SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … While division leaders Rochester and Texas have garnered many of the headlines in the Western Conference thanks to their quick starts, the Hamilton Bulldogs have battled through recalls and injuries to secure one of the best records in the league.
Rookie head coach Guy Boucher has his Bulldogs sitting at 14-6-2-3, an impressive .660 points percentage that ranks fifth in the AHL and trails only the Americans and the Stars in the conference. Contributions have come from across the board, with 17 different Hamilton skaters having scored a goal this season, 12 having accounted for the team’s 18 power-play goals and 11 having amassed double-digit point totals through the team’s first 25 games.
Mathieu Darche, out since being injured in a game on Nov. 10, still leads the Bulldogs with seven goals on the year, but six others are tied with six apiece including David Desharnais, who made his season debut that same day after missing 13 games due to injury. Desharnais has notched 6-7-13 in 11 games – including points in each of his first seven contests – and is also one of five Bulldogs who have made their NHL debuts with the parent Montreal Canadiens this season, joining Tom Pyatt, Ryan White, Mathieu Carle and J.T. Wyman. All told, 10 different players have suited up for both Montreal and Hamilton already in 2009-10, a list that also includes Greg Stewart, Yannick Weber, Sergei Kostitsyn, Shawn Belle and Marc-Andre Bergeron.
Brock Trotter sits on top of the Bulldogs’ scoring page with 20 points (6-14), while rookie defenseman P.K. Subban, a second-round draft choice (43rd overall) by Montreal in 2007, has registered six goals and eight assists and also leads Hamilton with a plus-9 rating, third-highest among all first-year blueliners in the AHL. Mike Glumac, a five-time 20-goal scorer who set a career high with 33 tucks a season ago, has 6-4-10 in his last 12 games after starting the year with just two assists in 13 outings. Ryan Russell has added six goals and four assists while running his consecutive-games streak to 91 since he last missed a game on Nov. 9, 2008.
Hamilton established a franchise record by going 207 minutes and 21 seconds without allowing a goal, a span that included shutout victories at Lake Erie on Nov. 27-28 and vs. Toronto on Dec. 4. Cedrick Desjardins’ personal shutout streak is intact at 157:51 entering the week; the fourth-year pro ranks second in the AHL with a 1.63 goals-against average and third with a .937 save percentage in 12 appearances (6-4-1). Curtis Sanford, a veteran of 188 AHL games and 108 more in the NHL, has a 2.14 GAA and .921 save percentage to go with his 8-4-2 mark.
The Bulldogs begin a three-game homestand with two contests this week, hosting the Abbotsford Heat on Wednesday night and again on Sunday afternoon.
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SHARKS HONOR FALLEN HEROES … The Worcester Sharks hosted Heroes Night: A Tribute to the Worcester 6 on Sunday when the Portland Pirates visited the DCU Center. Last week marked the 10th anniversary of the tragic fire at the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse that killed six city firefighters: Lt. Thomas E. Spencer, Lt. James F. Lyons, Lt. Timothy P. Jackson, Paul A. Brotherton, Jeremiah M. Lucey and Joseph T. McGuirk.
Sharks goaltender Alex Stalock wore a specially-designed mask, which is being auctioned off to raise funds for the Worcester Fire Scholarship Program and the burn care unit at Shriners Hospital for Children, as will the special “W6” jerseys worn by the Sharks during their 3-2 shootout win.
WITH BOURQUE BACK, BEARS POUNCE … Chris Bourque rejoined the Hershey Bears on Saturday afternoon and paid immediate dividends that night, scoring on his first shot, assisting on the game-tying goal and then netting the winner as the Bears rallied for a 5-4 win over Norfolk at Giant Center.
Bourque, a member of Hershey’s Calder Cup championship teams in 2006 and 2009, was claimed off waivers by Pittsburgh on Sept. 30 and spent the first two months of the season in the NHL, where he played in 20 games with the Penguins. He was reclaimed by the Washington Capitals on Saturday and assigned to the Bears.
Bourque added a goal and an assist on Sunday, when he was one of eight Hershey skaters with at least two points in a 9-2 victory over visiting Hartford.
MILESTONES FOR WHITFIELD … Skating at the Cumberland County Civic Center, the arena he called home for seven years as a member of the Portland Pirates, Providence captain Trent Whitfield scored twice in the first 5:19 of the game on Saturday to become the 76th player in the 74-year history of the American Hockey League to reach 500 career points.
Whitfield, who had scored his 200th AHL goal the night before, finished the week with 202 goals and 299 assists for 501 points in 631 career AHL games with Providence, Peoria and Portland.
ETC. … Manchester winger Kevin Westgarth played 171 AHL contests without a two-goal game, then scored twice each in back-to-back Monarchs wins over Hartford on Dec. 4 and Worcester on Dec. 5… Norfolk forward Blair Jones saw his streak of 155 consecutive games played end when he missed Friday’s game while on recall to Tampa Bay; Hershey’s Kyle Wilson remains the active leader with 203 straight games played through Sunday… After playing 20 games with New Jersey to begin the season, Matt Halischuk returned to Lowell lineup on Sunday and recorded a goal and two assists in a 6-5 loss to Manchester… Rookie Viktor Stalberg scored two goals – including the overtime winner – and picked up an assist in Toronto’s 6-5 win over Hamilton on Saturday… On a conditioning assignment from the New York Islanders, 2002 AHL All-Star and Calder Cup finalist Rick DiPietro got the start in net for Bridgeport on Saturday night vs. Springfield, his first game action since Jan. 2, 2009… Defenseman Aaron Rome, assigned to Manitoba on a conditioning loan from Vancouver, picked up four goals and an assist in five games with the Moose last week… Manitoba’s Mike Keane missed Friday’s game at Peoria to participate in the Montreal Canadiens’ 100th-anniversary festivities at the Molson Centre; Keane won a Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1993 and served as captain of the Habs in 1995… Houston and San Antonio combined for six goals in 4:50 on Thursday, with the Aeros scoring three times in 88 seconds and the Rampage answering three times in 96 seconds… Rochester’s two-game weekend set in Abbotsford marked the Americans’ first games in the Pacific time zone since Dec. 13, 1967, when the Amerks took on the WHL’s Portland (Ore.) Buckaroos in an interleague battle… Binghamton, which returns home to face Syracuse on Saturday, has outscored its guests by a 17-0 margin in its last three games at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.