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IceCaps game report

Veteran-laden Barons Too Much for Bulldogs to Handle [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Alex Belzile | Coach Sylvain Lefebvre | Yann Danis (OKC)

HAMILTON, ON – For the third night in a row, the Hamilton Bulldogs got behind the eight-ball early against a superior opponent and couldn’t muster enough of a comeback effort to get back in the game, dropping a 3-0 decision to the Oklahoma City Barons Sunday afternoon.

Patrick Holland was one of two Bulldog forwards unable to finish tonight's game. (PHOTO: Hamilton Spectator File Photo)
Patrick Holland was one of two Bulldog forwards unable to finish tonight’s game. (PHOTO: Hamilton Spectator File Photo)

It was a big night for one member of the Bulldogs’ squad, as Sherbrooke, Quebec native Jacob Gervais-Chouinard made his first start at the AHL level. The 21-year old was tested early and proved shaky, popping a Jonathan Cheechoo shot up in the air and being unable to track it in his own crease behind him before Philippe Cornet could pounce on it and tap it home. Moments later a centering pass was found in a scramble in front of the net by Mark Arcobello who also beat Gervais-Chouinard for a quick 2-0 lead for the visitors.

The young netminder would settle down – despite highly unorthodox rebound control – as Hamilton was outshot 11-1 halfway through the first. The shots trend continued into the second, but it would take until the Barons’ 30th shot – coming at almost exactly the midway mark of the second period – for them to next solve the ‘Dogs keeper. A powerplay had the Hamilton defense somehow leave Cheechoo all alone in front, allowing him to collect a pass off his backside, spin around, and beat an out of position Gervais-Chouinard. It marked the third time in as many nights that Hamilton fell behind 3-0.

A brief spark ignited when coach Sylvain Lefebvre reunited the team’s former top line of Alex Belzile – the team’s best forward in the game – Joey Tenute and Patrick Holland. The three instantly generated the second period’s best scoring chance, drawing a penalty on the sequence, but a dismal powerplay failed to produce a quality chance on goal.

Despite the likes of Jordan EberleTaylor HallRyan Nugent-Hopkins, Magnus Paajarvi, and Justin Schultz – all of whom played for the Barons during the lockout – being up in the NHL, the Barons present an experienced roster (Cheechoo, Ben EagerGarret Stafford, and more in addition to quality prospects Arcobello, Anton LanderToni Rajala, and Teemu Hartikainen) which was simply too much for the young Hamilton squad to handle. They would have to do little more than sit back and coast the rest of the way, with the home side managing only one other chance of note, when ex-Hab and Bulldog Yann Danis would stonewall Louis Leblanc standing all in front and taking a 3-on-1 pass perfectly from Petteri Nokelainen, one of the few big saves he was forced to make in earning his first shutout of the season.

The Barons would close out the scoring with a Toni Rajala centering pass that was inadvertently kicked into an empty cage by Nolekalinen, putting a cap on a slow but very one-sided affair.

With the team mathematically eliminated from the post-season, the bigger concern than the loss were injuries suffered by two key members of the Bulldogs. Neither Michael Bournival not Patrick Holland – two guys Montreal may well have added to their Black Aces list to keep skating into the playoffs – was unable to finish the game. Coach Sylvain Lefebvre confirmed it was a lower body injury for Bournival (seen post-game walking without crutches) and that both he and Holland would be evaluated tomorrow.

Belzile was recognized as the Bulldogs’ hardest worker on the night, but he failed to explain why the team got off to such slow starts all weekend long. “It’s hard to say. Maybe it’s the preparation. Or little details like trying to gain momentum quickly and to not lose it. Sometimes it’s just lucky bounces we didn’t get, but we need to keep pushing.” On his own performance and efforts to earn a new contract with the organization, the impressive AHL tryout explained, “Every game I need to be a little more intense on the ice. It’s one of my greatest tools, so I need to use it to bring something to the team. I hope I’ll be back, but I don’t want to think too far ahead. Game by game, I’ll bring my 100% to show I have my place here.”

Just three games remain in the 2013 calendar for the Hamilton Bulldogs, and after losing Steve Quailer to an injury Friday, they may be further undermanned if neither Holland nor Bournival can return next weekend. They will get some reinforcements, however, as Sebastian Collberg agreed to a tryout contract with the squad Sunday morning and will debut at home next Friday night.

 

 

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IceCaps game report

Vail Shines but Amerks Come Back to Top ‘Dogs [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Louis Leblanc | Dustin Tokarski | Sylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON – Hamilton Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre wouldn’t be the first to struggle to figure out where to play 19-year old Brady Vail. The tryout getting a first taste of American Hockey League action after his Windsor Spitfires failed to qualify for the OHL playoffs was used on three different lines over the past three games, getting limited minutes on a fourth unit in a loss to Abbotsford on Friday.

But Saturday night, Coach Lefebvre seemed to have found some magic, placing the natural center who was even forced to spend some time on defense for Windsor between Louis Leblanc and Steve Quailer, with the trio providing a spark that should have been sufficient to get the ‘Dogs back in the win column. Unfortunately, the two goals they produced wouldn’t hold up to a third period rally from the Rochester Americans, who ultimately escaped with a 4-2 win on truly a one period effort.

Quailer may have found a home with Vail and Leblanc, the trio combining for two goals (PHOTO: Cathie Coward/The Hamilton Spectator)
Quailer may have found a home with Vail and Leblanc, the trio combining for two goals (PHOTO: Cathie Coward/The Hamilton Spectator)

To a man, the Bulldogs have spoken about the importance of quick starts to their success this season, and they took it to heart against the Americans. After earlier being denied on back-to-back chances off a Rochester giveaway, Vail opened the game’s scoring by deflecting a Peter Merth point shot past starter Nathan Lieuwen while mucking it up in front of the net. The goal was Vail’s first (and second point) at the professional level, coming in his fifth game.

Greg Pateryn had a couple of good opportunities to add to the lead for the home team, but a powerplay point shot and an uncharacteristic pinching one-timer were both turned aside, as Hamilton held a 13-6 shot advantage through twenty minutes.

An injury scare saw Lieuwen pulled for David Leggio for the visitors to start the second period, a bad omen for the Bulldogs considering the netminder has recorded two shutouts at Copps Coliseum this season. But the Bulldogs didn’t let up, taking the play to the Amerks again in the second set, winning most races for the puck and one-on-one battles.

Vail continues his strong play, working hard on the penalty kill and effective in his own end, notably making one diving interception and clear to break up a dangerous scoring chance. His line would be rewarded again for their hardwork in the period’s final minute when a Louis Leblanc forecheck got the puck back to Jarred Tinordi whose point shot was tipped by Steve Quailer and just trickled across the goal line for a 2-0 lead.

Rochester wouldn’t go quietly into the night, however. After an Evan Rankin wrister on a rush down the wing got the Americans within one, it was Rankin again leading a charge and taking a shot which got through Dustin Tokarski – who hadn’t been tested much through two periods – and sat in the crease. Zack Stortini was first to get a stick on it, but unfortunately for Hamilton, he inadvertently tapped it into his own cage.

Coach Lefebvre tried to settle his side down with a timeout, but the Amerks kept on coming, taking the lead for the first time of the night on a Jerome Gauthier-Leduc shot from the blueline which hit off Tokarski before finding the back of the net. It wasn’t the goaltender’s finest outing of the season, and the crowd let him know, offering up a Bronx cheer for his next save.

The Leggio storyline would pick back up in the third period, as he made numerous high calibre saves, including on rebound chances for Gabriel Dumont and Alex Belzile to preserve the comeback victory, sealed with an empty netter. It marked the second night in a row where a solid home effort from the Bulldogs still saw them leave Copps Coliseum without a point.

“A loss is a loss. And tonight we came up short,” summarized Tokarski, clearly upset over the result but showing a brave face in facing reporters all the same. “I think we came out fired wanting to win the game, but we gotta learn how to win and how to close out games, starting with myself. It’s a mental thing.”

The positive the ‘Dogs can take on the road is the chemistry on the newly formed Quailer – Vail – Leblanc line, provided Quailer won’t miss any time with a banged up knee after being seen with an ice pack taped around it post-game. “It’s been a tough season, but every player has tough seasons. Keep working hard and keep a good attitude. That’s all I can control and that’s all I’m doing,” explained Leblanc after one of his better performances in recent weeks. “I played with Quailer earlier on this season, and Brady is a new young player who brings some energy. It worked well tonight.”

 

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IceCaps game report

Heat Powerplay Sizzles in Revenge Win Over Bulldogs

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Jarred Tinordi | Gabriel Dumont | Sylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON – If the key to Hamilton’s victory over the Abbotsford Heat on Wednesday night was getting out to a quick start, someone must have changed the locks Friday.

Starting from goaltender Robert Mayer right on out, the Bulldogs – despite gaining reinforcements in the form of Gabriel Dumont and Jarred Tinordi – were sloppy, and the Heat capitalized to avenge their prior 5-3 loss with a 4-2 victory.

tinordihires
Tinordi’s return to Hamilton didn’t go according to plan, as three powerplay goals went off or through him. (PHOTO: Jason Kurylo)

Michael Bournival had the game’s first scoring chance right off the opening face-off, but was turned aside by netminder Danny Taylor. Heat forward Ben Walter was more opportunistic, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead at just the 1:04 mark.

Abbotsford would then extend their lead on the powerplay, when Jarred Tinordi got his stick on a Max Reinhart point shot – a mistake coach Sylvain Lefebvre most certainly would have let him know about – and it got through Mayer. It was a whirlwind day for Tinordi, being sent down from Montreal in the morning, but unfortunately the deflection would be only the start of his troubles on the night.

Hamilton clawed back to within one on a powerplay marker of their own, with Morgan Ellis ending a 34-game pointless streak, slapping a pass from Frederic St. Denis past Taylor. Ellis earned time on the second powerplay unit with Nathan Beaulieu in Montreal on a call-up.

The goal seemed to wake the ‘Dogs up, but back-to-back penalties taken by St. Denis gave the momentum right back to the Heat. After a first call, it wouldn’t take long for the second call to prove costly, with Sven Baertschi‘s tough angle shot bouncing off Tinordi’s skate at the side of the net and beating Mayer up high, restoring a two-goal advantage.

The second period would see the Bulldogs get back within one again, this time on a solo effort by Gabriel Dumont – also sent down from the Canadiens that very morning. Dumont’s first shot was blocked in front, but the grinder went hard to the net, collected his own rebound, and snapped it to the back of the goal.

That Dumont’s goal came from going hard to the net was no coincidence, as the hardnosed forward benefited from some strong role models during his time in Montreal. “I learned a lot of things. You watch guys play. Guys like Brandon Prust. Guys like Colby Armstrong. They’ve been around for a while. Kind of the same player as me too. Travis MoenRyan White you know. Look at these guys, see what they’re doing everyday. They have great work ethic. Learn from these guys and try to do the same thing here,” he summed up after the game.

Unfortunately for the home side, history would repeat itself. Any gains in momentum from Dumont’s marker were quickly erased when Mayer – who seemed to have a lack of focus throughout the game despite also making numerous highlight reel stops – mishandled a puck behind the net, forcing Greg Pateryn into a penalty call. And again the Abbotsford powerplay would make Hamilton pay, as Ben Street caught Mayer cheating sliding across the goal, slipping a shot along the ice through Tinordi’s legs – yes him again – and in shortside.

“It’s frustrating,” said Tinordi. “It happens. I didn’t see a shot coming, it went off my stick and in. One went off my skate. Obviously those goals were my fault, so I just try to tell Mayer we’ll get it back for him.”

Danny Taylor stood tall in the third stanza as Hamilton had its chances to reduce the Heat lead, notably an opportunity for Dumont that greatly resembled his earlier goal. A save on his first shot popped the puck up, and Dumont would show hunger for the puck, skating through the defensemen to bat it out of midair, but Taylor was ready with a second stop.

It would take a weird bounce to provide an exciting finish, as Alex Belzile couldn’t control a pass, but it would be accidentally put on net by Zach McKelvie and squeak through Taylor, some puck luck going the right away after Tinordi’s series of unfortunate events through the first two periods.

That was as close as the ‘Dogs would get, as despite buzzing in the offensive zone for the final minute with Mayer on the bench, the team couldn’t get much on goal in their attempt to force overtime. The playoffs seem like an unreachable target tonight, but a roster full of tryouts looking for job security for next season is back in action Saturday night hosting the Rochester Americans.

 

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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

Tokarski, Tenute Lead Bulldogs Over Heat [with AUDIO]

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Joey Tenute | Dustin Tokarski | Coach Sylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON – On a day where former Hamilton Bulldog Cedric Desjardins was called up to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the man he was traded for, Dustin Tokarski, didn’t want to be shown up.

The ‘Dogs netminder has been nothing but stellar since being acquired by the Canadiens, and on Tuesday he recorded his second straight shutout, making 27 saves to earn a 2-0 decision over the Abbotsford Heat.

Tenute's fourth of the season stood up as the game winner. (PHOTO: John Rennison/The Hamilton Spectator)
Tenute’s fourth of the season stood up as the game winner. (PHOTO: John Rennison/The Hamilton Spectator)

Hamilton played a strong first period – a period that has been a weakness for them much of the season – but came away with nothing to show for it, as goaltender Leland Irving had the last word.

The second period was a relatively even one, as the sparse mid-week crowd had little to get excited about. One could say it was a tight defensive affair with both teams putting up barriers in their own end, but that would be a polite way of describing the unmotivated sloppy “action” (or lack thereof) taking place between the two bluelines.

There were few scoring chances either way, until a solo rush by Hamilton native Joey Tenute produced a highlight-reel goal with just over a minute to go in the period.

“I saw that I had a couple of guys with me, but I know on a play like that, the goalie is going to be thinking I’m going to make the pass and be cheating a little, and I just kinda went to my backhand and put it upstairs,” described Tenute. But the goal was initially waved off, and the referees had to go upstairs to confirm it hadn’t simply bounced off the crossbar. “I saw it go in, but I don’t think the ref did. No doubt in my mind. I saw it, the whole bench saw it. I think maybe the ref was the only one that didn’t.”

The Bulldog penalty kill was proficient throughout the night, limiting the scoring chances on Tokarski, but he came up big in the third period as Abbotsford pressed for an equalizer with Tenute in the box.

“Sometimes in the game you get momentum, sometimes with the powerplay even if you don’t score, and sometimes with the penalty kill. Guys feel very confident right now in their play and that they can keep the lead if they get it,” summed up coach Sylvain Lefebvre.

Tokarski wouldn’t take all the credit for the win, rightfully pointing to his teammates who – while they conceded 27 shots – kept most chances to the outside and allowed few true scoring opportunities.

“We’ve been playing solid 60 minutes of north-south hockey. Playing some good D and capitalizing on chances,” said the always modest netminder nicknamed ‘Ticker’ of a true team effort. “Guys are staying tight, keeping guys to the outside. Giving me the first shot and then clearing the rebound or I’m controlling it. I thought the D core’s been outstanding the last couple of games.”

In addition to usual stand-up efforts from Greg Pateryn and Frederic St. DenisJoe Stejskal had a particularly good game on the back-end, delivering several crunching hits.

The third period saves were all the team would require, as Louis Leblanc sealed the deal into an empty net after starting a rush that drew a late Heat penalty.

The win is Hamilton’s 9th in the last 13 games, but the team has to continue to take things one game at a time, as they remain far out of a playoff spot. “We’ve been in playoffs in our mind for a little while here,” said Lefebvre, concluding by anointing Tokarski the starter for the team’s next game Friday night.

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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 Fall Short of Goal with Loss to Ice Caps (with post-game audio)

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO:  Brendan Gallagher | Sylvain Lefebvre

HAMILTON, ON – “We need to get back to .500.  That’s our goal for Christmas,” is what Cedric Desjardins told a small media scrum following a Hamilton Bulldogs victory back on December 11th.  With the team having won only one game in four attempts between then and tonight, the clock was ticking; Hamilton’s record stood two games below .500 with just two games remaining till December 25th, leaving no margin for error.  And on this night, it was not to be, with the team coming up short offensively once again and dropping a 2-1 decision to the St. John’s Ice Caps.

A Fortier set-up got the 'Dogs on the board, but it wasn't enough on this night. (PHOTO: BERNARD BRAULT, ARCHIVES LA PRESSE)
A Fortier set-up got the ‘Dogs on the board, but it wasn’t enough on this night. (PHOTO: BERNARD BRAULT, ARCHIVES LA PRESSE)

The standout for the ‘Dogs in this game was Brendan Gallagher who converted a no-look Olivier Fortier pass into a highlight reel goal – his 9th marker of the season.  Nathan Beaulieu also had a strong game, but was unable to keep his points-streak alive. Desperately searching for more offense, coach Sylvain Lefebvre even shifted Patrick Holland to the blueline – where he plays on the man advantage – beside Beaulieu, but it did not produce the desired results.

Unfortunately, despite outshooting the Ice Caps 27-25, the sputtering Hamilton offense was all too familiar of a scene. The lack of a dynamic scoring veteran forward has hurt the club as it is forced to rely on rookies and secondary players to lead the charge. The team is particularly lacking down the middle, forced to convert wingers to the center position on its top units. There is hope general manager Marc Bergevin will seek to replace Darryl Boyce, who was released early from his PTO, with a player who better fits such a role, but it was easier to find one last summer than it will be mid-season – even during an NHL lockout.

“We have to realize what kind of team we are. We’re not a team with a bunch of 50-goal scorers. We have to outwork teams,” said Gallagher on a night where he was the only one to bulge the twine. This may be true, but Hamilton is also a team with a young defense core who could use a few cushion-y leads to develop in a less pressure-packed environment than the current one where it seems any single mistake can end a game.

The loss drops the ‘Dogs to 10-13-1-2, the furthest they’ve been from their goal of a .500 record in two weeks courtesy of their third defeat in a row. Development is a work in progress for this young squad, and the fact that the injury list on this night included Aaron Palushaj (shoulder), Blake Geoffrion (head), Mike Commodore (groin), Greg Pateryn, and Frederic St. Denis (flu) isn’t helping get the team in getting back into the win column.

The injury situation on defense allowed the newly-signed Cody Wild to make his Hamilton debut, and he didn’t look out of place, jumping in the rush at times and nearly contributing to an equalizer in the third after crashing through the crease. He took a spot on the second powerplay unit with Brendon Nash.

The ‘Dogs will have to keep taking this season one game at a time, growing and learning with each bump and bruise along the way. They won’t have much time to dwell on this defeat, however, as they’re back in action for a final pre-Christmas match-up tomorrow evening.

 

(Featured photo courtesy of HamiltonBulldogs.com)

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IceCaps game report

‘Dogs Keeping Pace After Big Win

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

POST-GAME AUDIO: Quailer | Desjardins | Lefebvre

TORONTO, ON – The early season struggles of the Hamilton Bulldogs have been a popular topic of discussion among Hab fans who find themselves virtually as locked out as the players themselves.  In a normal season, with less focus on the AHL squad, the concerns of most would be placated by the valid excuses of the team’s youthful inexperience, some undisciplined depth players, and a lack of bona fide scoring talent.  But this season, though we’re just 20 games in, the scrutinizers are already talking about Sylvain Lefebvre‘s suitability as a Head Coach or management’s effectiveness at assembling a balanced roster.

(Photo by Kaz Novak | Hamilton Spectator)
(Photo by Kaz Novak | Hamilton Spectator)

The reality of the situation is – just as things always are with the big club – the team’s difficulties have been greatly overblown.  With 20 points, they do sit tied for 2nd to last in the American Hockey League, but they remain just 1 game below .500 and also hold games in hand on most of the other clubs.  In fact, last night’s 1-0 win over the Lake Erie Monsters was big for keeping pace with other teams even at such an early point of the year, moving within 6 points of their divisional rival in 4 fewer games.  This is also important as the Monsters are currently holding down the 8th and final playoff position in the AHL’s Western Conference, meaning it is far too early to give up hope on the baby Habs’ season.

In many ways, last night’s game illustrated much of both the good and bad we’ve seen from Hamilton this year.  As many predicted it would be, scoring is a challenge for the Bulldogs who lack veteran stars to lead the offense.  Yes, Aaron Palushaj and Louis Leblanc are proven at this level and have NHL experience, but the loss of Blake Geoffrion has left the team searching for new sources of goal-production.  Finishing ability is not a strength of the team, even of leading point-producer Brendan Gallagher, and it was apparent last night with just one goal on 45 shots, due to a combination of a hot opposing goaltender and few second chance opportunities with limited traffic in front of the net.  But when your golden opportunities land on the stick of a Kyle Hagel, or Mike Blunden holds down a spot on your top powerplay unit (over a player like Leblanc) – both of which occurred yesterday evening – it is to be expected that goals are hard to come by.

With veteran Zack Stortini sitting as a healthy scratch (being one of those underperforming depth players whose lack of discipline has hurt the club), it was an unexpected source that could have hurt the squad with an untimely penalty.  The Bulldogs were already down a man when netminder Cedrick Desjardins was bumped by the traffic in the crease.  Angered by the lack of a call, mid-play, Desjardins rose and slammed his blocker and stick against the crossbar, knocking the net off its moorings and stopping play, leading to a delay-of-game call.

Explained Desjardins after the game, “There was a lot of traffic in front and I couldn’t see anything, so I was frustrated.  I put my team in a situation, so I had no choice but to bail them out.”  And that he did, with some of the Monsters’ best chances of their 29 shots coming during that 5-on-3 advantage in the 2nd period.

On the positive side, the team’s defenders and group of defensive forwards were successful in shutting down the Lake Erie attack with it certainly not being Desjardins’s busiest night or most difficult shutout.  The recently inked Mike Commodore has been getting increasingly comfortable on the back end and brings a calming veteran influence to a group of youngsters.

The hero on this night was – eventually – Steve Quailer, with a brilliant individual rush on a powerplay that had been dying for one to go in.  After making a nice move to enter the zone, Quailer drove to the net, and though the finish wasn’t quite what he was going for – the puck was swatted into the net by a sweeping defender’s stick – it filled the arena with joy, allowing stuffed animals to rain down and litter the ice on the team’s charitable Teddy Bear Toss night.

“I was going for the Forsberg move, but he (the defenseman) actually made a good play and jammed my stick.  The goalie followed me and it went in, so it was pretty lucky I guess,” admitted Quailer post-game.  Lucky in this instance perhaps, but Quailer did what few ‘Dogs have this season aside from Gallagher, which was charge the net, and that – plus the fact that the marker came with the man advantage – is something that the team must work on doing more of in the games to come.

After assembling their first back-to-back wins since the opening 2 games of the season, the ‘Dogs now head out on a 4-game road trip.  They return to Hamilton on December 21st for a two-game stand pre-Christmas.

 

(Featured image by HamiltonBulldogs.com)