HAMILTON, ON – For the third night in a row, the Hamilton Bulldogs got behind the eight-ball early against a superior opponent and couldn’t muster enough of a comeback effort to get back in the game, dropping a 3-0 decision to the Oklahoma City Barons Sunday afternoon.
It was a big night for one member of the Bulldogs’ squad, as Sherbrooke, Quebec native Jacob Gervais-Chouinard made his first start at the AHL level. The 21-year old was tested early and proved shaky, popping a Jonathan Cheechoo shot up in the air and being unable to track it in his own crease behind him before Philippe Cornet could pounce on it and tap it home. Moments later a centering pass was found in a scramble in front of the net by Mark Arcobello who also beat Gervais-Chouinard for a quick 2-0 lead for the visitors.
The young netminder would settle down – despite highly unorthodox rebound control – as Hamilton was outshot 11-1 halfway through the first. The shots trend continued into the second, but it would take until the Barons’ 30th shot – coming at almost exactly the midway mark of the second period – for them to next solve the ‘Dogs keeper. A powerplay had the Hamilton defense somehow leave Cheechoo all alone in front, allowing him to collect a pass off his backside, spin around, and beat an out of position Gervais-Chouinard. It marked the third time in as many nights that Hamilton fell behind 3-0.
A brief spark ignited when coach Sylvain Lefebvre reunited the team’s former top line of Alex Belzile – the team’s best forward in the game – Joey Tenute and Patrick Holland. The three instantly generated the second period’s best scoring chance, drawing a penalty on the sequence, but a dismal powerplay failed to produce a quality chance on goal.
Despite the likes of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Magnus Paajarvi, and Justin Schultz – all of whom played for the Barons during the lockout – being up in the NHL, the Barons present an experienced roster (Cheechoo, Ben Eager, Garret Stafford, and more in addition to quality prospects Arcobello, Anton Lander, Toni Rajala, and Teemu Hartikainen) which was simply too much for the young Hamilton squad to handle. They would have to do little more than sit back and coast the rest of the way, with the home side managing only one other chance of note, when ex-Hab and Bulldog Yann Danis would stonewall Louis Leblanc standing all in front and taking a 3-on-1 pass perfectly from Petteri Nokelainen, one of the few big saves he was forced to make in earning his first shutout of the season.
The Barons would close out the scoring with a Toni Rajala centering pass that was inadvertently kicked into an empty cage by Nolekalinen, putting a cap on a slow but very one-sided affair.
With the team mathematically eliminated from the post-season, the bigger concern than the loss were injuries suffered by two key members of the Bulldogs. Neither Michael Bournival not Patrick Holland – two guys Montreal may well have added to their Black Aces list to keep skating into the playoffs – was unable to finish the game. Coach Sylvain Lefebvre confirmed it was a lower body injury for Bournival (seen post-game walking without crutches) and that both he and Holland would be evaluated tomorrow.
Belzile was recognized as the Bulldogs’ hardest worker on the night, but he failed to explain why the team got off to such slow starts all weekend long. “It’s hard to say. Maybe it’s the preparation. Or little details like trying to gain momentum quickly and to not lose it. Sometimes it’s just lucky bounces we didn’t get, but we need to keep pushing.” On his own performance and efforts to earn a new contract with the organization, the impressive AHL tryout explained, “Every game I need to be a little more intense on the ice. It’s one of my greatest tools, so I need to use it to bring something to the team. I hope I’ll be back, but I don’t want to think too far ahead. Game by game, I’ll bring my 100% to show I have my place here.”
Just three games remain in the 2013 calendar for the Hamilton Bulldogs, and after losing Steve Quailer to an injury Friday, they may be further undermanned if neither Holland nor Bournival can return next weekend. They will get some reinforcements, however, as Sebastian Collberg agreed to a tryout contract with the squad Sunday morning and will debut at home next Friday night.