If you are starved for professional hockey viewing due to the ongoing NHL strike and refuse to watch Russia’s KHL then you can turn your attention to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL. Hamilton, if you didn’t already know, is the farm team of the Montreal Canadiens so you can keep your eye on the development of the Habs prospects at the same time you are getting your hockey fix.
It is early in the AHL season so teams have not really settled into their real rankings yet. Before the game Abbotsford (farm team of the Calgary Flames) was in 2nd place in the North Division and Hamilton with a .500 record was mired in last place. The Heat was an undefeated team so far this season in regulation (lost twice in shootout), but it was their 3rd game in 3 days, so if there ever was perfect time to meet them this was it.
Danny Taylor got the start in nets for Abbotsford and Robert Mayer (2-1) for the Bulldogs. Louis Leblanc is missing for an undetermined period due to a knee injury. Brendon Nash was back in the line-up. The Patrick Holland-Michael Bournival-Brandon Gallagher line has been a strong one which has been beginning to gel. Gallagher is the type of player who is always going to the front of the net despite his small stature. His style of play will be appreciated by Habs’ fans. Holland has been a revelation so far this year. He has shown he is a smart two-way player with great passing skills.
It was a very rainy day in Hamilton and there was only a small crowd on hand to see the Bulldogs play. The start of the game was delayed a little due to the shattering of two sections of the glass in the Hamilton end during warm up. Once underway the 1st period was a tight one with neither team really gaining an advantage or creating too many quality scoring chances. This is not surprising due to the type of game that Abbotsford plays. Abbotsford plays a very patient game and are hermetic in their defensive coverage. Plus they have a bunch of veteran players on the team like centre Ben Walter, the son of former Montreal Canadiens/Washington Capitals player and present president of the Heat, Ryan Walter, defenseman Steve McCarthy, right wing Krys Kolanos, and defenseman Joe Callahan.
Chances to score were few and far between in the 1st period. It took almost 9 minutes for the Bulldogs to have their first good offensive chances. They came from the Michael Blunden-Blake Geoffrion-Joonas Nattinen line. For Abbotsford their first golden chance came at the 12 minute mark Akim Aliu due to a turnover by Aaron Palushaj in the centre ice are. Aliu, a native of Nigeria, had a breakaway from the Bulldogs’ blueline. He was stopped by Mayer. Late in the period Frederic St-Denis comes to the rescue of Mayer by sprawling to block a shot in which the goaltender was out of position.
A bad line change by the Bulldogs led to a goal by the Heat early in the 2nd period. It led to an odd number break for the Heat down the left side. Mayer stopped the initial shot by Roman Horak, but could do nothing on the second. Horak has shown himself to be a goal scorer as he now has 7 goals in 7 games for the Heat.
The Bulldogs energy level seemed to have gone down in the 2nd period and Coach Sylvain Lefebvre doesn’t look happy. Though it does not take too long for the home side to get back on track and they respond well to going down 1-0. Actually, they responded in the best way possible by scoring a goal of their own. Less than 3 minutes later Blake Geoffrion, who had a strong game, wristed a shot from the slot into the top left corner behind Taylor. Taylor’s job was made harder by the fact that Blunden had planted himself right in front of the Heat goaltender and impeded his view.
Again less than 3 minutes later Hamilton scored another. After the Heats’ Adam Estoclet was assessed a minor for slashing at 9:06 Geoffrion set up Palushaj. Palushaj deflected a pass from Geoffrion, who was on the right wing boards, past Taylor. This was the first power play goal that Abbotsford had given up this season. Hamilton went into the 2nd period break up 2-1.
It was a tight game from the puck drop and continued that way. Some heavy hits were doled out in the 3rd period as the game got a little chippy with 10 minutes left. To preserve their one goal lead the Bulldogs namely Nash and Nattinen made some big shot blocks. They showed themselves willing to pay the price for victory. Robert Mayer also played a strong game making 28 stops on 29 shots. None was bigger than the one he made off of an unmarked Dustin Sylvester from the high slot with his left pad with only 2:30 left in the game. The Heat pulled Taylor with 1 minute left in the game, but the Bulldogs were able to hold them off.
After a tough loss Friday night in Toronto against the Marlies, the Bulldogs showed some character with a win in tight game against a talented foe. Hamilton now moves one game above .500 (3-2-1-0). Their next game is Friday on the road against the 1st placed Rochester Americans (farm team of the Buffalo Sabres).
-On-Ice Officials: Referee – David Banfield
Linesmen – Mike Hamilton and Ryan Lachine
-Goals: 2nd Period:
3:36: Abbotsford – Roman Horak assisted by Max Reinhart and Akim Aliu
6:25: Hamilton – Blake Geoffrion assisted by Michael Blunden and Greg Pateryn
10:38: Hamilton – (pp) Aaron Palushaj assisted by Blake Geoffrion and Brendon Nash
-Shots: Hamilton: 30
-Three Stars: 1) Blake Geoffrion – Hamilton
2) Aaron Palushaj – Hamilton
3) Robert Mayer – Hamilton
-Final Score: Hamilton: 2