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.

Categories
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!]

 

Categories
Feature

Young ‘Dogs Face Early Adversity

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

TORONTO, ON – It all seemed too easy.

Despite questions about who would score for the team this season and an injury to starting goaltender Cedrick Desjardins, the second youngest team in the American Hockey League got out to a 2-0-0 start to the season.  Perhaps concerns about the lack of veteran stars, the inexperience on the back end, and the heightened competition in the AHL this season had been overblown.

Cedrick Desjardins is out another week or two with his groin injury (Photo: PC)

Two games do not a season make, and just as quickly as the ‘Dogs had gotten off to a perfect start by scoring seven goals (plus a shootout winner) in two nights and receiving stellar play from back-up Robert Mayer, they found themselves on the wrong end of two subsequent decisions, trounced 5-0 by the Toronto Marlies, and then 3-1 by the Rochester Americans.  To make matters worse, the team lost star forward Louis Leblanc to an ankle injury in the Toronto game, and he is expected to miss the next 4-6 weeks of action.

All must understand that it isn’t time to panic by any means.  Already, Hamilton has had no less than eight skaters make their first American Hockey League appearances, with Morgan Ellis having debuted as a ninth in a limited role on Tuesday, still rounding into shape after rehabbing a nagging injury.  It’s entirely to be expected for a young team to be maddeningly inconsistent at times – dominating at some, and going through extended slumps at others.  What’s important is that the club focuses on development, and with the experienced coaching staff in place and the close monitoring of the likes of Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin, it shouldn’t be a significant concern.  The measuring stick will be the changes in the games of the young professionals between now and March or April.

Even through the two losses, there remain positives that Habs and Bulldogs fans can hang their hats on.  Despite the scores over the last two matches, the shot totals were much more reflective of play, and they were quite close.  Simply, the bounces weren’t going the ‘Dogs way, and the defensive system was porous at times, something not unexpected of a newly assembled young squad still gelling with its newly hired coaching staff.

Aaron Palushaj has shown glimpses of getting back to be the dominant AHL star he has been in the past, trying to fill the role of go-to offensive producer.  Blake Geoffrion has been as feisty as ever, while also generating chances in the offensive zone.  But it doesn’t stop with two veterans either, as many of the younger players have given notice that their adaptation period may be shorter than expected.  The play of Michael Bournival has notably stood out, he who scored his first professional goal Tuesday night.  His game isn’t pure offense, slotting into a two-way role and seeing ice in every situation, earning his coach’s trust very quickly.  As early as the second game of the season, he actually led all Bulldog forwards in time-on-ice.  Then there’s Brendan Gallagher, for whom the offense hasn’t come just yet, but who has largely looked like the Gallagher fans expected.  That is to say a “little engine that could” – a small fireball who goes hard every shift and does not let up when charging the net.

Patrick Holland has a goal and two helpers in four contests. (Photo: Dario Ayala , Gazette file photo)

A pleasant surprise has been Patrick Holland.  Many attributed his WHL statistics to playing with a pair of talented 20-year old linemates, but he has been an early offensive catalyst at the AHL level.  Through four games, he is tied with Palushaj for the team-lead with three points, but more importantly brings natural offensive playmaking skills to a team loaded primarily with balanced two-way players.

On defense, despite having yet to register his first AHL point, Nathan Beaulieu looks every bit to be the player Montreal hoped to be acquiring when they drafted him.  He may not have P.K. Subban‘s physical dimension, but he brings the same kind of dynamism with the puck and is an even smoother skater. He has demonstrated great confidence in rushing the puck even as a green rookie and never hesitates to pinch in on the powerplay or given any real opportunity in the offensive zone.  His transition to an older league at the age of 19 has been a successful one to date, and no one should doubt that the points will come.

Jarred Tinordi‘s adaptation hasn’t been quite as smooth at all times, though it isn’t hard to see the raw strength and potential that lies in him.  Tinordi’s challenge, like many his size who are still growing into their bodies, will be with the pace of play as he has been caught out of position occasionally and has bobbled the puck on multiple occasions.  At other times, his physical presence has been there, he has shown leadership in sticking up for his teammates, and he has used his long reach effectively in defending one-on-one, so it should only be a matter of time before he puts more of his overall game together.  No one should be concerned that he sits at a team-worst minus-4, as it is also a reflection of the fact that he has generally been Sylvain Lefebvre‘s second most-used defender after Frederic St. Denis.

On the injury front, certainly Leblanc’s loss is a big one to the team, also perhaps serving as an example given he was hurt during a scrap that came out of frustration.  The good news is that this incarnation of the Bulldogs is as deep as any in recent memory, and Leblanc being out allowed Joonas Nattinen – a still inexperienced player with much attainable upside remaining – to make his season debut.  Considering Alexander Avtsin and Alain Berger are also with the team and have yet to play, the squad can handle any short-term injuries with ease this year.

Hamilton is next in action on Friday evening for their already-third matchup of the season against the Toronto Marlies.  The Abbotsford Heat then visit Copps Coliseum on Sunday which will give fans a look at top prospect Sven Baertschi.  The ‘Dogs will look to get back into winning ways, but there shouldn’t be any pressure on the team to round into shape at such an early juncture.  Fans are looking for a quick fix to take the pain of there not being an NHL season away, but with the level of talent on the squad, a little patience will most certainly produce positive results by year’s end.