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IceCaps game report

Bulldogs Breeze by Heat with 5-3 Win [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Brady Vail | Alex Belzile | Joey Tenute

HAMILTON, ON – They say the first game home after a lengthy road trip is one of the toughest to win. But if Wednesday night was an indication, the Hamilton Bulldogs aren’t familiar with that expression.

After posting a 1-3-0 record on the road over the last two and a half weeks, the ‘Dogs returned to Copps Coliseum with a decisive victory, chilling the Abbotsford Heat by a 5-3 final score in a game they controlled for two periods but would ultimately have to survive a third period collapse. 

Bournival's 8th tied Patrick Holland for 2nd in goals among active 'Dogs this season (PHOTO: GETTY / RDS.CA)
Bournival’s 8th tied Patrick Holland for 2nd in goals among active ‘Dogs this season (PHOTO: GETTY / RDS.CA)

Hamilton got off to a good start with the game’s first quality scoring chance as Alex Belzile narrowly missed getting to the rebound of a Joey Tenute shot. Belzile was promoted to the Bulldogs’ top line with Tenute and Patrick Holland for the night – despite it being only the third AHL game of the tryout’s career – based on his production (a goal and two assists) in his two prior outings.

The Bulldogs would make good of their second opportunity however. Michael Bournival took a couple of strides off a Nathan Beaulieu pass and fired a hard wrister off the post and in on netminder Danny Taylor. With Gabriel Dumont in Montreal Bournival led the ‘Dogs in scoring coming into the game with 24 points in 56 contests, and the marker tied him with Patrick Holland for second on the team in goals with 8.

As rare as it has been for Hamilton to score first this season, on this night, they wouldn’t stop there. First Frederic St. Denis would one-time the rebound of a Philippe Lefebvre shot past a helpless Taylor. Brady Vail picked up his first professional point (in his third game) with an assist on the tally. Then just five minutes later, feel-good story Hamilton local Joey Tenute would collect a Belzile pass and fire a rifle top shelf.

The second period saw the Bulldogs add to their lead with a powerplay marker to make it 4-0. Nathan Beaulieu showed great agility in executing a quick spinorama at the point before feeding back to Patrick Holland. Holland would in turn send the puck cross-ice to Greg Pateryn whose slapshot found the back of the net for his 6th in just 27 games. Robert Mayer would close out the period with a number of quality stops as Abbotsford held a 27-16 shot advantage through 40 minutes, though those totals hardly reflected the balance of play.

Nothing has come easy for the boys from Steeltown North this season and this game would not be an exception. The Heat came out buzzing to start the final stanza and markers from Max Reinhart and Roman Horak quickly made it a two-goal affair. Hoping to settle his troops down, coach Sylvain Lefebvre wisely called a timeout.

And it seemed to work. Again the new top line went to work with Holland flashing skill to break in alone on goal, and while he was stepped, Tenute was Johnny on the spot for his second of the night, restoring a three-goal lead. Belzile registered his second helper of the game on the goal – his fifth point in just his third game – and was impressive throughout the night, regularly going hard to the Heat net.

Ben Street would reduce the Heat deficit to two, but that was as close as this one would come, as the Bulldogs pick up a hard-fought and well-deserved win despite what the shot clock might have one think. The win was made all the more impressive by the fact that no fewer than six players were making their Copps Coliseum debuts in the game.

“It’s a little weird for me, just cause I’ve never experienced anything like this,” explained Vail who – given his young age – will return to the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires in the Fall. “I’m here to experience what it’s like at the next level and learn from the pro guys; what it takes, the work ethic, off-ice stuff. All the little things really. Good to get [the first point] out of the way, and hope I get a few more.”

Belzile, playing his first year outside of Quebec and a little self-conscious about his English, is also looking at this as a learning opportunity. “[The AHL] is way faster [than the ECHL]. Just the intensity – you can’t compare them. You have to be smarter – know what you’re going to do with the puck before it comes. Those little details, and I hope [my adjustment] is going to continue the same way.”

 

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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

Slow Start Cools Hot ‘Dogs in Loss to Senators [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Frederic St. Denis, Joey Tenute, and coach Sylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON. — No doubt that the Hamilton Bulldogs are used to playing catch-up hockey. But on Friday night, another slow start was too much to overcome, with the home side finding themselves down 2-0  to the Binghamton Senators before the game was ten minutes old, never able to draw even and ultimately dropping a 3-2 decision at Copps Coliseum.

Holland picked up an assist on Tenute's goal and has been one of Hamilton's better forwards of late.
Patrick Holland picked up an assist on Joey Tenute’s goal and has been one of Hamilton’s better forwards of late.

Robert Mayer‘s starts have been less frequent since the acquisition of Dustin Tokarski, and perhaps signs of rust were showing early on as the typically sound and stable netminder was giving up uncharacteristic rebounds. Both Cole Schneider and Corey Cowick took advantage of second chance opportunities that no Hamilton blueliner could get to first to put the visitors up by two.

Giveaways were a problem throughout the night as Jarred Tinordi notably struggled in his own end, though he’d make up for it before the first was out in helping his side get on the board. After his first point shot was stopped by former Bulldog Nathan Lawson, he got a second chance, this one tipped on its way through by Patrick Holland, who has been one of the team’s more dangerous players offensively over the past few games. Lawson gave up a big rebound on the redirect and Joey Tenute cashed in, scoring his third of the season to climb within one.

While Mayer had settled down in making 11 first period stops despite the goals, another conceded rebound put the comeback plans on hold. Jean-Gabriel Pageau was the beneficiary this time around, uncovered in front, re-establishing a two goal Senator lead.

An unexpected tally made things close once again, coming just at the expiration of an unsuccessful powerplay. Mike Blunden led a rush before offering up a soft drop pass to Louis Leblanc who one-timed a puck top shelf. The tally seemed to turn the tide in Hamilton’s favour as the ‘Dogs controlled most of the remainder of the game, but were unable to sneak a third marker past Lawson, even with pulling Mayer with a full 2:25 still up on the clock.

Despite the loss, Hamilton is 7-3-0 in its past 10 games, though the team remains in a deep hole, 15th in the Western Conference and three points behind their nearest rival. With just 22 games to play in the regular season, making up the 11 points that separated them from 8th-seed Chicago at the start of the night is unlikely. But as the AHL is a development league, the players know there is a lot more to play for.

“We’re trying to win as many games as we can. We’ll see what happens here,” summarized coach Sylvain Lefebvre.

There was a bit of good news on the day for ‘Dogs fans. One being the return of defenseman Frederic St. Denis to the line-up after sitting a few weeks with a lower-body injury. St. Denis conducted post-game interviews with a large bag of ice taped around his left knee, but felt his comeback was successful at least on a personal level. “I feel really good. Maybe the first period I was kinda tired cause the timing wasn’t really there, but I think the second and third period were pretty good. [As a team] we watched the game a little too much in the first period. We have to do much better for tomorrow’s game for sure.”

The other positive was the announcement earlier in the day that the club had extended agreements both with the Montreal Canadiens and the city of Hamilton to remain the Habs’ affiliate at Copps Coliseum for the next three seasons. “It’s exciting. Though I’m not looking past this year,” commented Joey Tenute, one of the team’s two Hamilton locals along with Kyle Hagel. “I’m just doing my part to be a leader and contribute to this team right now. I like the way things are going here and it’s exciting for the fans and city to have a commitment from the Canadiens and Bulldogs going forward. It’s a great place to play.”

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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

Tokarski Shines but ‘Dogs Winning Streak Ends at Four [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Dustin Tokarski | Sylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON – The cellar-dwelling Hamilton Bulldogs entered their Monday afternoon matchup against the Rochester Americans as – surprisingly – one of the AHL’s hottest teams, winners of four straight and five of their last six.  But in this game, the ‘Dogs looked to be at their early season form rather than continuing their recent strong play, unable to generate anything in the way of offense, and coming up on the short end of a 3-0 final, flattering only because of stellar netminding from Dustin Tokarski.

It was another slow start for the Bulldogs, who were outshot 18-7 in the first period and fell behind 1-0 when a Brayden McNabb wrist shot from the point found the corner of the net behind Tokarski. It then became further clear that this wasn’t going to be Hamilton’s night when the second began in the same way, with Luke Adam converting on a two-on-one to double the Americans’ lead.

"If you didn't think Tokarski could stop the puck, now you know," said Sylvain Lefebvre of his message to the team. (PHOTO: Dan Kramer, AllHabs.net)
“If you didn’t think Tokarski could stop the puck, now you know,” said Sylvain Lefebvre of his message to the team. (PHOTO: Dan Kramer, AllHabs.net)

The ‘Dogs seemed to steady the ship a bit around the midway mark of the period, and drew a penalty looking to get on the board. But a terrible powerplay saw the team struggle to even gain entry into the offensive zone, and the ice re-tilted in Rochester’s favour thereafter, with the visitors holding a dominant 37-13 shot advantage through 40 minutes.

“I won’t lie, I haven’t faced that many in a long time. But as a goaltender, you gotta be ready to make 20 saves or 50 saves. Ultimately, they scored more than we did, and their goalie outplayed me. I gotta be better,” said Tokarski post-game, clearly his own harshest critic.

Tokarski notably came up big on one goalmoth stand as the Americans crashed the net, but on four occasions couldn’t slipped one passed the newest member of the Bulldogs.

Despite the lack of effort, down just 2-0, Hamilton seemed to find some stored up energy for the third, increasing their shot total to a respectable 30 on the night, and making David Leggio earn his second shutout of the season (the first also came against the Bulldogs). Sylvain Lefebvre‘s new top six combinations of Mike BlundenJoey Tenute, and Patrick Holland and Gabriel Dumont, Michael Bournival, and Louis Leblanc both had their chances, particularly after Tokarski was pulled for an extra skater with 2:47 to play.

“Nothing was happening before that, so might as well pull him right away and see if we can get one quick, and it’s a 2-1 game,” explained Lefebvre on a night where his squad looked weak at both ends of the ice for two periods.

It’s easy to say that Hamilton had earned an off-night based on their recent strong performances, but still near the basement of the AHL standings, there is no room for error if the team wants to get back into playoff contention. Thus, every game is a must-win as the team moves on to the Bell Centre in Montreal for a rematch with Rochester Friday night.

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IceCaps game report

Bulldogs Heat Up, Primed for Big Second Half [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

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

HAMILTON, ON – In a first game previewing what a post-NHL CBA American Hockey League might look like, the Hamilton Bulldogs got the better of their rival Toronto Marlies winning a 2-1 decision on a luck late Gabriel Dumont goal.  The Bulldogs registered five of a possible six points on their three-game home-stand and have been playing competitive hockey, critical as the season reaches its midway point and the team has an enormous chasm to make up in the standings.

Robert Mayer made 23 stops in his third straight start for the 'Dogs. (PHOTO: Bradley Kalpin)
Robert Mayer made 23 stops in his third straight start for the ‘Dogs. (PHOTO: Bradley Kalpin)

Despite the NHL lockout being settled and the new CBA all-but-ratified, both squads dressed the majority of their AHL rosters, with the Marlies holding out just Matt Frattin and the injured Jake Gardiner, while all of Mike CommodoreFrederic St. DenisGabriel DumontBrendan Gallagher, and Louis Leblanc played for the Bulldogs despite their possible presence at Montreal’s camp next week.  The fact is that even if the five might get a short stint with the Canadiens, they are all likely to return to the Bulldogs’ line-up before long with 23 players (once P.K. Subban is signed) on NHL deals already.  Realistically, only Dumont perhaps has a chance of getting some time with the team at this stage due to an injury to Petteri Nokelainen, but his presence on the roster would mean no tryout for the team’s top prospect in Alex Galchenyuk.  In fact, though the Bulldogs still sit 30th overall in the American Hockey League, they are a team that should remain relatively intact while opposing squads are weakened, perhaps setting them up for a stretch run and shot at a post-season berth.

The game matched the Hamilton Bulldogs usual script early on, with the ‘Dogs leading the Marlies in shots through a scoreless first period but without much in the way of discernible scoring opportunities.  The Marlies got on the board first in the second with a Nazem Kadri goal off an offensive zone face-off, then looked to add to their lead and take over the game with a lengthy 5-on-3 powerplay.

But for the second time in as many games, the ‘Dogs came up with a huge kill, without so much as even giving up a quality scoring chance.  In the final minutes, Hamilton was on a powerplay of their own, and as it expired, Jason DeSantis made a great play at the blueline, jumping to keep a puck in the zone, and finding Mike Blunden in front. With a mess of players including a pinching Nathan Beaulieu crashing the net, Blunden found Patrick Holland at the other side of the crease and he buried the puck, scoring in the final second of a period for the second time in the past three games.

The third was a strange period of unsuccessful man advantages for both sides, and the teams remained tied entering the final minute.  It was then that Dumont centered the puck which took a couple of funny bounces of Marlie defenders before finally banking in off Jussi Rynnas for his team-leading 11th.

“He’s greasy like that. That’s typical of him (Dumont) for sure,” half-joked Holland about the winning goal after the game.  “We even tell him to shoot from there all the time cause he just has a knack for tricking goalies. It’s tough for a goalie to stop that I’m sure.”

The ‘Dogs held on for the rest of the final minute allowing the Dumont tally to stand up as the winner.  Dumont himself says he has no indication if or when he’ll get a call to pack a bag for Montreal, so for the time being, he and the rest of the Bulldogs can only look ahead to try to keep their streak going when they visit the Rochester Americans this Friday night.

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IceCaps game report

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

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

(feature photo courtesy of HamiltonBulldogs.com)

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Feature

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.