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IceCaps game report

Tired Bulldogs See Streak Ended by Marlies [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Greg Pateryn | Sylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON – If the Hamilton Bulldogs could play full games like it was the final two minutes of the third period, they’d be near impossible to beat. Just when it looked like a typical night for a team on the trail end of a three-in-three marathon, the ‘Dogs proved there was in fact still something left in the tank, battling back to twice pull within one, but ultimately coming up short in a 3-2 loss to rival Toronto Marlies.

In addition to his team-leading fifth goal of the season, Tarnasky had a fight with tough guy Jamie Devane
In addition to his team-leading fifth goal of the season, Tarnasky had a fight with tough guy Jamie Devane

The fact that the Bulldogs were able to dress their full top four on defense – Nathan BeaulieuGreg PaterynJarred Tinordi, and Magnus Nygren – for the first time this season was of no help early on. Right off the game’s opening shift, a defensive end turnover allowed Jerred Smithson to finish off a passing play and beat Robert Mayer just 24 seconds after the opening face-off.

A recurring storyline would next rear its ugly head as Hamilton took the game’s first three penalties, and despite an earlier prolonged 5-on-3 kill (thanks to two hit goal posts), just 14 seconds after Greg Pateryn was sent off for a high stick, Greg McKegg tucked a Josh Leivo centering feed just inside the post for a 2-0 Toronto lead.

Hamilton showed signs of life in the second, notably thanks to four powerplay opportunities, but the results were repeated broken plays and missed shots, typical of a tired hockey club. The best chances belonged to Akim Aliu – firing a shot from a tough angle wide of a completely open cage after a Martin St. Pierre feed – and Sven Andrighetto, the club’s most dangerous forward throughout the night rejected on multiple occasions by Drew MacIntyre.

If the second period was characterized by a lack of finishing ability for the Bulldogs, the third period looked like it’d provide further evidence to the team’s tanks being on empty. Erik Nystrom had the team’s only real scoring opportunity of the first fifteen minutes on a long shot which looked dangerous just thanks to MacIntyre losing his balance.

But how quickly a hockey game can change. Aliu led the charge in the period’s final minutes, hauled down by Korbinian Holzer as he tried to break away, and thus drawing a penalty. The powerplay generated strong pressure, as Greg Pateryn and Nathan Beaulieu patrolled the line effectively. Just prior to its expiry, a Pateryn shot was blocked, but the second year pro collected the rebound and fed Beaulieu, whose shot would bounce on to Nick Tarnasky‘s stick in traffic down low. Tarnasky outwaited a falling MacIntyre for his team-leading fifth of the season, giving the home side late life.

With an offensive zone face-off, coach Sylvain Lefebvre called a timeout and pulled Robert Mayer. The ‘Dogs got exactly what they wanted with a win on the draw, but Magnus Nygren suffered a split second mental lapse, feather a long pass across the blueline to be picked off by the Marlies. Jerry D’Amigo won the race down ice and seemed to seal the game with an empty netter.

The Bulldogs proved one last time on the night that “never saying die” is a part of the identity of this year’s squad, when Greg Pateryn took a Martin St. Pierre centering pass and blasted it through MacIntyre, but with only 17 seconds left on the clock, it was too little, too late.

Coach Sylvain Lefebvre didn’t mince words about his feelings towards the AHL’s three games in three nights scheduling, calling it “near inhuman,” and adding that he was happy of his team’s efforts under such circumstanes.

Pateryn wasn’t quite as pleased with his side’s effort, indicating the need for the team to start playing for a full sixty minutes moving forward. A funny moment occurred post-game when he was asked if the frequent injuries and resulting call-ups to Montreal this season were a distraction.

“It’s not a distraction at all. I think for guys when it’s their first time up and down, it’s overwhelming at first. But the guys that have been going up and down, they realize what the reason is, and what their role is, and when you come back here, it’s for a certain reason, and you just gotta work on the things they tell you too. And you hopefully get another chance up there.” This scrum was taking place just outside the Bulldogs’ dressing room door, and immediately at this moment – as if scripted – Louis Leblanc pushed out the door past Pateryn carrying his equipment bag (for his call-up to Montreal). While the next question is being asked, Pateryn turns his head over his shoulder, and utters a “See ya Louis!” Not a distraction at all I’d say.

The Bulldogs will have a chance for revenge next Friday, when the Marlies return to Copps Coliseum for the third matchup of the season between the Ontario squads. The two sides are now tied with 10 points each through the season’s first eight games.

 

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Feature

Starting from the Bottom – Bulldogs Set to Open Camp

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

TORONTO, ON – There were few spots up for grabs in Montreal Canadiens training camp. The team had finished 2nd in the NHL’s Eastern Conference last season, and despite a disappointing first round playoff loss to the Ottawa Senators, the return to health of some key veterans and development of young players have many hopeful that the building blocks are in place for long-term success. With many players returning on one-way NHL contracts, camp held little suspense, and what little there was mostly vanished when Michel Therrien revealed his plans to stick to last season’s line combinations.

Stability is a foreign concept in the American Hockey League. Teams that perform well are generally led by top players, whose outstanding performances see them given shots in the National Hockey League the following season. Few players sign long-term deals to stay in the AHL, and thus seeing players swap teams annually is hardly an unusual sight. Drafted North American prospects come of age for league eligibility, and thus teams are stocked with new young hopefuls.

In Hamilton, coming off a season where the hometown squad finished dead last in the league, the multitude of new faces who will report for physicals Friday will be a welcome reprieve from the memories of a year gone wrong. Thursday, the group that will attempt to start from the bottom and work their way back towards respectability, was announced as the Bulldogs revealed their opening training camp roster.

Joonas Nattinen is finally healthy again but will have to battle for ice time in a contract season.
Joonas Nattinen is finally healthy again but will have to battle for ice time in a contract season.

On it are most of the names you’d expect. Louis Leblanc and Joonas Nattinen return at forward, while Morgan Ellis hopes to take on a larger role on defense. Robert Mayer will again battle for playing time between the pipes. Not listed but undoubtedly soon to join the group once cut from the Canadiens are Martin St. PierrePatrick HollandChristian ThomasMagnus NygrenNathan BeaulieuDarren Dietz, and Dustin Tokarski. Provided there are no further injuries, no more than one of Michael BournivalMichael Blunden, or Gabriel Dumont should stick with the Habs at this point either, though the latter two would be subject to waivers if they are to join the ‘Dogs. Injuries on defense may delay the return of a Greg Pateryn or Jarred Tinordi, but at least the former should eventually spend some time in the Hammer this season.

Then you add in the rest of the fresh wave of prospects with Sven Andrighetto, Stefan Fournier, and Erik Nystrom, and this summer’s depth signings in Stefan Chaput, Ben DuffyJustin CourtnallStephen MacAulayMatt Grassi, and Drew Schiestel, and you start to get a crowded picture.

One imagines a preconceived depth chart might look something like the following:

Patrick Holland – Martin St. Pierre – Christian Thomas
Mike Blunden – Michael Bournival – Louis Leblanc
Erik Nystrom – Nick Tarnasky – Sven Andrighetto
Stefan Fournier – Joonas Nattinen – Steve Quailer
Ben Duffy, Justin Courtnall, Stephen MacAulay, Stefan Chaput

Greg Pateryn – Nathan Beaulieu
Magnus Nygren – Darren Dietz
Morgan Ellis – Drew Schiestel
Matt Grassi, Joel Chouinard

Dustin Tokarski
Robert Mayer
Mike Condon, Peter Delmas

With so many names already penciled in, where does the suspense come into play? Well the names above aren’t the only ones on Hamilton’s camp roster. The Bulldogs have invited a number of others – ranging from high profile veterans and former prospects to the rather obscure – to attend camp on tryouts in the hopes of earning a job with the team.

Would an organization so bent on character give a chance to a player with the reputation of Aliu?
Would an organization so bent on character give a chance to a player with the reputation of Aliu?

The first name that stands out is Akim Aliu. The 6’4″ Nigerian winger was a 2nd round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007, but the offense to his game never developed as the ‘Hawks had hoped. He has been labelled a head case with a bad attitude throughout his career, but has been able to reinvent his style of play, sliding into a tough guy / enforcer role that saw him appear in seven total games for the Calgary Flames split over the past two seasons. There tend to be far more fights in the AHL than the NHL, and thus most squads carry multiple enforcer-types, something the current Hamilton roster is light on. Thus, Aliu’s size and strengths could appeal to the team’s management enough to earn him a spot if he can show improved off-ice demeanour.

A more familiar name on the list is that of Alex Belzile. The 22-year old’s first pro season was spent largely with the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators, but he impressed on a late-season tryout with the Bulldogs, scoring 8 points in 14 games while driving the net with regularity despite his very average 5’11” frame. Belzile frequently dressed on Hamilton’s top scoring line, though with the new bodies on the roster it’s tough to see exactly where he could carve himself a niche for the coming season. Still, he has already shown he can cut it, and so he should be considered one of the favoured tryouts to further stack Montreal’s AHL affiliate with forward depth.

A couple of other QMJHL-bred forwards also received invites. David Laliberte, a 2004 Philadelphia Flyers fourth round pick with 11 games of NHL experience, and Maxime Macenauer, a Anaheim 2007 third rounder who played 29 games for the Ducks in 2011-12, seem like they could bring every bit as much to the table as a Stefan Chaput or Justin Courtnall, but decisions will ultimately have to be made. While Hamilton certainly endeavours to put up better results than last year, they remain primarily a development team and need to leave room for prospects to get some ice time amidst the more experienced veterans.

wisemannjd
Wiseman’s out to prove he has something left in the tank, and could be a pleasant surprise.

The rest up front: Andre Bouvet-Morrissette is a 6’3″ 22-year old winger coming off his rookie pro season that was split between two AHL and two ECHL clubs… Kelsey Wilson is a 27-year old 6’1″ forward who has bounced around leagues with time in the AHL, ECHL, Austria, and the U.K… Jordan Owens is a veteran of 300 AHL games with a mediocre stat line who is coming off a year in Denmark… Chad Wiseman is a 32-year old Burlington, Ontario native who played nine NHL games between 2002 and 2006 and was once a top AHL scorer, but has been slowed by injuries (he could fill the homegrown scorer void left by Joey Tenute)… Trevor Bruess is an ECHL veteran who gets limited AHL action annually as a temporary injury replacement.

Dalton Thrower will be a name to watch on defense at this camp. Not turning 20 until December 20th, Thrower would be one of the league’s youngest players if he makes the team. But it’s no coincidence the Canadiens have yet to sign their 2012 second rounder to an entry level contract, as Thrower is also eligible to join the WHL’s Vancouver Giants for the coming campaign. If the Canadiens blueline is fairly healthy and thus Hamilton gets both Beaulieu and Pateryn back immediately, it’s likely Thrower will be sent down for a final junior season rather than sitting in the Copps Coliseum press box or heading to the ECHL. That is, unless he forced management’s hand with a standout effort in camp to begin reversing the effects of a disappointing 2012-13 season.

With Tinordi playing like he wants to stay in Montreal, the Bulldogs may be in the market for an experienced blueliner to round out their group. The inside track has to go to Matt Lashoff due to his appearance at Montreal’s camp, but he underwhelmed there, opening a door for the other invitees.

Given the aforementioned absence of toughness in the roster, Nathan McIver might be Lashoff’s biggest competition to earn a deal on D. McIver was a Vancouver Canucks eighth round pick in 2003, and collected 287 penalty minutes in 62 AHL games last season. He also appeared in 36 NHL games between 2006 and 2009, registering one assist and 95 PIMs.

A final notable is another one-time Canuck pick, 2009 fourth round selection Jeremy Price (no relation to Carey Price). The 22-year old two-way d-man completed his stint with Colgate University and then got a five-game tryout with the Chicago Wolves at the tail end of last season, but didn’t show enough to earn a full-time deal. With the prospect of Tinordi, Pateryn, and Beaulieu graduating to the NHL within the next year, the Bulldogs may look at someone like Price to provide extra insurance in case of injuries, trades, and call-ups.

The rest on D: Pierre Durepos is a 21-year old blueliner and former teammate of Nathan Beaulieu‘s, having spent the past four seasons with the Saint John Sea Dogs… Paul Cianfrini is a journeyman whose career took from the OHL to Nipissing University and then to the ECHL for the past two seasons… Jonathan Narbonne is a 21-year old d-man who won a Memorial Cup with Michael Bournival and Morgan Ellis in Shawinigan in 2012.

The first on-ice sessions of camp will be this Saturday, and most practices and scrimmages are open to the public. If you’ll be in the Greater Hamilton Area, stop by and check out some potential future Canadiens. The full schedule can be found here:
http://www.allhabs.net/blog/2013/09/18/official-release-bulldogs-2013-training-camp-begins-friday/

 

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Feature

Retooled Bulldogs Ready to Rebound

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

HAMILTON, ON – One year ago, I wrote an article referring to the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs as potential 2013 Calder Cup contenders. Flash forward to today, and that looks like a foolish prediction given the team’s 30th place overall finish this past season.

It’s easy to see what went wrong. A rookie head coach struggled to get his feet under him early on, and before he knew it, the rug had been swept from beneath him with injuries to both Blake Geoffrion and Aaron Palushaj – the two veteran forwards who were supposed to lead his young team in scoring. The offensive forward who had looked so dominant between the two wingers the season before – Louis Leblanc – was mired in a deep sophomore slump. The other veterans brought in to help a squad full of rookies – Darryl Boyce and Zack Stortini – played so poorly that it was tough to believe they had ever laced up skates in the National Hockey League.

On defense, it wasn’t a banner season for either of the team’s experienced vets. Frederic St. Denis got off to a very slow start, and then battled injuries. Brendon Nash‘s play had him slipping down the team’s depth chart to the point where he was moved for more of a specialist in Jason DeSantis in a failed effort to spark the team’s powerplay, a situation that only became tougher when DeSantis was forced to take personal leave to attend to an ailing parent.

And who could have foreseen goaltending troubles? Cedric Desjardins was as established an AHL netminder as one could have hoped for, but was quickly outplayed by Robert Mayer, a ‘tender that almost no one thought was in the plans beyond the current campaign a year ago.

Beaulieu emerged as one of the AHL’s most dynamic d-men by season’s end (PHOTO: Jennifer Kuhn)

The rest of the squad was composed primarily of rookies, most of whom had successful introductions to professional hockey. When the lockout ended, losing Brendan Gallagher certainly didn’t help Hamilton’s chances of a second half rebound, but his play in Montreal was a testament to how well he had made the transition from the junior ranks. As were the brief call-ups of Jarred TinordiGreg Pateryn, and Nathan Beaulieu, the latter of which was one of the AHL’s top blueliners over the season’s final months.

With so many things going wrong last season, it would be easy to lose hope as a ‘Dogs supporter. But such despair would be misplaced, as the team has quickly gone about readying itself to right the ship, and the 2013-14 edition will be looking to bite back. General Manager Marc Bergevin hasn’t hesitated to bolster the group that finished last season with a number of interesting UFA signings, leaving the current depth chart as follows:

Patrick Holland – Martin St. Pierre – Christian Thomas
Mike Blunden – Michael Bournival – Louis Leblanc
Sven Andrighetto – Joonas Nattinen – Nick Tarnasky
Stefan Fournier – Ben Duffy – Steve Quailer
Stephen MacAulay

Nathan Beaulieu – Greg Pateryn
Darren Dietz – Morgan Ellis
Magnus Nygren – Drew Schiestel

Robert Mayer
Mike Condon

The core roster has familiar faces at every position. However, all of Patrick HollandMichael BournivalSteve QuailerNathan BeaulieuGreg Pateryn, and Morgan Ellis were professional rookies a year ago. By season’s end, Holland was among the most dangerous ‘Dogs offensively, Bournival a responsible two-way player in the mold of Tomas Plekanec, and Pateryn and Beaulieu formed a legitimate AHL top pairing. Certainly, a big part of the team’s success will depend on the continued development of these returnees.

But the depth chart is also sprinkled with new faces throughout. At forward, the big fish was the signing of Martin St. Pierre, a seemingly perennial AHL all-star who, at 29, has appeared in 38 career NHL games split among three different teams. While undersized, St. Pierre – coming off a year of 26 goals and 59 points in 76 games – is a significant upgrade on Joey Tenute who finished 2013 as the team’s #1 centre and has signed with Malmo in Sweden for 2013-14.

The other new veteran is Nick Tarnasky, a pugilist who will contribute far more than either Zack Stortini or Kyle Hagel managed to last season. Twenty-eight year old, 6’2″ Tarnasky won’t hesitate to drop the gloves to defend a teammate, seen in his 138 AHL penalty minutes last season, but also has greater skill with the puck than a Stortini or Hagel, having scored 16 times in 74 contests for Rochester last year.

Thomas played one NHL game in his rookie pro season, coincidentally against the Canadiens (PHOTO: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Thomas played one NHL game in his rookie pro season, coincidentally against the Canadiens (PHOTO: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Perhaps the most surprising acquisition was that of Christian Thomas, who Bergevin ceded Danny Kristo to the New York Rangers in order to acquire. Kristo joined Hamilton late last season to great fanfare once North Dakota’s year came to an abrupt end. While making the jump from college hockey to the American League can be a difficult one, Kristo did little to impress Bulldog faithful in his short time in Steeltown. That, combined with off-ice behavioural questions, may have motivated Bergevin to deal, and in Thomas, Hamilton adds another professional sophomore, who isn’t the biggest at 5’9″, but plays a tough game not unlike Brendan Gallagher. While he may not quite match Gallagher’s ferocity around the net, he compensates with an extra offensive weapon of a quick and heavy arsenal of shots, used to net 19 goals in his first AHL season. Thomas should be an important part of this year’s Hamilton offense.

Four players should be making their AHL debuts at forward for the ‘Dogs. The first is Sven Andrighetto, a 2013 3rd round pick as an overage player who had begun to tear up the QMJHL after completing his adjustment from junior Swiss leagues to North American style hockey. Another player without the biggest of frames, Andrighetto is highly skilled and has the potential to fill a top six role on the squad once he adjusts to bigger, tougher, and faster competition.

The other three are undrafted players that earned NHL or AHL contracts coming out of Montreal’s July Development Camp in Brossard. Ben Duffy is last season’s QMJHL scoring champion, and earned a contract following a two-goal performance in the scrimmage on camp’s final day, centering a dominant line with Erik Nystrom and Sebastian Collberg. He brings depth to the squad, even if he’ll be battling to avoid starting in the ECHL in training camp, looking to be a more significant contributor than a Stefan Chaput on last year’s team. Stefan Fournier is a big body who can play a physical game but also put up points, scoring 16 goals in 17 games in the QMJHL playoffs before helping the Halifax Mooseheads capture the Memorial Cup. Finally, Stephen MacAulay was a teammate of Fournier’s in Halifax, both in their overage CHL seasons as 20 year olds. MacAulay is more of a two-way forward who – just like Fournier – has been recognized for off-ice leadership and work ethic.

With the Canadiens renewing their ECHL affiliation with the Wheeling Nailers, there remains room to add a forward or two for extra depth should the right fits arise. There is also the possibility that the team’s top forward last season, Gabriel Dumont, is returned to the AHL, though he’d need to clear waivers to do so, and thus there is a chance that either the Canadiens decide to retain him, or that he is claimed by another organization. Another name to keep in mind is Alex Belzile, a player who impressed on a late-season call-up tryout from Wheeling, and who was then invited to Development Camp in July, but has yet to sign for the coming year.

On defense, it is clear Bergevin must continue his shopping for reinforcements. The current top five members of the depth chart are either first or second year AHL’ers, and thus a veteran presence is needed to stabilize the group and share the tougher minutes. Some available names include former Hab Jay LeachGarnet ExelbyJim Vandermeer, and Jeff Woywitka.

There are two bright new faces on D with reasonable NHL upside. Darren Dietz capped a solid junior career with a season in which he led all CHL blueliners in goals (24) and participated in the Memorial Cup with the host Saskatoon Blades. A 5th round pick in 2011, he backs up his offense with a sound physical package and will quickly battle a player like Morgan Ellis in the injury call-up hierarchy.

Every bit as intriguing is Magnus Nygren, who brings a similar value proposition to the table with toughness and a booming point shot, but who has the benefit of a couple of years experience playing against men in the Swedish Elite League after having been drafted as an overager in 2011. The 23-year old will make his North American debut after 13 goals in 51 games for Farjestad earned him the title of the SEL’s top Swedish blueliner last season.

The most recent addition, Drew Schiestel, fills a depth AHL/ECHL ‘tweener role left vacant by the unqualified Joe Stejskal. The once Buffalo 2nd round selection was taken far earlier than anyone had projected in the entry draft and at 24 has yet to make his NHL debut.

Missing from the above depth chart is Jarred Tinordi, who will battle with Greg Pateryn for the right to start the season in Montreal at least as long as it takes Alexei Emelin to recover from knee surgery (likely at least till late November). Also absent is Dalton Thrower, who as a late birthday would be eligible to play in the AHL this coming season (like Beaulieu last year). Thrower is coming off a difficult season for Saskatoon, and is thus more likely to return for a final year in the WHL with the Vancouver Giants, who acquired his rights from the Blades after the Memorial Cup.

Tokarski performed admirably for the Bulldogs, yet doesn't seem to have earned the organization's trust.
Tokarski performed admirably for the Bulldogs, yet doesn’t seem to have earned the organization’s trust.

A glaring weakness in the above depth chart is in goal. Robert Mayer performed well above expectations last season, wrestling the “#1a” tag from Cedric Desjardins, and then competing with Dustin Tokarski for ice-time. Still, he is nothing more than an “average” goaltender even at the AHL level, and would be relegated to back-up duties in an ideal situation.

Tokarski’s case is an interesting one, as the 23-year old still has potential as a future NHL goaltender, but may not see the Canadiens organization as a good fit for his development. Tokarski put up sensational numbers after being acquired by the Bulldogs, with 3 shutouts in 15 games, and a sparkling .927 save percentage and 2.22 GAA. But still coach Sylvain Lefebvre balanced his workload with Mayer’s, unwilling to give the former Tampa Bay Lightning prospect the lion’s share of duty. Adding to this, when the Canadiens needed a goaltender to sit on the bench in the Stanley Cup playoffs following an injury to Carey Price, it was Mayer who got the call to back-up Peter Budaj, rather than Tokarski. The re-signings of both Budaj and Mayer to two-year deals, plus the drafting of Zachary Fucale in the second round this past June further complicate things for Tokarski, who remains a restricted free agent after the Habs qualified him last month.

Enter Mike Condon, a Princeton University standout who was signed to a two-year entry-level deal to further cloud the goaltending pipeline. After completing his college career, Condon appeared in just four ECHL and five AHL regular season games last year, but his .943 and .919 save percentages respectively are enough for one to think that there is some promise to his future. If Tokarski returns – an increasingly bigger IF with each passing day – Condon is likely to start in Wheeling, splitting duties with Peter Delmas, but without Tokarski in the picture, the Bulldogs would be gambling on two highly unproven netminders.

Off the ice, the changes were even more plentiful for the Bulldogs, starting with the introduction of a new Assistant Coach in former Hab Stephan Lebeau. The Bulldogs had just a single Assistant Coach last season following the early dismissal of Ron Wilson (citing philosophical differences with rookie head coach Sylvain Lefebvre), instead opting to rotate player development coaches Patrice Brisebois and Martin Lapointe at times behind the bench. Lebeau is a bit of a peculiar hire considering he is coming out of Bishop’s College – where he coached for the past five seasons – after just two years as a QMJHL head coach. He has no experience at the professional level, on a staff where already Lefebvre has just completed his first season as a head coach at any level (after just two years as an AHL assitant and three years as an NHL assistant) and assistant Donald Dufresne‘s most recent campaign was his first in professional hockey after 10 years as an assistant with Rimouski. The direction seems clear: this is Lefebvre’s team, and improvement will have to come as he grows into the role, managing his staff his way, for better or for worse.

Adding to this were changes to the rest of the off-ice staff, as the Bulldogs attempted to change the team’s culture in letting go virtually the entire equipment management, training, and medical staff. Replacing them are much of the former staff of the Rimouski Oceanic, including Eric Levesque and Francis St. Pierre, both having helped out during Montreal’s development camp, though no formal announcement has been made.

These hires are important in surrounding the impressive group of young men who will be passing through Hamilton over the next few seasons. In addition to the above roster and mentioned players, the Bulldogs may benefit from some added scoring come April. Recent draftees Charles HudonBrady Vail, and Tim Bozon will be eligible to join the team once their junior seasons are over, and will be full time members in 2014-15. The first two got a taste of AHL action at the end of last season, and contributed even at such a young age, while Bozon represented France at the World Championship, facing off against much older men. Another player who would likely come in to support a playoff run is Sebastian Collberg, who played in two end-of-season games for Hamilton last year, but will return to Sweden for one final season after having signed his entry level deal with the Canadiens.  

All of this should make for some exciting hockey this season in Hamilton as the team turns the page on a tough and disappointing 2012-13 campaign. For any Hab fans in the GTA region, the opportunity to watch and follow their team’s stars of tomorrow is not to be missed.

——

The Hamilton Bulldogs 2013-14 schedule has not yet been released, but the team is currently offering a phenomenal deal to attend 4 games – including the always popular home opener and Toy Toss nights – for under $15 a ticket. For more info, see here.

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Feature

End of Season Hamilton Bulldogs Report Card – Part 1

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

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

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

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

reportcard

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

 

FORWARDS: 

MIKE BLUNDEN – A

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

MICHAEL BOURNIVAL – B+

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

DARRYL BOYCE – C-

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

STEFAN CHAPUT – C+

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

GABRIEL DUMONT – A+

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

OLIVIER FORTIER – C-

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

BRENDAN GALLAGHER – A+

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

KYLE HAGEL – C+

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

PATRICK HOLLAND – A-

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

LOUIS LEBLANC – C

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

PHILIPPE LEFEBVRE – D

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

JOONAS NATTINEN – C+

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

AARON PALUSHAJ – B+

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

STEVE QUAILER – B-

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

ZACK STORTINI – D-

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

JOEY TENUTE – A-

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

 

DEFENSEMEN:

NATHAN BEAULIEU – A

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

ANTOINE CORBIN – C-

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

JASON DESANTIS – C

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

MORGAN ELLIS – B-

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

BRENDON NASH – B-

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

GREG PATERYN – A

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

FREDERIC ST-DENIS – B

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

JOE STEJSKAL – C

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

JARRED TINORDI – B+

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

 

GOALTENDERS :

CEDRICK DESJARDINS – B-

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

ROBERT MAYER – B

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

 

 

Categories
IceCaps game report

Bulldogs Close Season with Strong Effort but Lose to Americans [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Sebastian Collberg | Nathan Beaulieu | Frederic St. Denis

HAMILTON, ON – Let’s face it: It’s been a difficult AHL season for the Hamilton Bulldogs. The team finished the season in last place in the league, and this attributable to a combination of inexperience on the ice and behind the bench, poor play, and bad luck. Sunday, the ‘Dogs at least turned in a strong effort for the fans in their season finale, though they would ultimately fall to the Rochester Americans by a 4-1 score.

Nathan Beaulieu was named Hamilton's Rookie of the Year and M.V.P., while sharing top defenseman honours with Jarred Tinordi (PHOTO: HAMILTON BULLDOGS)
Nathan Beaulieu was named Hamilton’s Rookie of the Year and M.V.P., while sharing top defenseman honours with Jarred Tinordi (PHOTO: HAMILTON BULLDOGS)

The Bulldogs got off to a strong start, generating some opportunities but this without showing any killer instinct to create high percentage scoring chances. It would end up biting them as a harmless looking Luke Adam shot was deflected by Maxime Legault and squeaked through starter Jacob Gervais-Chouinard to put the visitors on the board. The goal seemed to deflate the home side, as the momentum they had been building slipped away for the remainder of the first.

It returned in the second, however, in a period the Bulldogs impressively dominated. The first quality chance belonged to Nathan Beaulieu, the player named the team’s MVP for the 2012-13 season prior to the game. Beaulieu collected a Charles Hudon feed and very nearly split the Rochester defense, but in the end could only muster a weak shot on goal.

Next it was Louis Leblanc – a player certainly not receiving any end-of-year awards after a disappointing season – with a clear shorthanded breakaway. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get the puck to settle, and wound up fanning on a shot attempt after putting a move on Matt Hackett.

A powerplay would allow the Bulldogs to draw even. Frederic St. Denis took a Greg Pateryn pass and skated in off the point, beating Hackett cleanly with a quick shot. And the team wouldn’t stop there, with glorious chances to go ahead, coming off the sticks of Beaulieu, Adam Ross, and Sebastian Collberg, all turned away by Hackett’s glove.

The saves seemed to spark the Americans, as a Beaulieu pinch left Rochester captain Matt Ellis completely alone in front of Gervais-Chouinard, who had a strong game in only his second professional start, easily sliding the puck past the fallen netminder and restoring the Amerk lead.

The ‘Dogs didn’t quit, battling hard to try to draw even in their 2012-13 swan song into its final period, but Hackett was repeatedly up to the challenge. An Alex Belzile shot met his glove. A nifty move by Frederic St. Denis saw his wraparound saved, with a Belzile rebound opportunity meeting the same fate. When the netminder wasn’t standing on his head, he was also benefiting from some less-than-opportunistic Bulldogs, as Sebastian Collberg – turning in a standout effort in only his second North American game – narrowly missed two rocket shot chances from the slot.

But try as they may, as has been the story many nights this season, the comeback effort fell short, with the Americans prevailing on the back of Hackett’s 29 stops. Phil Varone put it out of reach in the final minutes, alone in front at the end of a 2-on-1 rush, sliding a backhander between Gervais-Chouinard’s pads. An empty netter by Frederik Roy was all the scoring to be seen at Copps Coliseum until the Fall.

A disappointing result to cap a disappointing season for the Hamilton faithful, but the addition of many Hab prospects for the stretch run gives all some positives to bank on for the near future. One bright spot was the play of Collberg, who is expected to return to Sweden next year where he is under contract with Frolunda, but looks to have a promising career ahead of him. The Swede missed Saturday’s game as the club chose to not force him into a 3-in-3 situation coming off a concussion, but generated scoring chances on both Friday and Sunday night. “It was two weeks ago that my season was over and of course I wanted to play more. Easy decision for me to come here. I was in Montreal for a week with the doctors and practiced all of last week. It was good to have two games instead of none.”

On his concussion, Collberg assures that he is 100% and wouldn’t have played if he wasn’t. The adjustment to North America has looked natural on ice, but he does note some challenges in the different style of play. “The smaller rinks make it go a little quicker and it’s a tougher game out there. I’ve started getting used to it after two games, but everyone is stronger and bigger so I have to be stronger around the net. I’ll work on that back home.”

Collberg’s goal in joining the Bulldogs was simply to continue improving his game, as the Swede isn’t thinking of changing his mind as to where he’ll play next year, excited about a new coach in Frolunda and a mix of younger players.

 

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IceCaps game report

Costly Penalties Sink Bulldogs against Griffins [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO:  Mike BlundenSylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON – With fewer than 20 games to play in their season and the team still sitting in the Western Conference’s basement, every point is critical for the Hamilton Bulldogs. Moral victories are no longer good enough, and thus the squad could not take solace in hanging around for most of the game against a strong Grand Rapids Griffins Squad. In the end, a 4-1 defeat meant two points the home squad could not add to the bank on Sunday afternoon, and the margin for error becomes hopelessly smaller.

As has been typical of the team all season, the Bulldogs seemed unprepared to start tonight’s game, dominated in all zones through the first 20 minutes. An early penalty proved costly as – despite a number of outstanding stops by starter Robert Mayer – a rebound ended up in the slot and on the stick of a pinching Chad Billins who finished it off to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.

Coach Lefebvre was livid with his team's offensive zone penalties, two taken by Louis Leblanc (PHOTO: Graham Hughes, THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES)
Coach Lefebvre was livid with his team’s offensive zone penalties, two taken by Louis Leblanc (PHOTO: Graham Hughes, THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES)

Hamilton would take three more minor penalties in the first, a period in which they were outshot 16-6, but thanks to solid goaltending and a big 5-on-3 kill, managed to escape the period down just 1. For the second night in a row, the team’s best chances came off the stick of Patrick Holland – the ‘Dogs’ most creative forward offensively over the past few weeks – but he was unable to convert on either a Joey Tenute feed or his own individual rush.

The second period was a little more even, with few real scoring chances for either side. Steve Quailer had two whacks at a powerplay chance in front of Grand Rapids’s goaltender Thomas McCollum but could not be the former first round selection. The only other time Hamilton was menacing was on a Mike Blunden wraparound opportunity, but again the Griffins’ netminder was up to the task.

It seemed early in the third that the ‘Dogs might be able to escape with points by playing just a single period of decent hockey, as an early powerplay gave Nathan Beaulieu the room he needed to step up to the top of the face-off circle and fire a wrist shot that went off Mike Blunden‘s stick before finding the back of the net. Blunden was rewarded with a goal after regularly being one of the team’s top sparkplugs along with Holland and Joey Tenute.

But the momentum the team built was nullified when Philippe Lefebvre took a careless offensive zone hooking penalty – the team’s second such infraction of the game – and Riley Sheahean restored the Grand Rapids lead with the man advantage.

Blunden was at the centre of a bit of controversy near the third’s midway mark as he laid out Louis-Marc Aubry with a huge hit in the offensive zone. Aubry was slow to get up, and a melee ensued, but a powerplay which could have put the game out of reach proved fruitless for the Griffins.

“I thought I hit the guy clean, but I don’t really know, I’d have to look at it again. Definitely can’t take penalties in the offensive zone, but we gotta find a way to kill them,” summarized Blunden on a tougher night for the typically strong Hamilton penalty kill.

No matter how good their penalty kill, a team can’t take a seemingly endless string of penalties without it coming back to haunt them, and Louis Leblanc‘s second offensive zone infraction of the evening did just that, with Gustav Nyquist completing a nice passing play from a tough angle. Seconds later, Grand Rapids captain Jeff Hoggan skated into the zone and fired a hard slapshot on goal which also eluded Mayer, putting this one out of reach.

Understandably, coach Sylvain Lefebvre was short-tempered following a frustrating loss. “Stupid penalty was the reason we lost the game tonight. Robert Mayer gave us a chance to win, and we took stupid penalties after stupid penalties. You can’t win games if you end up in the box all night. Not against that team.”

The ‘Dogs will regroup by heading out on the road to visit St. John’s next weekend, and then Syracuse and Binghamton the following weekend. If any hope remains to salvage the season, they’ll need a perfect road trip before returning to Copps Coliseum heading into the season’s final month.

 

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IceCaps game report

Beaulieu and Holland Power ‘Dogs Past Ice Caps [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Nathan Beaulieu | Patrick HollandSylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON – The Hamilton Bulldogs continue to put their struggles of the first half of the 2012-13 season behind them, as goals from Stefan ChaputJoe Stejskal, and a pair by Nathan Beaulieu powered the club to a 4-3 victory over the St. John’s Ice Caps – their sixth win in the past eight outings.

“We weren’t really happy (with the way we played) to be honest. In the second intermission we talked about it. But you gotta grind out wins. You gotta battle back. We’re not used to playing with the lead, so tonight we showed a little bit of character keeping the lead and never giving up,” summarized Beaulieu, the star on the night.

Beaulieu scored his 5th and 6th goals of the season in Hamilton's win (PHOTO: Joe Gibbons/Canadian Press/St. John's Telegram)
Beaulieu scored his 5th and 6th goals of the season in Hamilton’s win (PHOTO: Joe Gibbons/Canadian Press/St. John’s Telegram)

As Beaulieu alludes to, it wasn’t always pretty. Two face-off losses drained a Bulldog 5-on-3 in the first, but Hamilton managed to convert before the second penalty ended when Stefan Chaput picked a corner from a tough angle. Some stellar goaltending from Robert Mayer ensured the ‘Dogs would take 1 -0 lead into the intermission despite being outshot 13-11 in the period.

The Ice Caps tied the game early in the second when a Jason Gregoire wraparound beat Mayer – a shot he’d likely want a second look at. Jarred Tinordi was slightly late getting to Gregoire on the goal, allowing the winger to take an extra step out front and improve his angle.

But Hamilton would show resiliency – or “battle back” as Beaulieu put it. After buzzing on some unsuccessful powerplay chances, a Joe Stejskal point shot squeaked through Mark Dekanich, with Patrick Holland standing all over him at the top of the crease. It looked like Holland may have earned the goal with a deflection, but it was awarded cleanly to Stejskal.

“It hit me in the shin pad, but that’s between us. I’ll let Joe keep it. It was his first,” joked Holland at game’s end.

Nathan Beaulieu added to the Bulldogs’ lead with a quick move at the offensive blueline and firing of a quick accurate wrist shot into the corner of the net. Michael Bournival initially got credit on a tip, but it was later corrected to have officially gone in cleanly off Beaulieu’s stick. Not an easy night to be a scorekeeper, no doubt.

And if those scorekeepers were busy trying to figure that one out, they may have missed the next goal, as the Ice Caps didn’t waste time clawing back to within one less than a minute later. Mayer was unable to control the rebound of a Derek Meech point shot and Aaron Gagnon was first on the loose puck, beating the fallen netminder.

Louis Leblanc slashing penalty put the ‘Dogs in some danger early in the third period, but big shot blocks in succession from Gabriel DumontJoe Stejskal, and Mike Blunden got the team out of trouble. The team carried the momentum through to another offensive burst from Beaulieu, who with time and space at the line, was able to fire a shot just inside the post for the second time of the game, extending the lead to 4-2. Patrick Holland collected his second assist of the night on the goal, and that’s with no point on the team’s first goal that he very well may have scored.

In a season where nothing has come easy for Hamilton, we were in for another struggle to the finish, as Leblanc’s second penalty of the period proved more costly than the first. Raymond Sawada‘s 10th of the season beat Mayer for his third point of the night, as the never-say-die Ice Caps made it 4-3. But that was all the Ice Caps could muster, and the Bulldogs posted their sixth win in the last eight games, pulling within a point of visiting St. John’s in the basement of the AHL standings.

After the game, Holland was quick to clarify a Tweet he put out earlier in the day, alluding to an epic battle between he and a zipper.

hollandtweet

“Ellis would probably know better. He’s my roommate and I was screaming. I had something in my coat pocket and I couldn’t get it open. It was hooked on the inside like everybody’s dealt with before. But I just couldn’t get it. And it’s so frustrating. Cause you can’t calmly just open it, you have to like… and it starts to build rage. And it’s not against another person, so there’s nothing you can do to retaliate. It’s a coat. What am I gonna do to it? It doesn’t care!”

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IceCaps game report

Beaulieu, Bulldogs Best Marlies in Final Battle of Ontario [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Nathan Beaulieu | Gabriel Dumont | Sylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON – Tuesday marked the twelfth (no, that’s not a typo) and final meeting between AHL rivals Hamilton and Toronto, and in a season series that has seen a lot of one-sided contests, this one was a dog fight right down till the final minutes. With numerous scoring chances throughout the night, it was the line of Gabriel DumontMike Blunden, and Joey Tenute that ultimately took charge, and a revived Bulldogs powerplay gave the team a 3-2 victory late in the third period.

Nathan Beaulieu - playing nearly 30 minutes a night for Hamilton - was credited with the game's winning goal.
Nathan Beaulieu – playing nearly 30 minutes a night for Hamilton – was credited with the game’s winning goal.

The flow wasn’t in the game from the outset, however. A choppy first period saw six minor penalties called, and despite a strong defensive effort by the ‘Dogs in killing off all four infractions against them, they fell behind 1-0 on a Will Acton converted pass from a tough angle.

In the team’s best period in quite some time, Hamilton would first even the score at 13:48 of the second when a brutal Toronto turnover shorthanded bounced off Joey Tenute and right to Gabriel Dumont. While his shot was stopped, Stefan Chaput was able to cash in his third of the year on a rebound, and the Bulldogs had a rare powerplay goal on the board.

Toronto kept things tight, regaining a lead on a man advantage of their own when an open Joe Colbourne snapped a shot top corner beating a slightly off-angle Robert Mayer. But it would take less than a minute and a half for the ‘Dogs to draw even once again. Dumont sent a hard centering pass across the ice, which bounced off the opposite board and on to the stick of Joey Tenute, whose blistering shot was tipped by Mike Blunden on the way in. The goal was a nice reward for Blunden who has been one of Hamilton’s top forwards consistently of late and had numerous chances in this game.

The Hamilton powerplay – in addition to the gift of a goal – looked as dangerous as it has all season, and Louis Leblanc had a few cracks at beating Jussi Rynnas on centering passes with one such advantage in the final ten minutes of the third. Leblanc’s play has greatly improved since the start of the New Year, and while his production is only slowly coming along, Habs fans should be encouraged that after a summer to fully recover, he should be ready to challenge for an NHL roster spot again in the Fall.

 But it would be the Blunden line again converting on a powerplay with 2:46 to go that gave Hamilton its first lead of the night. A Nathan Beaulieu point shot appeared to be tipped by Gabriel Dumont who was battling in front, and Dumont even reacted by dropping to a knee with an exuberant fist pump. But Beaulieu was officially credited with his fourth of the season.

“It went off my shaft, but then the ref was like, “I gotta give it to Beaulieu because I’m a little bit worried about the height of your stick,” so you know, I didn’t want to ruin that one, didn’t really care, it’s a big win,” joked (I think) Dumont post-game.

Toronto was handed a bench unsportsmanlike minor after the goal, and that was where things got strange. Moments into the Hamilton powerplay, the referee signaled a second call against the Marlies and Mayer took off to the bench for an extra skater. Yet when play resumed, it remained a 5-on-4 advantage. The situation was clarified with the official announcement, that Toronto head coach Dallas Eakins had been assessed a game misconduct, obviously not to fond of the goaltender interference call that led to what would stand-up as the game’s winning goal, and having thrown his clipboard to the ice.

With the win, Hamilton finishes the season with a 5-5-1-1 record against the Marlies, impressive considering the significant gap between the two squads in the standings. The Bulldogs still sit in 30th place in the AHL, but they’ve won two in a row and three in the last four. Beaulieu attributes both his own personal recent successes (being used in all situations and playing close to 30 minutes a night) and those of the team to guys becoming more comfortable at the professional level.

“We sat down and want to take it one game at a time. We got a big win in Toronto and I think it kind of sparked our team. We’re comfortable and we’re playing without fear. We’re not scared to make the plays we have before in different leagues.  [Greg Pateryn, his defense partner] has a couple of years on me, so he definitely knows a lot more than I do. We play really well together. I’m comfortable with him and he helps me a lot.”

 

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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!]

 

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.