Last week, the Hamilton Bulldogs accomplished what they and every other team in the American Hockey League hope to do at this time of year, and that is to secure a playoff position for the upcoming post-season which gets underway in just over three weeks from now. With a current record of 46-15-3-6 and 101 points, it was never in doubt that the Bulldogs would make the playoffs; it was just a question of when.
Now that they have done so, the next goal for the Dogs was to capture 1st place in the North Division. Hamilton has won the Division Title twice before, The first time was back in 2002-2003 when they lost in Game 7 of the Calder Cup Finals to the Houston Aeros, and then won the Division once again the following season in 2003-2004.
After winning the first two of three games this week, the magic number for the Bulldogs to clinch their third Division Title in franchise history was reduced to one single point. Hamilton would be defeated in a shootout in the third game on the week’s schedule but the loss made little difference in the grand scheme of things because the Dogs managed to acquire that one point that they needed and are now officially the 2010 North Division Champions.
Looking ahead, the Bulldogs now have their sights set on the Western Conference Title, leading the Chicago Wolves in the standings by 7 points.
And it is not unrealistic for the Bulldogs to finish the season as the #1 team overall in the AHL. Currently, the Hershey Bears hold that position, but the Dogs are only 8 points behind Hershey and still have 10 games to play.
On Wednesday March 17, the Hamilton Bulldogs travelled to Glens Falls, New York, where they were hosted by the Adirondack Phantoms (affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers) in the fourth and final contest this season between the two hockey clubs. In their last meeting on March 3rd, Bulldogs forward J.T. Wyman scored his first career AHL hat trick to lead Hamilton to a 4-1 victory at Copps Coliseum. The Dogs hold a perfect 3-0-0-0 record against the Phantoms this season, outscoring Adirondack by a total of 13-1. But in this most recent game, the Phantoms finally found some of their scoring ability and were leading the Bulldogs by a score of 5-2 with only ten minutes remaining in the 3rd period. The Dogs, however, refused to sit and roll over and play dead. Brock Trotter, P.K. Subban, and Aaron Palushaj scored three unanswered goals to tie the game at 5-5. Following a scoreless overtime period, the game went to a shootout, where Ryan White scored in the 7th round of the shootout to win the game 6-5 for Hamilton.
Friday March 19 saw the Bulldogs make their way to Cleveland, Ohio, for the last of eight contests this season with their North Division rivals, the Lake Erie Monsters (affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche). In their last meeting on February 12th, the Bulldogs lost 5-4 in a shootout to the Monsters but still hold a 3-2-1-1 record against Lake Erie this season.
Hamilton would add to that record by defeating the Monsters by a final score of 5-3. Netting the goals for the Dogs was Brock Trotter, P.K. Subban, Andrew Conboy, Mike Glumac, and Ryan Russell. Assists were by David Desharnais (2), Andre Benoit, Ryan White, and Aaron Palushaj.
It should also be noted that Subban’s goal set a new franchise record for most goals by a Bulldogs defenceman in one season with 17.
The next day, Saturday March 20, the Baby Habs returned closer to home as they made a stop in Toronto for the tenth of twelve matchups this season with the Marlies (affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs). This is the game I was talking about when I mentioned that the Bulldogs only needed one single point to clinch the North Division Title. Holding a season record of 6-1-1-1 over Toronto this year, it appeared at least as far as the stats go, that Hamilton should have steamrolled their arch-rivals from down the QEW. However, the Marlies had other ideas and made their opinion clear for everyone to see when they took a 1-0 lead in the game only 13 seconds after the opening faceoff.
The goals would then alternate back and forth between the Bulldogs and the Marlies for the rest of the game. Scoring for Hamilton was Ryan Russell and Andrew Conboy, assists going to Frederic St. Denis and Andre Benoit. But it was the goal scored by Brock Trotter (assisted by Mike Glumac) at 13:10 in the 3rd period which tied up the game at three goals each and gave the Hamilton Bulldogs the single point which they needed to clinch the North Division Title.
Following the regulation tie, the game went to overtime and then to a shootout once again, where the Baby Leafs defeated the Dogs by a final score of 4-3.
But the overall game result is secondary.
The Hamilton Bulldogs are the 2010 regular season North Division Champions.