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.
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
|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