Bulldogs raising some eyebrows

by Al Craig || AHL On The Beat Archive

To say the Hamilton Bulldogs’ start has been surprising would be the understatement of the early American Hockey League season, even in the Steel City. Their 8-2-1-0 record is the second-best start in the team’s first 13 seasons. You have to go back to their second year, 1997-98, when their 9-2 mark was only marginally superior.

Third-year forward Matt D’Agostini, a member of Hamilton’s Calder Cup title team in 2006-07, currently leads the Bulldogs with six goals and 13 points this season.

This is also a franchise which has been to three Calder Cup Finals, winning the championship in 2006-07. But when the team failed to make it to playoffs for just the third time last season, it led to the parent Montreal Canadiens’ decision to make several changes in player personnel.

At the time of this writing, Montreal has 10 players who have been developed by the “Baby Habs.” This does not even include Steve Begin, who played in Hamilton in the lockout season or Georges Laraque, whose grooming came with the Bulldogs when they were an affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers.

When it became clear that numerous changes were in the offing and the team’s all-time leading scorer, Corey Locke and other fan favorites would be plying their trades elsewhere, fans and commentators alike wondered where the goals would come from. Well, it’s very early, but so far, scoring goals hasn’t been a problem at all. In fact, only the high-powered Hershey Bears have scored more often than the Bulldogs.

Every single forward who has played regularly has scored and the defense has chipped in offensively as well. Third-year Bulldog Matt D’Agostini, as hoped, has taken over from where Locke left off, leading the team in goals and assists and two veteran newcomers, Yanick Lehoux and Mike Glumac are prominent on the scoring sheets.

Rookies, such as David Desharnais, Ben Maxwell and Max Pacioretty, have made a comfortable transition to the pro ranks.

The defense is big and strong. Three-time Bulldog Dan Jancevski, who is a Dallas farmhand and two-time ‘Dog Alex Henry, bring tremendous experience to the club’s blueline corps, as does Shawn Belle, and youngsters like Yannick Weber and Chad Anderson have fed off this. The Bulldogs have even added toughness in the person of veteran Ryan Flinn.

There is no doubt that head coach Don Lever and his assistant Ron Wilson have a system that the players have bought into and they are playing their positions responsibly. That leaves the last line of defense. The goaltending. And there is no doubt this has been the key area for the Bulldogs’ fast start. Veteran netminder Marc Denis has been nothing short of outstanding. His stellar play has to be very re-assuring to his much younger mates, who know if they make mistakes, the long time NHLer will, more often that not, bail them out.

Denis, who is almost like an extra defenseman because of the way he handles the puck, has been so good, he’s been named the Reebok/AHL Player of the Week. And he’s a great mentor to backup Cedrick Desjardins.

So yes, the Bulldogs have been a surprise. Can they keep it up? Who knows? But they’ve been fun to watch so far!