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IceCaps game report

Hamilton Drops Heartbreaker in Shootout (with post-game audio)

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Robert Mayer | Brendan Gallagher & Frederic St. Denis | Sylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON – It was another slow start for the Hamilton Bulldogs, with a trademark first period of stymied scoring chances and an unfortunate goal against, but for the second time in as many nights, the young squad showed resiliency, battling back and deserving a better fate than the 3-2 shootout decision they would end up dropping.

Brendan Gallagher played a strong game, registering a goal and assist, but it wasn't enough. (PHOTO: Peter McCabe , Postmedia News)
Brendan Gallagher played a strong game, registering a goal and assist, but it wasn’t enough. (PHOTO: Peter McCabe , Postmedia News)

An early Mike Blunden offensive zone turnover led to an odd-man Monsters rush on which a shot snuck through Robert Mayer, and it seemed to awaken Lake Erie who at one point was being outshot 12-6.  The Monsters dominated much of the rest of the period, but Hamilton battled back in the second, with all of the top 3 lines contributing offensive chances.

Ultimately it was a Brendan Gallagher and Patrick Holland 2-on-1 that led to the tying goal in the middle frame, with Gallagher taking a pass from Mayer – getting his second consecutive start – and opting to keep the puck, beating netminder Calvin Pickard with a quick and hard shot.  Gallagher’s 10th of the season tied him for the team lead with red hot Gabriel Dumont, who was also frequently buzzing in the offensive zone but could not extend his home point streak.

A critical moment of the game came midway through the third when penalty trouble left the ‘Dogs to kill off a 3-on-5, but thanks to some strong work from the unit of Mike BlundenJarred Tinordi, and Frederic St. Denis, and a few key Mayer saves, the game remained tied.  That set the stage for another Brendan Gallagher-led 2-on-1, with the diminutive winger this time dishing to a pinching St. Denis to net his third of the season and give the home team their first lead of the night.

In a season of a number of disappointments for the Bulldogs, the play of Mayer – who most had locked in as a clear #2 behind Cedrick Desjardins but who has been challenging hard for playing time – has been perhaps the biggest bright spot.  The ‘Dogs found themselves shorthanded for the game’s final two minutes, and Mayer made perhaps his best stop of the night from a splits position with 8 seconds to play.  Yet, in a moment of heartbreak, it wouldn’t be enough, as off the ensuing face-off, Lake Erie crashed the net and the puck trickled by a helpless ‘Dogs goaltender, sending the contest to overtime.

In the extra frame, a Lake Erie double minor with 3:38 to play meant the ‘Dogs’ struggling powerplay was given a golden chance to end things.  But the team’s woes with an extra skater continued, unable to generate much in the ways of quality scoring chances, and moving very little in the offensive zone, making it easy for the Monsters to contain them to the outside.

The game thus proceeded to a shootout, and despite the team leading with 4 seconds to play and having a three-and-a-half minute powerplay in overtime, it ended in heartbreak.  Mark Olver ended a back-and-forth battle, one of 2 Monsters to beat Mayer in the decider, and Hamilton had to settle for collecting 3 of a possible 4 points on the weekend as they try to climb out of the AHL’s cellar.

The Bulldogs won’t have to dwell on this loss for long, as they are next in action Tuesday night at home against the Toronto Marlies.  Join me for live Tweets (@DanKramerHabs) from Copps Coliseum, and check back in the game review section of AllHabs.net for post-game reports and audio.

(Feature photo courtesy of HamiltonBulldogs.com)

 

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IceCaps game report

Bulldogs Snap Drought, Top Icehogs (with post-game audio)

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO:  Gabriel Dumont | Patrick Holland and Sylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON – The Hamilton Bulldogs hadn’t scored in three consecutive games coming into tonight’s tilt with the Rockford Icehogs, and given Rockford’s far superior record, expectations were low.  So when the ‘Dogs fell behind 1-0 less than two minutes into the first period, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it was the same old script repeating itself.

But on this night, the Bulldogs had some bite, finally snapping their drought on a controversial Patrick Holland marker.  Holland deflected a Gabriel Dumont shot past Alec Richards, and though replay seemed to indicate the buzzer had sounded before the puck crossed the line, the goal stood, evening the score through 20 minutes.

Though they were outshot, Hamilton generated a number of quality chances in the first period, likely more than they had in their entire previous outing against the Toronto Marlies.  Thus there was reason to be optimistic, and the team built a lead on a rare powerplay marker with Dumont tipping in a Frederic St. Denis point  blast.

After Robert Mayer made a number of key quick reflex saves (35 total stops on the night) to keep Rockford from adding a second marker of their own, Olivier Fortier found a loose puck and open side of the net staring up at him off a Philipps Lefebvre centering play and buried his first of the season.  That insurance marker was all the team needed, as Hamilton snapped a 3-game losing streak, posting just their second win in their last 10 outings.  Dumont’s goal and assist make him easily the hottest ‘Dog offensively, particularly at home with the team’s previous game at Copps Coliseum being Dumont’s career night of three goals and five points.

Newest ‘Dog Jason DeSantis made his team debut, playing on a pairing with Jarred Tinordi, and was solid, logging big minutes in all situations.  Hamilton is back in action tomorrow night at home again as they take on Lake Erie.  Be sure to tune into Abe Hefter’s Locker Room show on Montreal’s CJAD 800 AM radio from 6 PM to 7 PM, as I’ll join him to tee up the game at 6:45 PM.

(feature photo courtesy of HamiltonBulldogs.com)

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Feature

Beaulieu and Tinordi Stepping Up to Pro Game

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

TORONTO, ON – The Fall of 2012 saw the professional debuts of a number of bluechip prospects with the Hamilton Bulldogs.  There was no greater hype, however, than that surrounding two of the Montreal Canadiens’ most recent first round picks in Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi, high profile defensemen who play quite opposite games.

Beaulieu & Tinordi both participated in the NHLPA rookie showcase last August. (Source: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)
Beaulieu & Tinordi both participated in the NHLPA rookie showcase last August. (Source: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)

Few doubt Tinordi’s eventual progression into a sound NHLer.  From his 6-foot-7 frame to his recognized leadership as captain of the OHL’s London Knights, he is the makings of a character defensive blueliner that can be so important to a winning team.  The questions as he moved to Hamilton surrounded whether his lack of offensive production made him too one-dimensional, and if he’d be able to keep up with a faster pace of play at the next level.

Tinordi scored 16 and 14 points over his two years in the Ontario League respectively, so big numbers weren’t to be expected in the AHL, but he hasn’t looked uncomfortable with the puck at all.  Of course, there is the occasional awkward defensive zone bobble which isn’t uncommon for a young man continuing to grow into his large body, but his four points thus far on the season are only one back of Morgan Ellis and two of Brendon Nash, both considered to have more offensive upside.  He scored his first professional goal on December 16th, a marker temporarily taken away and given to Gabriel Dumont, but later returned to Tinordi whose point shot deflected in off a defenseman rather than the pesky ‘Dog in front.  The one goal matches the total he scored in his entire first season in London.

Though he won’t turn 21 until February, Tinordi’s off-ice presence is already felt in the Bulldogs’ locker room.  With injuries to veterans Aaron Palushaj and Blake Geoffrion, and Darryl Boyce‘s tryout contract not being extended, the American d-man was rewarded with the team’s third A added to his sweater, at the least on a temporary basis.  Teammate Frederic St. Denis was quoted as supporting the decision, identifying Tinordi as a “great leader,” in an interview with Dogs’ play-by-play man Derek Wills, and saying he earned the letter with his voice among teammates.

Tinordi still needs time to shore up some defensive zone play, but any concerns about skating haven’t proven problematic, as he is actually quite agile for his size.  Though he is more physical than, say, Hal Gill, there is also hope that he takes the body more frequently once he becomes more comfortable with positioning and pace against better competition.

Whereas much of what Tinordi has accomplished can be credited to his attitude and motivation, success has always seemed to come all too easy for fellow prospect Nathan Beaulieu.  His father, Jacques, is a Canadian Hockey League coach (currently heading Alex Galchenyuk‘s Sarnia Sting), and Nathan had the benefit of playing under pops for his first year with the Saint John Sea Dogs.  When he had to emerge from his comfort zone under a new coach – now Montreal Assistant Coach Gerrard Gallant – he enjoyed being part of a thoroughly stacked roster that posted a 53-12-3 record.  Beaulieu’s 45 points in 66 games that year ranked 7th on his team, ahead of names like Jonathan Huberdeau and Zack Phillips.

In his draft year, Beaulieu’s production remained consistent, as the Sea Dogs improved their record further to finish 58-7-3 in a year they would go on to capture the Memorial Cup.  How easy were the points coming?  Beaulieu’s +/- had ballooned to +44, and with Huberdeau now leading the way offensively, he was putting up strong numbers sometimes even on off-nights.

The following season saw Beaulieu improve upon his prior point-per-game numbers on an as-dominant-as-ever Saint John roster.  So what is the concern with the 6’2″ 194 lbs rearguard?  The main issue has seemed to be between the ears, where the Ontario native had been accused of giving up on plays (see: last year’s Canada-Russia WJC game), taking lazy or undisciplined penalties, and occasionally making risky passes in his own end.

There has been a bit of that in Beaulieu’s adaptation phase, though he started the season out showing impressive skill as one of Hamilton’s more dependable defenders (he maintained a +2 rating through October).  The points, however, weren’t coming for the first time in Beaulieu’s career, and he hit a bit of a rut.  The Bulldogs were no Sea Dogs or Team Canada, and Beaulieu had to deal with stronger opposition for the first time in years.  Did his play trail off a bit because of inconsistency in his game?  Simple frustration?  Was it the normal learning curve of a rookie?

We may never know, as a turning point seemed to be the calendar switching over to December. Prior to this month, Beaulieu’s stat line read just 2 assists through 16 contests.  In December, he has impressively been a point-per-game player thus far, registering his first professional goal along with 7 assists in 8 games.  He has been rushing the puck with more confidence, and though he still at times makes ill-advised breakout passes, his overall game is coming along with the point production.

Off the ice, Beaulieu and Tinordi are quite familiar with each other, having been teammates in numerous development camps and squaring off at the Memorial Cup and World Junior Championships.  They seem to have developed a good friendship, chatting frequently and usually leaving the dressing room together at game’s end.  While they’re a rather unlikely pairing on-ice given they’re both left-handed shots, and though they both have some work still to do before reaching the NHL, their complimentary skill sets should have them continuing their journeys together in Montreal Canadiens sweaters before too long.

 

[For live coverage of Hamilton Bulldog home games straight from Copps Coliseum, be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DanKramerHabs.  Next up: Friday ,December 21st at 7:30 PM against St. John’s.  And keep checking http://www.AllHabs.net/ for frequent Bulldog updates!]

 

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IceCaps game report

‘Dogs Keeping Pace After Big Win

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Quailer | Desjardins | Lefebvre

TORONTO, ON – The early season struggles of the Hamilton Bulldogs have been a popular topic of discussion among Hab fans who find themselves virtually as locked out as the players themselves.  In a normal season, with less focus on the AHL squad, the concerns of most would be placated by the valid excuses of the team’s youthful inexperience, some undisciplined depth players, and a lack of bona fide scoring talent.  But this season, though we’re just 20 games in, the scrutinizers are already talking about Sylvain Lefebvre‘s suitability as a Head Coach or management’s effectiveness at assembling a balanced roster.

(Photo by Kaz Novak | Hamilton Spectator)
(Photo by Kaz Novak | Hamilton Spectator)

The reality of the situation is – just as things always are with the big club – the team’s difficulties have been greatly overblown.  With 20 points, they do sit tied for 2nd to last in the American Hockey League, but they remain just 1 game below .500 and also hold games in hand on most of the other clubs.  In fact, last night’s 1-0 win over the Lake Erie Monsters was big for keeping pace with other teams even at such an early point of the year, moving within 6 points of their divisional rival in 4 fewer games.  This is also important as the Monsters are currently holding down the 8th and final playoff position in the AHL’s Western Conference, meaning it is far too early to give up hope on the baby Habs’ season.

In many ways, last night’s game illustrated much of both the good and bad we’ve seen from Hamilton this year.  As many predicted it would be, scoring is a challenge for the Bulldogs who lack veteran stars to lead the offense.  Yes, Aaron Palushaj and Louis Leblanc are proven at this level and have NHL experience, but the loss of Blake Geoffrion has left the team searching for new sources of goal-production.  Finishing ability is not a strength of the team, even of leading point-producer Brendan Gallagher, and it was apparent last night with just one goal on 45 shots, due to a combination of a hot opposing goaltender and few second chance opportunities with limited traffic in front of the net.  But when your golden opportunities land on the stick of a Kyle Hagel, or Mike Blunden holds down a spot on your top powerplay unit (over a player like Leblanc) – both of which occurred yesterday evening – it is to be expected that goals are hard to come by.

With veteran Zack Stortini sitting as a healthy scratch (being one of those underperforming depth players whose lack of discipline has hurt the club), it was an unexpected source that could have hurt the squad with an untimely penalty.  The Bulldogs were already down a man when netminder Cedrick Desjardins was bumped by the traffic in the crease.  Angered by the lack of a call, mid-play, Desjardins rose and slammed his blocker and stick against the crossbar, knocking the net off its moorings and stopping play, leading to a delay-of-game call.

Explained Desjardins after the game, “There was a lot of traffic in front and I couldn’t see anything, so I was frustrated.  I put my team in a situation, so I had no choice but to bail them out.”  And that he did, with some of the Monsters’ best chances of their 29 shots coming during that 5-on-3 advantage in the 2nd period.

On the positive side, the team’s defenders and group of defensive forwards were successful in shutting down the Lake Erie attack with it certainly not being Desjardins’s busiest night or most difficult shutout.  The recently inked Mike Commodore has been getting increasingly comfortable on the back end and brings a calming veteran influence to a group of youngsters.

The hero on this night was – eventually – Steve Quailer, with a brilliant individual rush on a powerplay that had been dying for one to go in.  After making a nice move to enter the zone, Quailer drove to the net, and though the finish wasn’t quite what he was going for – the puck was swatted into the net by a sweeping defender’s stick – it filled the arena with joy, allowing stuffed animals to rain down and litter the ice on the team’s charitable Teddy Bear Toss night.

“I was going for the Forsberg move, but he (the defenseman) actually made a good play and jammed my stick.  The goalie followed me and it went in, so it was pretty lucky I guess,” admitted Quailer post-game.  Lucky in this instance perhaps, but Quailer did what few ‘Dogs have this season aside from Gallagher, which was charge the net, and that – plus the fact that the marker came with the man advantage – is something that the team must work on doing more of in the games to come.

After assembling their first back-to-back wins since the opening 2 games of the season, the ‘Dogs now head out on a 4-game road trip.  They return to Hamilton on December 21st for a two-game stand pre-Christmas.

 

(Featured image by HamiltonBulldogs.com)

 

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IceCaps game report

Marlies vs Bulldogs: Mayer Backstops Dogs to Home Opener Win

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

HAMILTON, ON – A packed house filled the lower bowl of Copps Coliseum as the Hamilton Bulldogs upended the Toronto Marlies 4-1 in the first home game for Montreal’s AHL affiliate this season, improving to 2-0-0 to start the year.

Mayer has stood tall two games into the season (Photo by Jennifer Kuhn)

Many were disappointed when it was revealed an injury would prevent Cedric Desjardins from starting the season with the Bulldogs, but undoubtedly the biggest benefactor from this situation is Robert Mayer.  On at least this night, Mayer – who many have criticized to be lacking confidence in his game at times – was spectacular, turning aside 39 shots, including many highlight-worthy stops, and having his shutout bid broken only by an accurate Jake Gardiner howitzer in the third period.  Deservedly, Mayer was recognized as the game’s first star for his efforts.

The ‘Dogs got off to a bit of a slow start, caused in part by early penalty trouble, but they took cues from their goaltender, and Louis Leblanc – fresh out of the box – buried a pass from Darryl Boyce in the dying moments of the first period.  The play was started by Jarred Tinordi with a good breakout pass from his own end, earning him an assist and thus his first pro point.

Hamilton was outshot 16-6 in the first, yet escaped up 1-0, and the line of Steve QuailerBlake Geoffrion, and Brendan Gallagher had opportunities to add to it.  But ultimately it would be Patrick Holland – with his first professional goal – who found a loose puck in front of the net and doubled the Bulldogs lead.

If the Geoffrion-centered line was Hamilton’s tops through a period and a half, it largely disappeared for the remainder of the game.  Fortunately, other players took over, with Aaron Palushaj being the most dangerous forward for either side throughout the third period. His goal put the game out of reach at 3-0, but he could have had one or two others with the way he handled the puck in the attacking zone.  Of importance, his marker came on the powerplay, an area in which Hamilton had looked really weak up till that point, and definitely something the team needs to improve upon.  But Palushaj converted a precision pass from Holland, finishing the play with a hard snipe, and went on to earn honours as the game’s “Hardest Working Bulldog” (a feature Hamilton runs in addition to the three stars) for a thoroughly impressive 20 minutes.

Corbin has impressively fit right in on Hamilton’s blueline (Photo by Journal de Montréal / Jean-François Chaumont)

There were a significant number of Leaf jerseys in Copps Coliseum, and the Toronto faithful were given something to cheer about on Gardiner’s goal at 10:12.  But the ‘Dogs skaters did a solid job shutting it down the rest of the way, with their impressive defensive unit strutting its stuff.  Jarred Tinordi notably had some good shotblocks and clears, though he also bobbled the puck on a few occasions.  Greg Pateryn certainly follows the adage of playing the man and not the puck, and stood up a few Marlie forwards.  Antoine Corbin impressed, and seems to be establishing himself as a deserving AHL’er after earning his contract through a training camp invite.  And lastly Nathan Beaulieu‘s skating and skill level were on display at several points during the evening with rushes that might remind many of P.K. Subban.

Louis Leblanc with his second of the night sealed the deal into an empty net, and thus game 1 of a home-and-home (to be completed Saturday) went to  the ‘Dogs.  Despite expected animosity when these rival clubs face-off, there wasn’t a significant amount of rough stuff on this night, with just one near-fight between Brendon Nash and Nazem Kadri, the latter of whom used his opponent’s helmet as a weapon at one point, jabbing from behind.  Tempers did flare after the final whistle, which led to Zack Stortini rushing back into the fray from near the Hamilton bench, but the referees were very quick to step in before anything got out of hand.

The Bulldogs kept the same lineup as their season opening shootout win, meaning Alexander AvtsinAlain Berger, and Joonas Nattinen (who may still have the flu) were scratched, while Cedric Desjardins and Morgan Ellis have yet to be cleared to return to action.

 

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Feature

Huge ‘Dogs Camp Shows Commitment to Depth

by Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, AllHabs.net

Ouellet could replace Brian Willsie for the ‘Dogs

MONTREAL, QC — At long last, Montreal Canadiens hockey has returned.  Well… sort of.  No, the Collective Bargaining Agreement issues still haven’t been settled.  No, we still don’t know when the next NHL game will be played.  But in the interim, Habs fans should follow the example General Manager Marc Bergevin laid out when he stated last week that his attention is shifting for now to the Hamilton Bulldogs.

As was officially reconfirmed yesterday, the Bulldogs will open camp tomorrow with physicals and media availability in Brossard.  They will then shift to Sherbrooke for some scrimmages, before beginning preseason action in Ontario.  The group on hand for day 1 of camp is far larger than normal for an AHL squad, with 43 names compared to last season’s 16, mostly due to the fact that most players were retained by the Canadiens for at least another week or so to see NHL preseason action.

The size of this year’s camp can also be attributed to a different philosophy on the part of Bergevin and his team as compared to the previous regime.  With last week’s signings of former Atlanta Thrashers first round pick Daultan Leveille, offensive AHL journeyman Stephane Chaput, and long-time dependable Bulldog Olivier Fortier, the club showed its understanding of a need for depth even at the American League level, clearly planning to take advantage of its affiliation with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers to keep bodies in reserve.  That trend continued with no fewer than 13 players being added to the camp’s roster on an invitation basis, up from just four unsigned invitees a year ago.

In previous seasons, when injuries and call-ups decimated the AHL roster, the Canadiens management was left in dire straits.  The club desperately searched high and low for quick-fix college or other league players it could sign to temporary mid-season tryout agreements just to ice a big enough roster.  The team was forced to look for AHL players it could acquire on the trade market to fill roster spots.  Clearly, Bergevin plans to be more prepared, with 42 players attending the ‘Dogs camp despite having a full 23-man roster on locked out NHL contracts.

Certainly it’s doubtful that all 13 of the invited players end up staying within the organization.  At least three of the players seem bound for Wheeling whether they are signed or not, as goaltender Scott Darling and forward Zack Torquato already have ECHL deals there, and defenceman Cody Wild was under contract with the squad last year, though he spent most of his time with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL.

Michel Ouellet is an interesting name that likely rings a bell to you.  Yes, it is that Michel Ouellet, a 30-year old veteran with 190 games of NHL experience.  The ‘Dogs are very young and fresh this season and could use a veteran leader up front, and though Ouellet’s best days seem behind him – he once scored 19 goals and 48 points in a season with the Pittsburgh Penguins under one Michel Therrien – he remains a competent offensive AHL player who could pick up the slack left by Brian Willsie‘s departure for Europe.

Two other players of note are one who attended a Habs Development Camp this summer and impressed sufficiently to earn a call back this Fall in goaltender Cody Reichard, and another whose invitation to the Montreal camp was confirmed some two months ago in forward Brendan Ranford.  That Reichard was retained surprises me some, as even in the previous camp, he seemed outclassed by fellow invitee Brandon Maxwell, but goaltending coach Pierre Groulx must have seen something he felt he could work with.  Ranford, already 20, is currently lining up as an overager for the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, where he is a teammate of Hab prospect Tim Bozon.  An undersized energy player with decent offensive instincts, the 2010 7th round Philadelphia Flyers selection potted an impressive 40 goals last season.

Bennett’s size may compliment smaller ‘Dogs forwards (Photo: Vancouver Giants)

While there is always room for surprises, the only other tryout perhaps worth mentioning at this juncture is 21-year old forward Spencer Bennett.  Taken in the fifth round by the Calgary Flames back in 2009, Bennett was a teammate of Brendan Gallagher‘s for half a season with the Vancouver Giants in 2010-11.  A fellow BC native, Bennett joined Gallagher in skating with the Giants when their training camp opened this Fall.  At 6’4″ and 200 lbs, he has the frame of a power forward and put up good numbers in his final junior season before being limited to just 13 games last year due to freak injuries which included a broken wrist suffered in practice.

‘Dogs camp looks to be highly competitive this year, with a group unseen at this level likely since the last lockout (a squad which included Tomas PlekanecChris HigginsAndrei KostitsynRon HainseyMike KomisarekJason Ward, and more, though even that year “only” 33 players were invited to camp).  Competition means AHL rookies like Patrick Holland and Steve Quailer will have to earn their spots ahead of some more experienced players to start the season in prominent roles.  The depth will be important for the club to remain competitive given that, until the lockout ends, they will have to compete with the likes of Ryan Nugent-HopkinsJordan EberleAdam Henrique, and Jeff Skinner.  Thus, for both Hamilton’s success this season and the enjoyment of hockey fans everywhere, let’s hope the NHL and NHLPA returning to the negotiating table tomorrow yields a first bit of true progress.