action.
Future Outlook: Promising, both from a raw skills perspective, and given that what he brings to the table approximates exactly what the Canadiens are seeking. The most likely scenario would see Tinordi battle Pateryn and Beaulieu for one job in Montreal out of camp in the Fall, with the other two continuing to hone their skills back in Hamilton.

 

GOALTENDERS :

CEDRICK DESJARDINS – B-

Bulldog Numbers: 22 GP, 7-13-2, 2.94 GAA, .905 SV%
The Skinny: 27 years old, 6’0″, 192 lbs. Many fans seem to believe he made his NHL debut for the Montreal Canadiens once upon a time. But they’d be thinking of Yann Danis.
His Role: He was brought in to be a veteran starting goaltender and act as a last line of defense to build the confidence of the team’s young blueliners.
His Performance: In a word, underwhelming. Desjardins has proven in past seasons he can be one of the AHL’s top netminders, but he was anything but this season. Shaky rebound control and soft goals were commonplace, and while the club’s struggles were a team thing, not attributable to only goaltending, Desjardins’s play prior to his trade to Tampa Bay did little to steady the ship.
Future Outlook: This was Desjardins’s second stint with the Canadiens organzation. Would he ever come back a third time, to be traded away once again? Doubtful.

ROBERT MAYER – B

AHL Numbers: 38 GP, 16-17-3, 2.93 GAA, .908 SV%
The Skinny: 23 years old, 6’1″, 197 lbs. Affectionately known to some as “Bobbie Mayday.”
His Role: Coming into the season, little was expected of Mayer, who was clearly penciled in as a #2 behind Desjardins. It seemed as if the organization would be happy to just let him or Peter Delmas fight for the back-up position while they played out their contracts with the squad.
His Performance: In my eyes, one of the bigger surprises on the team. His numbers don’t jump out at you as being sensational, but on many nights, singlehandedly kept Hamilton in games. His rebound control was usually stellar, though the “inconsistent” label that’s followed him throughout his career reared its ugly head at times, which had many questioning the strength of his mental game. On multiple occasions, he would make the stellar ten bell stops, only to let a softie squeak through him moments later.
Future Outlook: Mayer has signed to play in Switzerland next season. It is possible the Canadiens may qualify him to retain his NHL rights before he leaves, as they did with Andreas Engqvist one year ago.

 

 

Categories
IceCaps game report

Bulldogs Breeze by Heat with 5-3 Win [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Brady Vail | Alex Belzile | Joey Tenute

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. 

Bournival's 8th tied Patrick Holland for 2nd in goals among active 'Dogs this season (PHOTO: GETTY / RDS.CA)
Bournival’s 8th tied Patrick Holland for 2nd in goals among active ‘Dogs this season (PHOTO: GETTY / RDS.CA)

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.”

 

Categories
IceCaps game report

‘Dogs Show They Still Have Fight with Win Over Stars [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO:  Sylvain Lefebvre | Jason DeSantis | Greg Pateryn | Robert Mayer

HAMILTON, ON – After displaying neither bark nor bite in a 3-0 loss on Friday, the Hamilton Bulldogs battled back with a much greater effort against the Western Conference-leading Texas Stars Saturday. Led by a 36-save performance by netminder Robert Mayer, Hamilton came out the winning end of a 2-1 decision after Greg Pateryn broke a deadlock with 3:32 to play.

Pateryn's second professional goal was the game-winner. (PHOTO: The Reusch Blog)
Pateryn’s second professional goal was the game-winner. (PHOTO: The Reusch Blog)

The ‘Dogs played a much stronger game than being outshot 37-23 would normally indicate, generating far more scoring opportunities than they did the previous night, including forcing Stars’ goaltender Jack Campbell to turn aside a pair of breakaways by Louis Leblanc and Kyle Hagel. Leblanc was one his side’s more dangerous forwards on the night, displaying a high level of skill on multiple zone entries and narrowly missing teammates with several set-ups before ultimately assisting on Pateryn’s winner by taking the initial shot on the play.

Hamilton battled hard right from opening puck drop, looking competitive with one of the AHL’s top squads in a scoreless first period. The Bulldogs were forced to kill off a 44-second 5-on-3 disadvantage, but as they surprisingly often have this season, they managed to escape unscathed. They say your goaltender needs to be your best penalty killer, and the rule applied in this case, as Mayer made some of his best tops during the two first period minors, aided towards the end by a strong diving clear from Alexander Avtsin, who was dressed for just the 11th time this season.

Despite the strong play from the ‘Dogs, it was Texas that got on the board first. Mayer – who had been making things look easy up to that point – gave up one of what was not more than a handful of real rebound on the night at 4:41 of the second and Luke Gazdic was Johnny on the spot to tuck it under the goaltender’s leg.

While Hamilton didn’t let up after falling behind, it took some fortune for them to draw even. With a delayed penalty call coming to the ‘Dogs and Campbell on the bench, Alex Chiasson attempted a pass back to the point from beside the Bulldog cage. His pass lacked accuracy, however, and ended up going down the full length of the ice and into his own empty goal. Jason DeSantis, who had been desperately trying to break up Texas passing plays as Hamilton had been stuck in its own end on a long shift, got credit for the tying goal.

Both sides had opportunities in the third, with the Bulldogs twice benefiting from man advantage situations, but their powerplay showed just why it now has a league-worst 9.5 per cent efficacy. With the ‘Dogs buzzing late in the period, a blocked Leblanc shot was kicked out into the slot and a pinching Pateryn – playing big minutes in every situation paired with Nathan Beaulieu – made no mistake in one-timing it to the back of the goal. Add in a few frantic final saves from Mayer in the dying seconds, and Hamilton had registered its second win in the past three outings.

The hero on this night, Pateryn, missed considerable time with injury in this his rookie campaign at the professional level, but has played a big role on the squad since returning. “For six weeks I was back on the ice, from Christmas on. I knew conditioning was a big part because I knew there’s a big difference between practicing and being in a game.”

Winning the game was an even bigger feat when you consider the ‘Dogs were forced to play without some of their core contributors. Frederic St. Denis remains out with an undisclosed injury, while all of Jarred TinordiMichael Bournival, and Steve Quailer suffered minor injuries on Friday night and were unavailable Saturday. Tinordi’s likely comes as a result of a fight which saw him take a couple of solid punches, while Bournival limped off the ice after taking a shot off the foot. Late in the game against Texas, Morgan Ellis was nearly added to the injury list on a similar play to that which injured Bournival, and the last thing the team needs is another injury on defense. All players are considered day-to-day at this point.

We’ve asked outselves numerous times throughout the course of the season if a strong Bulldog performance could be the start of something, but the team’s inconsistencies have them sitting 15 big points out the Western Conference’s final playoff spot.  It would take nothing less than a miracle for the team to go on a sufficiently dominant run that would see them continuing to play hockey deep into the Spring, and the players seem aware of that fact.

“The pressure is gone for us. I don’t think we can play with any pressure. We’ve had a tough season. Now it’s just about enjoying the moment, be happy to be out there. Really don’t think. Just play and enjoy the moment,” summed up Mayer, who has been one of the few pleasant surprises on this year’s team. “Guys still have to play their best because there can be injuries in Montreal, and you never know what’s gonna happen. You could be called up, so you have to be at your best every game.”

Categories
Feature

End of Lockout not a Cure-All for Bulldogs

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Dumont wouldn't be wrong to feel like he is "all alone" offensively for Hamilton this season. (PHOTO: Kaz Novak/The Hamilton Spectator)
Dumont wouldn’t be wrong to feel like he is “all alone” offensively for Hamilton this season. (PHOTO: Kaz Novak/The Hamilton Spectator)

TORONTO, ON – After starting the season inconsistently, hovering around the .500 mark for the first 23 games, the Hamilton Bulldogs’ 2012-13 campaign has seen far more downs than ups. In the 18 games that have followed, the club is an abysmal 4-10-4, which has left them 30th overall in the American Hockey League, six points behind their closest Western Conference rival and a full 13 points away from the eighth and final playoff spot.

It seemed all along like the ‘Dogs might be one of the AHL’s best positioned clubs to make a second-half run up the standings ladder with the National Hockey League work conflict resolved. It didn’t look like the team was going to lose any of its core players, it would benefit from weakened opposition league-wide, and it had a need to address – a veteran scoring forward – which it could focus on once the NHL fate of those sitting out had been decided.

But it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Due in part to the health of Max Pacioretty, the Montreal Canadiens have decided to keep Brendan Gallagher – one of Hamilton’s top forwards along with Gabriel Dumont through the first half of the year – for the remainder of the season. Injures have meant Mike Blunden has also been largely unavailable to Hamilton, as he has served as press box filler for the Habs. The club inked local talent Joey Tenute, and while he has performed admirably with four points in six games, he is hardly the veteran fallen-from-grace-NHL’er many had hoped would be acquired.

What did the organization identify as a problem this season? If astute observers questioned the system – or lack thereof – the team had been employing, they may have been right. On January 22nd, in a move strongly reminiscent of the Canadiens’ dismissal of Perry Pearn a year prior, the team relieved Assistant Coach Ron Wilson – easily the most experienced man on the green staff – of his duties, citing a difference in philosophies with Head Coach Sylvain Lefebvre.  A strange move, but an early vote of confidence in the man Marc Bergevin picked to lead his AHL squad over the summer. This marked the second time Wilson has been fired from a job with the Bulldogs, previously leaving the team after the 2008-09 season only to come back on board for 2011-12.  He was the only holdover from last season’s ‘Dogs coaching staff.

That Hamilton is 1-0-0 in the post-Wilson era is very likely more coincidental than causal, and it’ll take more than a scapegoat if the team is to build any momentum. Admittedly the club’s schedule didn’t help in the month of January, with a 3-4-3 record not disastrous for a club that played only 4 home games the entire month. February will be much busier, so stay tuned to AllHabs.net for exclusive post-game player interviews and analysis following most contests at Copps Coliseum.

And the month to come should see some reinforcements. While no one is rushing Blake Geoffrion‘s recovery, the other AHL star lost early in the year – Aaron Palushaj – is inching closer to a return. On the blueline, rookie Greg Pateryn had his health status upgraded to day-to-day well over a week ago, and thus should be able to reintegrate into the roster in the coming days to make up for the hole left by the end of Mike Commodore‘s try-out contract. The defense should be one of the team’s strengths moving forward as the trio of promising youngsters – Jarred TinordiNathan Beaulieu, and Morgan Ellis – continue to gain experience and learn the intricacies of the pro game.

Tinordi was a bit of a surprise invite to the Canadiens’ abbreviated training camp, but his rare mix of size and agility combined with Montreal’s need for more toughness on the back end have accelerated his progression towards making an NHL debut, and he looks as though he may be ready to challenge for a job early in the 2013-14 season.

The inconsistencies in Beaulieu’s game have been noticeable, with stretches where he has seemed like Hamilton’s top d-man and other where he seems a long ways from being able to set up residence in la belle province. He is easily the most skilled of the Bulldogs’ defense corps, and if the logjam of offensive blueliners is cleared up this summer through a buyout for Tomas Kaberle and a trade of Yannick Weber, he too may earn some action in 2013-14.

Lastly, based on his dominance at the junior level and well-rounded game, some predicted that Ellis might have the more direct path to the NHL when compared to his first round selection counterparts. He hasn’t been overly noticeable, but that isn’t necessarily troubling for a player who battles hard and does all the little things right. The challenge for Ellis – due to his balanced game – will be to define himself as a professional hockey player.  It’s easy to say the Habs should call up Tinordi if they need size and toughness, or Beaulieu if they need scoring from the point, but under what circumstance will Ellis get his shot? For this reason, he might need a bit more seasoning before cracking the roster, so pencil him in for the Fall of 2014.