Will Bell Centre Visit Spark Struggling Bulldogs?


Original text  by Roby St-Gelais / translated by Lyse, AllHabs.net

SAGUENAY, QC. — The Hamilton Bulldogs, the Habs farm team in the AHL, have made their fans proud for the last three seasons many times during the regular schedule, then extending the pleasure during their playoff runs. However, this trend could very well end for the 2011-2012 season.

After only 14 games, one is forced to admit that the Bulldogs are far from being among the best teams in the AHL. The Baby Habs only picked up 13 points  – they are 6-7-1 to date  – placing them 3rd in the North division of the Western Conference, 11th overall in the conference.

Leading the division with 17 points are the Toronto Marlies, the Leafs’ farm club. The IceCaps, the farm team for the Winnipeg Jets newly established in St. John’s NFL, are leading the AHL with 25 points after 16 games.

If this keeps up the way it started, the young players led by Clément Jodoin – successor to Randy Cunneyworth as head coach, after the latter was promoted to assist behind the Habs’ bench – won’t be earning more than thirtysome W’s, quite a drop from the team that was able to win 48 times a season on average over the last few years.

One of the reasons that might explain this year’s slow start is the renewal of the team with the arrival of new players. The core group responsible for the Bulldogs’ success over the years is gone and those new players are still adapting to each other. Moreover, most of those new guys are rookies with no professional experience.

Gone are the Ben Maxwell, J.T. Wyman, Dustin Boyd, Mathieu Carle, Curtis Sanford and Ryan Russell, either through trades or via free agency while others such as David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty were able to find regular positions with the Canadiens.

Also, on the goaltending side, it can be said that Nathan Lawson and Robert Myer haven’t seen much action during last season: Lawson was with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers while Mayer was backup to Curtis Sandford who did get most of the starts for the Dogs.

Russian Alexander Avstin, locals Dany Massé and Philippe Lefebvre as well as Joonas Nattinen from Finland who have belonged to the Habs organization for a while now have inherited increased responsibilities. This is even truer for Nattinen who is playing for the first time in North America, having played in his native country until 2010-2011.

A veteran at the top

Signed as a free agent during the summer to a two-way contract, veteran Brian Willsie is doing fairly well in his debut for the Habs organization. A player who has had NHL experience with the Avalanche, the Capitals and the Kings, Willsie is leading the Bulldogs on the score sheet, with 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists)  in 14 games. His last goal was scored last Saturday in a  5 – 2 victory over the Binghamton Senators. The game prior, however, the Hamilton team was humiliated in a  8- 0 loss to the Grand Rapid Griffins.

Willsie, 33, has been a journeyman in the minors for a few seasons. Last year, with the Hershey Bears,  the Ontario-born played 76 games, scoring 26 goals and aiding in 31 others, for a total of 57 points. As a NHLer, he had played 381 games, amassing 109 points.

The adaptation of Louis Leblanc

After having joined the Q last year with the Montreal Junior, forward Louis Leblanc had another challenge this year: to earn a regular position with the Bulldogs.

(Photo: Cathie Coward/Hamilton Spectator)

The 20-year old Habs prospect, who had elected to play for the Harvard Crimson in 2009-2010  instead of along with a team from the Q, seems to be adapting well to his new surroundings. In nine games, the native from Pointe-Claire has lit the red light three times for a total of six points.

“It’s tough, you know, new coaches, new families, new team mates. But so far, I’ve had great coaches, and great team mates and they’ve made it easy for me to transition from league to league,”  Leblanc told  The Hockey News, a few days ago.

Leblanc was the Canadiens’ first round draft pick in 2009, 18th overall.

This Friday, Montreal fans will be able to see the young guns in action as the Bulldogs will be playing against the Baby Senators from Binghamton at the Bell Centre. Game time is at 7:30 pm. This will mark the seventh time in franchise history that the Dogs are featured at the Bell Centre.


Hamilton Bulldogs 2011-12 Roster

# Player Pos. Shoots Height Weight DOB Birthplace
5 Alex Henry D L 6-5 220 Oct 18, 1979 Elliot Lake, ON
6 Joe Stejskal D R 6-3 206 Apr 30, 1988 Grand Rapids, MN
7 Joe Callahan D R 6-3 220 Dec 20, 1982 Abington, MA
10 Phil DeSimone C L 6-1 191 Mar 19, 1987 East Amherst, NY
11 Alain Berger RW L 6-1 191 Dec 27, 1990 Burgsdorf, Switzerland
12 Andrew Conboy LW L 6-4 200 May 16, 1988 Burnsville, MN
13 Zack FitzGerald D L 6-1 214 May 16, 1985 Two Harbors, MN
14 Mike Blunden RW R 6-3 207 Dec 15, 1986 Toronto, ON
15 Philippe Lefebvre LW L 5-11 186 Mar 28, 1991 Trois-Rivieres, QC
16 Olivier Fortier C L 6-0 185 May 2, 1989 Quebec, QC
17 Mark Mitera D L 6-3 213 Oct 22, 1987 Royal Oak, MI
18 Dany Masse LW L 5-10 188 May 12, 1988 La Pocatiere, QC
20 Louis Leblanc C R 6-0 178 Jan 26, 1991 Pointe-Claire, QC
21 Ian Schultz RW R 6-2 200 Feb 4, 1990 Calgary, AB
23 Joonas Nattinen C R 6-2 187 Jan 3, 1991 Jamsa, Finland
24 Brian Willsie RW R 6-1 202 Mar 16, 1978 Belmont, ON
29 Robert Mayer G L 6-1 197 Oct 9, 1989 Havirov, Czech Republic
32 Frederic St. Denis D L 5-11 190 Jan 23, 1986 Greenfield Park, QC
40 Gabriel Dumont C R 5-10 181 Oct 6, 1990 Ville Degelis, QC
44 Olivier Malka D L 5-10 192 May 30, 1990 Montreal, QC
52 Nathan Lawson G R 6-2 191 Sep 29, 1983 Calgary, AB
53 T.J. Fast D L 6-0 185 Sep 2, 1987 Calgary, AB
55 Garrett Stafford D R 6-1 207 Jan 28, 1980 Los Angeles, CA
67 Alexander Avtsin RW R 6-3 188 Mar 19, 1991 Moscow, Russia

 Roster courtesy of the Hamilton Bulldogs


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