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IceCaps game report

Monsters Silence Bulldogs as Captain Takes a Seat [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Post-game audio: Christian Thomas | Sylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON – With three home games in three days, this weekend was pivotal for the Hamilton Bulldogs to climb back into the AHL Western Conference playoff race.  As the team plays 13 of their final 18 games on the road, it was critical for them to close the gap on the 8th and final spot in front of their own fans. But as much as the team got off to good starts, taking an early lead in all three contests, they failed to collect the four or six points they critically needed. And on Sunday, playing to salvage some positives out of the despair, they failed to even pick up two, dropping a 4-1 decision to the Lake Erie Monsters, who leap-frogged the Bulldogs in the process, dropping Hamilton to last place in the West.

Devan Dubnyk held Hamilton in the game early on, but the goal support failed him. (PHOTO: Hamilton Bulldogs)
Devan Dubnyk held Hamilton in the game early on, but the goal support failed him. (PHOTO: Hamilton Bulldogs)

Pre-game in Hamilton was unusually eventful, as first there was a notable absence from the team’s warm-up. Captain Martin St. Pierre was announced as a healthy scratch; the latest development in what has been a trying season for the veteran, despite his two assists yesterday. Though St. Pierre may lead the Bulldogs in scoring, almost all of his production has come with the man advantage, nearly invisible at even strength, and frequently guilty of poor penalties. Regardless of his play, benching your team’s top scorer and dressing room leader when as a club you struggle to produce is a bold move. So bold, one might argue, that it represented coach Sylvain Lefebvre‘s last straw tactic to try to get his team to play up to their potential, conceivably putting his own job on the line in doing so.

Next, there was almost a second curious storyline as the Bulldogs had only four skaters on ice throughout the national anthems. Nick Tarnasky was missing in action after being announced as part of the starting line-up. The pugilist raced down the hallway from the dressing room and on to the ice just prior to puck drop, ending any conspiracy theories, and then immediately dropped the gloves with Guillaume Desbiens off the opening face-off.

In Devan Dubnyk‘s second start since joining the Bulldogs, it was his teammate Morgan Ellis who made certain the netminder was sharp early on. Two blatant defensive zone giveaways gave the Monsters the game’s first two quality scoring opportunities, but both times the 6’6″ keeper had the last word, swallowing up any rebounds.

After their goalie’s heroics, Sven Andrighetto got the home team’s offense rolling. A solo rush saw him weaver between defenders before firing a wrister on goal, but despite the ensuing scramble, neither he nor Maxime Macenauer could tap a rebound past Calvin Pickard.

Andrighetto would make good later on in the frame, finding Christian Thomas alone at the top of the face-off circle, with the sniper making no mistake in firing a one-timer top shelf to open the scoring. The Swiss winger would nearly got on the scoreboard himself moments after the first tally, taking a delayed feed from Davis Drewiske during 4-on-4 play, but again Pickard resisted.

Strong firsts are nothing new for this year’s Hamilton Bulldogs squad, but the second frame has been their nemesis. A slow start was reversed following a Sylvain Lefebvre timeout, with the ‘Dogs carrying the play for much of the middle stanza without being able to add to their lead. The best chance came as Hamilton was awarded a penalty shot on a call most recently seen at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. With the puck on Louis Leblanc‘s stick in the attacking zone, a Monster defenseman inadvertently batted a broken stick along the ice at the puck-carrier, and the refs were quick to whistle play down and point to center ice signalling a penalty shot.

Coach Lefebvre went with his most dangerous skater for the shot, but Sven Andrighetto‘s quick backhand to forehand deke was matched with an equally quick Pickard pad.

A common problem for the boys from the Hammer as been failing to capitalize on chances, and thus allowing other teams to hang around for too long. That was the case again in this one, as Nathan McIver would leave his side shorthanded, guilty of an extra two minute penalty prior to a fight with Daniel Maggio. Immediately off the face-off in the ‘Dogs end, David van der Gulik fired a hard wrister up and over a falling Dubnyk to tie the game.

Another common problem has been second period collapses, and in a case of “jamais un sans deux,” van der Gulik was again Johnny on the spot just three minutes later, accepting a dish from Andrew Agozzino completely uncovered the slot and beating Dubnyk with a heavy release.

If the team’s season was on the line in the third period, they disappointingly didn’t play like it. Managing only four shots the entire frame, any hopes of a comeback were wiped out when Matt Hunwick pinched into the high slot on the powerplay, converting on a van der Gulik pass and beating Dubnyk just under the bar blocker side. Michael Schumacher added a fourth tally off a Hamilton turnover, sliding a backhand five hole on the Hamilton netminder in a game that was already out of reach.

Post-game, coach Lefebvre wasn’t entirely happy with his team’s effort, but saw Sunday as a game that could have gone either way. “The powerplay didn’t come up big. Tonight if Andrighetto scores on the penalty shot, it’s 2-0. Our second periods have been nowhere to be found this year. We gain momentum in the first period, then we come out in the second and we’re flat. I don’t know what it is.”

Certainly one of the “what it is” is a lack of scoring, for which the coach also has few answers. “We work on scoring everyday. I wish we could score more goals, but that’s how it is right now and we have to play well defensively. Last night, the empty net goal was the thirteenth this year. We’re in games, but we just can’t find a way to win games when we have to comeback from behind, and scoring is part of it.”

How does a last place team stay motivated with eighteen games remaining in the season and the already slim hope of a playoff berth now requiring nothing short of a miracle? “If we stop believing and we quit, no one is going to benefit from that. It’s our job as coaches and our job as players not to quit, and to battle till the end. Guys are playing for their lives, playing for their livelihoods and their jobs. That’s the plain and simple truth,” summarizes the coach, alluding to the fact that at least on an individual basis, players remain in competition for NHL call-ups.

And then there’s the captain. The team’s lone goal scorer on the night, Christian Thomas, didn’t hide his disappointment in St. Pierre’s absence from the line-up. “It was definitely tough. He’s a presence in the room. He’s a good leader; older guy, brings veteran status out there, but we come to the rink and whatever the lines are, we can’t change it and just have to do our thing out there. He definitely helps, but today I’m not going to blame it cause he wasn’t playing, but we should have showed up more.”

Coach Lefebvre didn’t shy away from tackling the issue of his controversial line-up decision head on. “[St. Pierre] was a healthy scratch tonight. Not happy with his game. Been talking to him a few times, sending him messages here and there not happy with his game. Sometimes as a coach, you have ways to get guys going. Hopefully he’ll rebound and get to playing the way he can play. He’s our captain. He’s the guy that sets the tone, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Things won’t get any easier from here on out, as after three-in-three at home this weekend, they’ll play three-in-three in different cities on the road next week.

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IceCaps game report

Barons Dump ‘Dogs in Dubnyk’s Debut [with post-game audio]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Post-game audio: Devan Dubnyk | Davis Drewiske | Sylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON – If it was the Hamilton Bulldogs’ mission to make new goaltender Devan Dubnyk feel at home in his debut with the team, they certainly succeeded. Dubnyk turned in a solid performance, but was faced with an overwhelming barrage of scoring chances all night from the Oklahoma City Barons – something he had become accustomed to in backstopping the Edmonton Oilers – unable to help his new squad prevail in a pivotal game for the Western Conference playoff race. Despite the netminder’s 38 saves, the Bulldogs were unable to generate much offensively, finding themselves on the wrong end of a 2-1 decision.

Beaulieu was the only Bulldog able to beat Richard Bachman in a 2-1 loss. (PHOTO: Robin Leworthy Wilson, Aerial Promotions)
Beaulieu was the only Bulldog able to beat Richard Bachman in a 2-1 loss. (PHOTO: Robin Leworthy Wilson, Aerial Promotions)

Things started off well for the home team. The Bulldogs were gifted a 5-on-3 powerplay early in the game when Austin Fyten was guilty of a flagrant high stick on captain Martin St. Pierre with Taylor Fedun already sitting in the box. A Gabriel Dumont slash subsequently reduced the advantage to 4-on-3, but just as the first Barons’ penalty expired, Greg Pateryn found Nathan Beaulieu with a cross-ice pass, and the offensive blueliner rifled a shot that beat Richard Bachman up high for a 1-0 lead.

Oklahoma City – a team with a roster far better than you’d expect of a ninth place squad – took over the opening stanza from there, pouncing on numerous Hamilton defensive lapses. First it was Pateryn – exhausted at the end of a near three minute shift – with a turnover to Matthew Ford forcing Dubnyk into a quick save on a break. Dubnyk wouldn’t be agile enough to make up for a second giveaway, however, as Gabriel Dumont deflected a puck in the defensive zone right out to Mark Arcobello at the midway mark of the period. Arcobello, who spent time on the Edmonton Oilers’ powerplay earlier this season as a teammate of Dubnyk’s, made no mistake in shelfing a backhander off the crossbar and in to tie the score.

Dubnyk would finish the first with 12 saves as the visitors held a 13-5 shot advantage. Hamilton would manage to generate more offensive pressure in the second, with the best chance coming as Louis Leblanc picked off a Baron defender to skate in alone on a breakaway in the early minutes. But his backhand to forehand attempt was turned aside by Bachman, as was a quick shot on a Martin St. Pierre break later in the frame.

After the wasted opportunities, a tough shift for Maxime Macenauer would prove costly. The two-way center coughed a puck up in his own end bailing on a play to dodge a hit and then was called for a clear hook in trying to cover his error. Oklahoma City would quickly capitalize on the powerplay, as top prospect Anton Lander found Arcobello again with a cross-rink feed, and his quick one-timer fooled Dubnyk between the legs as he slid across the net. Through forty minutes, the shots stood a highly one-sided 30-17.

The third period was quiet, with the Barons effectively shutting down the ‘Dogs, stifling them from any sustained offensive zone pressure even during two powerplays. Any hope of a last-minute comeback was stymied when an all-out brawl in the crease erupted after a questionable Dumont goalie interference call, resulting in a face-off outside the blueline as both Greg Pateryn and Nathan Beaulieu left the points to defend their tackled forwards.

While two critical points escaped Hamilton on the night, the positive news was the play of the new masked man guarding the team’s cage while Dustin Tokarski is up in Montreal. “Arcobello’s a pretty good hockey player,” joked Dubnyk post-game on the coincidence of facing his former club’s AHL affiliate in his first game within the Canadiens’ organization.

Dubnyk acknowledged there are challenges ahead playing behind a team that doesn’t score a lot of goals. “You can’t give up bad goals. You have to make the saves you should make, and hope to make some spectacular ones in between. It’s that much more important to make sure that goals that shouldn’t go in don’t go in.”

On his playing future, Dubnyk is taking things one game at a time. “As the weeks went by after the Olympic break, you start to see the writing on the wall. I was happy that I was acquired by a team that wants me here. I’m not sure what the situation is, but whether it’s up there or down here, it’s fun to play hockey again. I’m gonna try to enjoy it and work as hard as I can.” But that doesn’t mean he’s satisfied continuing his career at the AHL level. “Everybody wants to be in the NHL. I want to get back there as soon as I can, but you have to make the best out of it.”

Also making his Bulldog debut was Davis Drewiske, rounding out the team’s top four on the blueline on a pairing with Morgan Ellis. He had a couple of nice touches, but was mostly unnoticeable, which suits the stay-at-home d-man’s game nicely. “I was on the IR all year, so just trying to get into shape, get acquainted with the guys. [Tonight] was ok. About what you’d expect for not playing all year. Ok in some parts, and rusty in others. Room for improvement. Trying to get some confidence back, and just play.”

The old and new Bulldogs won’t have much time to think about Friday’s loss, as they are back in action at home Saturday night against the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, before rounding out a three-in-three Sunday as hosts to the Lake Erie Monsters. If they are to not lose further ground in their long-shot playoff hopes, Hamilton must aim to collect all four remaining possible points on the weekend.

 

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Feature

Down on the Farm – ‘Dogs Add New Tricks for Home Stretch

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

HAMILTON, ON – Wednesday night was just another day at the office for Dustin Tokarski. The undersized and soft-spoken but fiery tempered and fiercely competitive netminder went about his usual business of making it a personal objective to match his rival save for save. Only on this night, the guy in the other net wasn’t a career minor pro or an unproven up-and-comer. It was Jonas Hiller, he of a league-leading five shutouts thus far this season. Oh and the team in front of Hiller barreling down on Tokarski just happened to be the NHL-leading Anaheim Ducks.

Drewiske scored one goal and two assists in nine games with the Canadiens after being acquired at last season's trade deadline. (PHOTO: Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Drewiske scored one goal and two assists in nine games with the Canadiens after being acquired at last season’s trade deadline. (PHOTO: Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

One might say it’s the stuff movies are made of. The kid who hasn’t gotten an NHL start in two years. The underappreciated trade acquisition that has had to repeatedly fight tooth and nail for AHL playing time despite repeatedly proving he was simply better than Robert Mayer. The RFA who was only given a one-year contract when his back-up got two seasons, and who sat on the bench watching as Peter Budaj got both halves of Montreal’s post-Olympic break back-to-back. Steps in one Wednesday night, hours after his organization goes out and acquires a more proven NHL netminder in Devan Dubnyk, only to send the ex-Oiler down to Hamilton. And wins. Not only wins, but makes 39 saves, and then still has to outduel Hiller in a shootout. He had earned the opportunity to get the start. And he earned the victory.

Two more important points collected for the Habs while their franchise netminder remains sidelined, thanks in part to a guy who has been the Hamilton Bulldogs’ MVP since he was acquired in a deal for Cedric Desjardins a year ago January. And while the man they call ‘Tick’ was strutting his stuff before a much larger audience, Robert Mayer was holding the fort down on the farm, turning in solid performances in back-to-back wins last weekend to get Bulldog faithful thinking the post-season might be attainable after all.

The path ahead still won’t be easy, however, and gearing up for an always difficult three-games-in-three nights this weekend, the ‘Dogs can count on two key new faces. First, as already mentioned, the Canadiens made a move to bring in Devan Dubnyk for future considerations. Rather than claiming him on the waiver wire, the trade allowed them to immediately send him to the ‘Dogs, and also got Nashville to pick up more of his salary – a portion of which was already being paid by the Edmonton Oilers. Dubnyk, 27, has struggled mightily this season, as a pedestrian .894 save percentage in 32 games with the Oilers ballooned into a .850 in just two games for the Preds, but it remains that he was considered at least a solid back-up for three years prior. He hasn’t played an AHL game since 2009-10, a season where he maintained a .915 save percentage in 33 games for the Springfield Falcons.

Certainly, he’s an upgrade on Mayer, though both goalies will get work until Price is healthy enough to allow Tokarski to take the 401/403 route back to Canada’s Steeltown. Coach Sylvain Lefebvre has already confirmed that it will be the new acquisition getting the start Friday night against Oklahoma City in a pivotal match for Western Conference positioning. Not lost on Dubnyk is the fact that the visiting Barons are the affiliate of his former club – the Oilers – who he will want to prove wrong for giving up on him.

The other addition to the Hamilton line-up didn’t arrive by trade, but is another player who has dressed exclusively in the NHL over the past few seasons – since 2008-09 in his case. It was evident as far back as last summer that the ‘Dogs lacked a veteran presence on the blueline, and with 21 games remaining in their regular season, hopefully it won’t be too little too late as 29-year old Davis Drewiske steps in to fill that role.

As Jarred Tinordi looks to remain in Montreal for the remainder of the season, and Darren Dietz is sidelined once again in what has been an injury-plagued rookie year, the ‘Dogs had resorted to inking ECHLer Jordon Southorn to a tryout for depth on the blueline. The arrival of Drewiske has coincided with the release of Southorn – without having played a game – but more importantly is what it does to the top of the team’s roster on D.

Without Tinordi, the ‘Dogs had reunited Greg Pateryn and Nathan Beaulieu, essentially going “all in” on a single standout pairing. Through two games, it had worked almost perfectly, as Pateryn collected a goal and an assist, with eight shots and a +2 rating, while Beaulieu amassed one assist, seven shots, and also a +2. But as three 3-in-3s highlight a surcharged final stretch – that also includes a nine-game road trip – it would be too much to ask the duo to play 25 or more minutes night-in night-out. Drewiske, then, gives the Bulldogs options for a second reliable pair, completing a top four with Morgan Ellis.

Drewiske and Dubnyk will be instrumental if the ‘Dogs are to close the seven point spread that currently separates them from the eighth and final playoff position. While the offense showed signs of life in the last two wins, the team has gotten by by coming out on top of low-scoring tilts for much of the season, and every point is essential here on out with as many as nine teams still in contention for likely just the seventh and eighth spots in the West.

All three games this weekend are at Hamilton’s First Ontario Centre, and thus a great opportunity for the home team to vault themselves ahead in the race. Tickets are still available for the contests via HamiltonBulldogs.com.

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Feature

Down on the Farm – ‘Dogs Packing Copps for Friday Night

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

HAMILTON, ON – It was a quiet week on the ice in Hamilton, as the Bulldogs had only a single game, allowing some of their conference rivals to close out games in hand. Unfortunately they also allowed those teams to gain points on them in the AHL’s Western Conference standings, as their lone outing was a disappointing 3-1 loss to the cellar-dwelling Utica Comets.

It wasn’t for a lack of chances that the Bulldogs dropped their second game in the past three following a season-long six-game win streak. Removing the empty netter insurance goal, the shots on the night were even, and a Hamilton had a number of chances to get on the board early, but failed to cash in. Finding themselves down 2-0 through twenty minutes, the ‘Dogs simply didn’t have it in them to come back, struggling to beat netminder Joe Cannata despite the poor season he’s having.

Leblanc must prove he belongs in Montreal before White and Galchenyuk are ready to return from injury. (PHOTO: BRANDON TAYLOR, via Hamilton Bulldogs)
Leblanc must prove he belongs in Montreal before White and Galchenyuk are ready to return from injury. (PHOTO: BRANDON TAYLOR, via Hamilton Bulldogs)

Of greater significance to Habs fans were the three players called up to Montreal this week. Joonas Nattinen – who I’d highlighted as an unsung hero this season for the ‘Dogs – wasn’t given much of a chance to make his presence felt, centering the fourth line against the Toronto Maple Leafs but seeing his ice time limited to just 1:45. Nattinen will be an RFA this summer, and if he opts to explore options overseas, he will join the ranks of some of the most obscure players to ever wear the CH crest.

Nathan Beaulieu – called up along with Nattinen – has been given a better opportunity and hasn’t looked out of place on the Habs’ back end. His playing has come at the expense of Raphael Diaz – a curious choice to say the least – but his puck-handling and skating abilities are welcome additions and certain upgrades on veterans Francis Bouillon and Doug Murray. It is critical for the Canadiens to begin breaking in their prospect blueliners at the NHL level, as it is difficult to have multiple players making that transition all at once.

Lastly, Louis Leblanc was recalled after Nattinen was sent down to fill a bottom six winger role. Leblanc was Hamilton’s second leading scorer at the time of the recall, and their most productive player at even strength. His overall game wasn’t particularly impressive at the AHL level, but there were few forwards on the ‘Dogs’ roster truly deserving of a call-up, and the Canadiens do have a need to figure out Leblanc’s career trajectory beyond this season sooner rather than later. Leblanc got a slightly greater audition than Nattinen, playing 7:49 on a line with Michael Bournival (whereas Nattinen got Travis Moen and George Parros as wingers), and remains in the mix for the time being, with Ryan White and Alex Galchenyuk still sidelined with injuries.

With underperforming veterans like Bouillon, Murray, Rene Bourque, and Daniel Briere frequently in the Canadiens’ line-up, combined with Montreal’s poor play as a team of late, it isn’t inconceivable that other Bulldog players get NHL auditions before the season is through to inject some youthful energy and enthusiasm. Perhaps it’s the fact that Hamilton is in a tight race for a playoff spot that has made the Canadiens reluctant to pull the kind of moves that would gut their AHL affiliate. Is it just Michel Therrien‘s insistence on favouring is veterans, or is the organization putting heavy value on playoff experience for their young prospects in a case of “Ask not what your Bulldogs can do for you, but what you can do for your Bulldogs?”

In an ideal scenario, Hamilton would remain as hot as their 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games indicates for the next while, providing them a cushion of points on which they can rest their laurels. That would allow the Canadiens to free up some roster spots pre-trade deadline for call-ups, and not leave the Bulldogs shorthanded for too long, as at least some of the organization’s junior prospects would be nearing the ends of their seasons. Hamilton stands to gain the likes of Charles HudonTim BozonBrady VailDalton Thrower, and potentially Swedish imports Sebastian Collberg and Jacob De La Rose for a stretch run, and will need open spots for them to fill.

This weekend is a busier one for the boys from the Hammer with a traditional American Hockey League three-in-three. The team has seen exceptional ticket sales for it’s Friday night match-up against the arch-rival Toronto Marlies Friday night, completely selling out the lower bowl at Copps Coliseum, and now opening the upper bowl to fans as well. Considering it’s also $3 beer night, the building should be rocking, and thus if you’re in the Hamilton area, act quick and pick up tickets from www.hamiltonbulldogs.com.

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Feature

Down on the Farm – ‘Dogs Continue Hot Streak

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

HAMILTON, ON – The Hamilton Bulldogs may have had their winning streak snapped last weekend, but they remained hot, posting a 2-1-0 record over an always-difficult three games in three nights stretch.

With a 19-15-4 record on the season, they currently sit 7th in the AHL’s Western Conference, and the 7-1-1 record they’ve put up in their past nine games has earned them some separation from the pack of teams lying just below the playoff cut-off (though those clubs do all hold games in hand).

Sunday’s win over the Iowa Wild marked the season’s halfway point for the team, and with that a measurable improvement over where they were last season at this time, with eleven more points in the standings.

Every week, we’ll look at three players who have impressed or are moving up in the depth charts, as well as three players struggling with their games at this junction.

TRENDING UPWARDS

Photo: Kathy K., All Habs Hockey Magazine
Photo: Kathy K., All Habs Hockey Magazine

Sven Andrighetto: The Swiss rookie’s stats have been modest since returning from injury in mid-December (one goal and six points in eleven games), but on a team starved for offensive threats, the 20-year old has become a primary catalyst. Nathan Beaulieu may have scored the game-winner on Sunday, but the play was truly all Andrighetto, as he craftily weaved his way through the offensive zone before releasing a howitzer from the point. Admittedly, Beaulieu’s rebound goal was still from a tough angle requiring an accurate shot to finish the play off, but it was certainly never there for him without Andrighetto’s magic. The former Rouyn-Noranda Huskie finished the game with three shots, but was a constant presence in the attacking zone, just as he had been the night prior despite finishing that game with no points and a -2 rating. Despite his small stature at 5’9”, if the Canadiens are looking for a scoring winger to call up, it should be Andrighetto’s turn to make his NHL debut.

Gabriel Dumont: Another forward who has elevated his game of late is one well known to Montreal Canadiens fans. A second player likely held back by his height limitations (5’10”) with the number of undersized forwards already in Montreal, Dumont and linemate Mike Blunden have become a heart-and-soul pair for the ‘Dogs, being used in starring roles in all game situations. After surprising point totals last season, Dumont started this year slowly, but has picked up his production with four goals and two assists in his past seven games – including a highlight reel marker to open the scoring on Sunday. Unlike Andrighetto – a more one-dimensional offensive winger – Dumont is a three zone player, and as important as his goal was, the team drew even more inspiration from a big third period shot block while killing a penalty in a one-goal match. Dumont retreated to the dressing room in considerable pain, but limped his way back to the bench minutes later, despite the fact that he wasn’t going to play another shift on the night. If the Habs are looking to fill a fourth line role from down in Hamilton, Dumont should be the one making the trip.

Nathan Beaulieu: For a player who knows he’s never going to be a shutdown defenseman in the National Hockey League, Beaulieu’s early season output was mildly concerning. Beaulieu boasts incredible skating ability and off-the-charts raw talent. He is capable of taking over a hockey game, which we saw frequently in Hamilton towards the end of last season. This year, his intensity and focus have waned at times, but if the last five games are any indication, he seems to be putting things together. Taken away from usual partner Greg Pateryn – the Dogs’ number one d-man and a player with offensive ability of his own – to be paired with the more defensive Morgan Ellis has contributed to Beaulieu opening his game up. The product of this is points in four of the last five games (two goals and three assists), with a tougher outing and minus three rating in Saturday’s loss to Rochester. These are the kind of inconsistencies you have to live with as a trade-off for a player like Beaulieu, and as long as he can keep being good four nights out of five the rest of the way, he’ll be close to NHL-ready by season’s end.

 

IN A RUT

Patrick Holland: I’ve made it no secret that I’m a fan of Holland’s game, but his 2013-14 campaign hasn’t built off the successes he enjoyed late last season. Despite playing with skilled offensive linemates Martin St. Pierre and Sven Andrighetto regularly, Holland has managed only one goal and four assists in 16 games since the start of December. He has lost the spot he frequently patrolled at the point on the top powerplay to a combination of Christian Thomas, Martin St Pierre, and even Mike Blunden at one point Sunday (that is, when the ‘Dogs despite to split Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn), despite being on a similar point-per-game pace to his rookie year. To Holland’s credit, he has rounded out his game well. As witnessed during his brief stint with the Canadiens, he is smart in his own end and a willing candidate to get in the lanes and block shots. It’s certainly not unthinkable for him to develop into an Adam Hall-type down the road, but he’ll have to start producing in order to earn another ticket back to Montreal.

Darren Dietz: Like Jarred Tinordi, Dietz had a strong training camp in Montreal, only to see things fall apart early on in the regular season. For Tinordi, his play began to go south once confronted with tougher competition on a nightly basis, while it was an injury that derailed a good start to the year for Dietz. Tinordi is gradually finding his groove on Hamilton’s top D pairing, but Dietz has lost his battle for a top four position to Morgan Ellis, finding himself instead on a third pair, most frequently with Joel Chouinard. A threat from the point in juniors – he led all Canadian Hockey League defensemen with 24 goals last year – Dietz is still seeking his first marker at the professional level, having recorded just four assists in 22 games, and having his powerplay minutes cut. No reason to panic over a twenty-year old pro rookie, but Dietz’s path to the NHL seems a little longer than those who watched him in exhibition play might have guessed.

Photo: Bradley Kalpin
Photo: Bradley Kalpin

Robert Mayer: Goaltending has been likely the biggest reason for Hamilton’s success of late, meaning it’s no coincidence that Mayer was in Europe on loan for the Spengler Cup during a big portion of it. After nearly wrestling away the starting job from veteran Cedric Desjardins last season, Mayer was given every opportunity to challenge Dustin Tokarski for ice time by coach Sylvain Lefebvre early on this year. Mayer’s play has been wildly inconsistent, and while there was hope that a brilliant performance in the Spengler Cup final that led his club to victory might give him renewed confidence, the 24-year old’s return to Copps Coliseum marked the end of a six-game win streak for the ‘Dogs, while seeing his save percentage on the season dip below .900. It’s not to say the loss to Rochester was Mayer’s fault, but the significant separation between he and Tokarski (who has allowed only seven goals total while winning his past six starts) is becoming more and more evident. It certainly makes one question yet another of Marc Bergevin’s moves this past summer, being to give Mayer a two-year deal while only signing Tokarski for one (though perhaps that was the netminder’s own preference). Easy to repair the mistake of signing a mediocre AHL netminder of course, but still an odd assessment of player talent.

The Bulldogs will allow some other clubs to play out games in hand this weekend, as they have only a single opponent. Saturday, the Utica Comets visit Hamilton in a game the ‘Dogs can’t afford to lose if they believe themselves to be in serious contention for a playoff position, as the Comets currently sit a distant 15th place in the Western Conference. Tickets are available at http://www.hamiltonbulldogs.com/

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IceCaps game report

Beaulieu’s Gordie Howe Hat Trick Powers Bulldogs [with POST-GAME AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Nathan Beaulieu | Sylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON – The Hamilton Bulldogs’ welcome home from a 4-0-0 road trip wasn’t a happy one Saturday, dropping a decision to the Rochester Americans, but the warriors from the Hammer got back in the win column Sunday by outworking the Iowa Wild. Goals from Gabriel DumontNathan Beaulieu, and an empty netter from Nick Tarnasky supported a strong night of work from Dustin Tokarski to earn a 3-1 victory.

The Bulldogs started the night off on a strong note when the initial shift by the line of Christian ThomasMaxime Macenauer, and Louis Leblanc drew a penalty to Hamilton-native Marc Hagel (brother of former Bulldog Kyle Hagel). The powerplay buzzed for the first minute, with Sven Andrighetto getting the best chance on a deflection of a Martin St. Pierre centering pass, but Johan Gustafsson resisted and the game remained scoreless.

In addition to his scoring the opening goal, a Gabriel Dumont shot block in the final minutes was a key play that helped preserve the Hamilton victory. (PHOTO: HAMILTON BULLDOGS)
In addition to his scoring the opening goal, a Gabriel Dumont shot block in the final minutes was a key play that helped preserve the Hamilton victory. (PHOTO: HAMILTON BULLDOGS)

Hamilton continued to press as the far better team in the opening stanza. A strong forecheck from Thomas created a turnover, and the winger himself narrowly missed tapping in the rebound of a Louis Leblanc half-pass half-shot.

One of the few Iowa scoring chances in the first came with the man advantage while Macenauer sat in the box for interference. A miscue between Greg Pateryn and Jarred Tinordi left former Bulldog Tyler Murovich alone in the slot, but his one-time attempt was stymied by a sprawling Dustin Tokarski. The Wild carried the momentum through the rest of the powerplay, and moments later captain Jake Dowell‘s shot beat Tokarski but found pipe.

With the penalty killed, the Bulldogs returned to the attack. Martin St. Pierre led a rush that drew a Corbin Baldwin hooking penalty, and early on in the powerplay, it was St. Pierre again spotting Gabriel Dumont at the side of the goal. Dumont showed quick hands, spinning around and flipping the puck over to his forehead before lifting a shot over Gustafsson for a 1-0 lead – a deserved advantage as the home side led 18-8 on the shot clock.

The Bulldogs looked to continue their dominance in the second, and it was again the line of Thomas, Macenauer, and Leblanc that almost extended the lead. Thomas picked off a puck behind the Wild net and spotted Leblanc all alone in front of Gustafsson, but the winger fanned on his wide-open scoring attempt.

Beaulieu came out post-game wearing a military helmet, awarded nightly to Hamilton's best player of the game by its previous keeper. (PHOTO: DAN KRAMER | ALL HABS)
Beaulieu came out post-game wearing a military helmet, awarded nightly to Hamilton’s best player of the game by its previous keeper. (PHOTO: DAN KRAMER | ALL HABS)

That same shift, Macenauer picked up his second minor penalty of the game, this one in the offensive zone for a trip, in a moment that seemed to swing the game’s momentum around a bit. Iowa’s puck movement on the powerplay was again crisp, and a perfectly-executed give-and-go between Warren Peters and Marc Hagel left the latter with an easy tap-in for a tie game, drawing applause from his hometown friends and family in the crowd.

Key for the Bulldogs was to not fall into the same trip they had a night before, being to play a strong first half, but then sit and watch as the visitors slowly took over after the midway mark. Sven Andrighetto showed there was still fight in the ‘Dogs on this night, as he and Patrick Holland battled hard on the forecheck, before Andrighetto himself worked magic with the puck, weaving around the offensive zone and firing a hard shot from just inside the blueline. His attempt was stopped by Gustafsson, but the rebound came right out to Nathan Beaulieu who ripped it over falling bodies and just under the bar to restore the lead.

A scary moment shortly after the go-ahead marker, as Jim McKenzie boarded Patrick Holland from behind in the Hamilton end. Holland lay on the ice for about a minute following the hit, as Beaulieu was quick to drop the gloves with McKenzie in his defense. Holland was eventually able to get up, leaving the ice under his own strength and returning to action in the third period, while for Beaulieu, the fight completed a Gordie Howe Hat Trick.

The period’s final minute saw the Bulldogs with another penalty to kill as Joonas Nattinen was given the only minor from a large scrum. Heavy pressure from the Wild forced Tokarski to be on top of his game, and the 24-year old was up to the task with numerous key pad saves.

The first half of the third saw both sides squander powerplay opportunities after looking so sharp in periods one and two. During one Bulldog kill, Gabriel Dumont blocked a heavy point shot with his foot and retreated to the dressing room under great distress. He would return to the bench minutes thereafter sporting a noticeable limp, and remained seated there the rest of the night.

Hamilton had a glorious chance to put the game away late in the period, as Nick Tarnasky and Joonas Nattinen swarmed the crease with the puck behind a fallen Gustafsson, but somehow the pair was unable to find the vacated cage.

Tarnasky would redeem himself in the game’s final minute, however. After two key face-off wins from Martin St. Pierre, the hulking forward pressed the Iowa defense with a forecheck, scooping a bobbled puck into the net with the goalie out for an extra attacker. Tarnasky’s ninth drew him even with Louis Leblanc for the team lead in goals.

Coach Sylvain Lefebvre indicated post-game that the Dumont shot block was a big lift to his players that helped carry them through the final minutes. “We know what Dumy’s all about. He’s an inspiration to all the players here. He plays hard every night. To block that shot, sometimes you like to think it’s a game changer. It’s as big as a goal sometimes,” credited the team’s bench boss.

“Yesterday we let the game slip away from us, so today we were on a mission,” summarized one of the night’s heroes, Nathan Beaulieu.  Beaulieu has now amassed two goals and three assists in five games in the month of January, and he owes his personal success to satisfaction with his defensive game, which has allowed him to open up his play on a more regular basis. “The first half of the year, I was focused on the defensive half of my game. Now I can jump in a little more and start putting up some numbers.”

Hamilton’s star offensive rearguard came out post-game wearing some unusual headgear. When asked about it, he explained that it was awarded every game to the team’s best player, chosen by its previous wearer. His claim that the tradition had been going on for two years was met with skepticism from the assembled journalists, which led him to clarify, “I’m the only one that actually wears it cause it only fits my head. I have a small head.” Ironic if you consider what some in the media have made of Beaulieu, but he has been nothing but a professional on and off the ice of late as a key contributor to the Bulldogs’ current run.

With the win, the Bulldogs improved to 7-1-1 in their past nine games and avoided the plague of their early season: following up every win streak with a slide of equal length. The team begins the second half of their 2013-14 AHL season at home next Saturday, January 18th, against the Utica Comets.

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Feature

Down on the Farm – State of the ‘Dogs

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

HAMILTON, ON – As the Hamilton Bulldogs approach the halfway point of their 2013-14 season, If one were to summarize it in a single word, it would be inconsistency.

A strong start with only two regulation losses in their first ten games was quickly wiped out by a five game losing streak. Then just when it looked like this season may be a repeat of the last, the ‘Dogs rattled off four straight wins, backed by stellar netminding from Dustin Tokarski.

The two men most responsible for Hamilton's success this season are goaltender Dustin Tokarski and defenseman Greg Pateryn (PHOTO: HAMILTON BULLDOGS)
The two men most responsible for Hamilton’s success this season are goaltender Dustin Tokarski and defenseman Greg Pateryn (PHOTO: HAMILTON BULLDOGS)

The club then idled for a spell, with a 3-3 record over their next six contests, before going cold once again with a second five-game skid in the first half of the year.

But Santa had some renewed hope tucked away in his sack for Bulldog fans, as the holidays brought with them a five-game surge for the boys from Canada’s Steeltown that now has them right in the thick of a playoff race in the AHL’s Western Conference.  It has been a rollercoaster, to say the least, and the real Hamilton Bulldogs will need to rise to the occasion early in 2014 to continue to gain ground on rivals who currently hold games in hand.

In Hamilton’s favour is that they sit in the American Hockey League’s weakest division, only three points back of the leading Toronto Marlies (who have two games in hand, mind you) despite being just three games above .500.

Also arguably in their favour is that they haven’t depended on a single player – or even single line – to carry them offensively this year. When the team is losing, this can be seen as a negative, as there hasn’t been a single forward they can go to for offense in a time of need. In fact, their inability to score often mirrored the problems of their parent club in Montreal. But in the American Hockey League, relying on a single player is a risky strategy, as not only do you live in fear of losing that player himself to injury as you would in any league, but you’re also at risk of losing that player to any injury or trade by your NHL affiliate.

Sure Martin St. Pierre has a sizeable lead on his teammates in terms of points with 25 in 32 games, but the undersized AHL veteran has been rather ineffective at even strength this season, padding his stats with the man advantage. Despite what the stat sheet says, his play thus far can be qualified as underwhelming.

Louis Leblanc’s nine goals lead the Bulldogs, but his game has been hot and cold, disappearing for stretches much like many of his fellow skaters. To his credit, Leblanc has managed to simplify his game this season – perhaps realizing his professional forte won’t be as a finesse/skill player – and cut down on poor undisciplined penalties.

Gabriel Dumont didn’t have a start to the season anywhere near like the past year, but one can’t question his effort level, and he has kicked it up a notch over the most recent win streak. At the moment, I would imagine he heads the call-up list among forwards.

Outside of Dumont, Mike Blunden is the other “safe” call-up at forward, but he’s often a Bulldog equivalent of Travis Moen; frequent recipient of scoring chances only to miss the net.

Patrick Holland got a deserved taste of NHL action earlier this season, and has progressed his game by showing intensity in all three zones. That said, he has failed to improve on his productivity from his rookie AHL season. A player who scored 109 points in his final year in the WHL, Holland was expected to take on more of the offensive load than he has thus far.

If there’s a forward who has delivered well throughout the season up front, it’s pro rookie Sven Andrighetto. The Swiss winger has eight goals and 15 points in his first 23 AHL games, despite missing a full month of the season with injury. Andrighetto is a rather one-dimensional offensive player, so the Montreal brass is likely to want him to mature further before any call-up.

While the forwards have been inconsistent, Hamilton’s MVP to date (perhaps outside of Tokarski) has been their rock on the blueline. Though Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi get all the press in Montreal as former first round picks, it’s Greg Pateryn that anchors the Bulldog defense. Both Beaulieu and Tinordi have struggled as sophomores, with the former frequently looking disinterested on ice, and the latter neither playing physically nor being air-tight defensively. But Pateryn has been getting it done at both ends of the ice (his 15 points in 28 games and plus-11 both lead all Bulldog blueliners) and appears about as ready to make the jump to the NHL as any second year pro could be.

A revelation of late has been the resurgence of Morgan Ellis, practically written off earlier this season as he bided his time as a healthy scratch. Ellis has a strong reputation as a leader on and off the ice, and to his credit, took it in stride, seizing his opportunity when given and establishing himself as a top four blueliner on the squad.

Expanding our coverage of the Hamilton Bulldogs here at AllHabs.net, this column will be a weekly feature on Thursdays for the remainder of the season, updating which Bulldog players are trending upwards or downwards, and highlighting some names you may be less familiar with down on the farm.

 

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Multimedia

Bulldogs in Pictures: A Frosty Day at Practice [GALLERY]

By Rabita, Photojournalist, All Habs Hockey Magazine

HAMILTON,ON. — It was cold, very cold as I walked through the blowing snow on the way into Copps Coliseum for morning practice. Funny thing is that it didn’t get any warmer inside the arena as the drills began.

(Photo by Rabita Naqvi | Rocket Sports Media)
(Photo by Rabita Naqvi | Rocket Sports Media)

Gone was the light-hearted banter, replaced by the coaches being more stern and barking their commands. Yes they definitely were yelling a lot more.  Rink-side, there was a chilly mood indeed.

There was a new arrival, Jordan Owens, who had been signed to a professional try out contract earlier in the week. The coaches spent more time on individual instruction, including with Owen, who was wearing number 26.  But with the Bulldogs playing  a game later in the day, the skate was kept shorter than usual.

Attending the game, it was incredible to see the boys put the effort and hard work from practice into the game against the Toronto Marlies.  It was also interesting to see players show the same characteristics that I had witnessed at the practices.  It was weird at first to see such a full stadium — I’m used to just empty seats.  But I was happy to see such a good turn out!

Enjoy the photos!

 

Categories
IceCaps game report

Second Period Collapse Sinks Bulldogs Against Griffins [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Martin St. Pierre | Sylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON – Military Appreciation Night won’t go down as one to remember in Hamilton. Despite the Bulldogs playing the defending Calder Cup champion Grand Rapid Griffins relatively evenly most of the night, a total defensive and goaltending collapse midway through the second period saw the visitors deposit four pucks into the ‘Dog net in a 1:13 span to take over the game en route to an easy 6-1 victory.

Sven Andrighetto drew even with Louis Leblanc and Nick Tarnasky for the team lead with his 5th goal of the season in the blowout loss.
Sven Andrighetto drew even with Louis Leblanc and Nick Tarnasky for the team lead with his 5th goal of the season in the blowout loss.

The Bulldogs had generated the better early-game chances when a harmless looking shift in their defensive end saw a puck pop up to Cory Emmerton. The long-time veteran of the Detroit organization caught the puck, dropped it and fired a quick shot with perfect accuracy, wringing off the post and in past a slow-to-react Robert Mayer.

In an ironic twist on Military Appreciation Night, it was a lack of discipline that then got the home team in further trouble, as first a Greg Pateryn board and then a Maxime Macenauer high stick left Hamilton two men short. A unit of Gabriel DumontNathan Beaulieu, and Jarred Tinordi collapsed tight to the net to protect Mayer, but after Dumont took a shot off the right hand leaving him hobbled, AHL superstar Gustav Nyquist found 22-year old Swede Calle Jarnkork at the top of the face-off circle to blast a one-time shot to the back of the net.

There was reason to suspect another comeback effort may have been in the cards for the Bulldogs as they buzzed out of the gate to start the second period. One wraparound chance looked like it may have crossed the goal line, but video review could not conclusively prove that the puck had gone in under Petr Mrazek.

Truthfully, there was no reason to suspect the meltdown that would occur next, starting at the 10:52 mark of the middle stanza. In fact, while it didn’t entirely reflect the balance of play, Hamilton led 22-10 on the shot clock at that point. But then, just after the ‘Dogs had failed to draw within one on a powerplay opportunity, a harmless looking wrister from just inside the blueline off the blade of Andrej Nestrasil somehow went right through Mayer. And the Griffins were hardly done there. Twenty-three seconds later it was Jarnkrok, again on a Nyquist feed, firing his second past the ‘Dogs starter. If that wasn’t enough, a quick rush off the ensuing face-off saw Mayer leave a Nestrasil rebound just outside the blue paint where Mitch Callahan was able to tap it in past the floundering keeper. Three goals in 33 seconds made it a 5-0 game and ended the night for Mayer, paving way for Dustin Tokarski.

Even if a 5-0 game seems out of reach, sometimes changing netminders can help to settle a side down, but that wasn’t the case on this night. The Bulldogs would surrender their fourth goal in a 1:13 span as Teemu Pulkkinen got his stick on a Ryan Sproul shot off the rush on the first shot Tokarski would face.

Typical of a blowout, the third period was a penalty-filled affair as refs kept whistles in their mouths to keep things in check. Despite the numerous powerplays, there were few chances either way, until Sven Andrighetto spoiled Mrazek’s shutout bid with the man advantage on a shot from just inside the blueline in the game’s final minute.

Post-game, captain Martin St. Pierre was at a loss to explain how this game got away from his troops. “It was just a mental breakdown. There’s no fatigue or anything else to blame. It doesn’t matter who’s on the ice after a disallowed goal or after they score one or two really quick. It’s just a matter of bouncing back and forgetting about that. But we just dwelled on it and we shot ourselves in the foot. There’s no one else to blame except us.”

The Bulldogs will take what they can out of this one with less than 48 hours to think about it before they are back in action at home again Sunday against the struggling Utica Comets – a perfect opportunity to rebound.

Categories
IceCaps game report

‘Dogs Spoil Early Lead, Drop Shootout to Heat [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO:   Sylvain Lefebvre | Justin Courtnall |

HAMILTON, ON – Slow starts have been a recurring theme for this year’s Hamilton Bulldogs, but they shirked the trend Saturday night, pouncing on a tired-looking Abbotsford Heat squad right from opening puck drop to take an early 2-0 lead. However, in a reverse of the usual Bulldog set-up, the team suffered a second period collapse, with the Heat drawing even and ultimately prevailing in a shootout, 3-2.

1450090_10151936344620589_458323810_nDespite not appearing on the scoresheet, coach Sylvain Lefebvre had been quick to call out strong play from the line of Justin Courtnall, Joonas Nattinen, and Steve Quailer just a day earlier, and it was that line that would open the scoring against the Heat. A strong forecheck from the energy trio generated a defensive turnover that popped on to Courtnall’s blade, and a quick spin-o-rama rifle beat starting netminder Joni Ortio. Ortio got the call due to Reto Berra‘s call-up to Calgary earlier in the day, leaving the Heat to call upon 40-year old personal trainer David Harris as an emergency back-up goalie.

After scoring two powerplay goals for the comeback win against the Toronto Marlies a night earlier, the powerplay would click again to extend the home team’s lead. In similar fashion to the day before, the play was started by strong work by the point pair of Magnus Nygren and Nathan Beaulieu. While Nygren was the shooter against Toronto, this time it was a Beaulieu shot which would see a rebound land on the stick of Martin St. Pierre – he who scored both powerplay goals Friday – for an easy tap-in and 2-0 lead. The second goal came at just the 5:39 mark of the first, and with changing netminders not an option, the Heat was forced to call a timeout to try to get back into the game, but the period would end with a 14-7 Hamilton shot advantage.

Playing with the lead is a relatively new concept for this year’s Bulldog team, and it unfortunately showed in the second. Just a minute in, a defensive end turnover landed on the stick of former Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flame forward Blair Jones and he was quick to fire one past a falling Robert Mayer to cut the lead in half. The situation worsened when already down a man, Gabriel Dumont collided with Ortio during a shorthanded rush and got called for goaltender interference. It must have been a terrifying minute for Harris on the Abbotsford bench, as Ortio lay on the ice, slow to get up, but was fine in the end and stayed in the game.

The Bulldog penalty kill – led by a great period for an under-siege Mayer – managed to kill off the lengthy 5-on-3, but the Heat kept coming and eventually found a way to get a second puck behind the Hamilton goalie. At the tail end of a late-period Bulldog penalty, a Jarred Tinordi clearing attempt was knocked out of the air by Drew MacKenzie, who would eventually find Jones to rocket his second of the night to the back of the cage. The game remained tied through 40 minutes, and the evening out of the shot clock properly reflected what had turned from a one-sided romp into an entertaining and wide-open contest.

If the second period was full of scoring chances at both ends, things tightened up in the third, as neither team could capitalize on opportunities with the man advantage. The biggest notable was that despite sitting on the bench, Nathan Beaulieu didn’t take a shift, wearing a full face shield and visibly reaching up to feel his face numerous times.  However after the game, Coach Lefebvre confirmed that Beaulieu was benched for the final frame and was not suffering from an injury.

After no scoring in the third, overtime also solved nothing, with few chances at either end, sending the Bulldogs to their third shootout of the year. The team’s lack of success there continued, as none of Sven AndrighettoMartin St. Pierre, or Erik Nystrom could beat Ortio, while all of Markus GranlundCorban Knight, and Blair Jones put pucks past Mayer to complete the comeback.

The Bulldogs still add another point to their strong start to the season, now sitting at 5-2-3. They are next in action Wednesday night in Rochester, before a game at home against the Grand Rapids Griffins on Friday.