The Hamilton Bulldogs opened their 15th anniversary regular season in the American Hockey League this past week with a pair of games, resulting in one win and one loss.
The first game, on Friday October 15th, saw the Bulldogs travel to the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, New York to take on their North Division rivals, the Rochester Americans (affiliate of the Florida Panthers). Last season the Bulldogs went 5-3-0-2 vs the Amerks and have an all-time record of 57-63-7-0-5.
This game was the first of ten meetings between the two teams this season and was a “homecoming” of sorts for Hamilton’s new Head Coach, Randy Cunneyworth. He previously spent eight seasons with Rochester, serving as Head Coach from 2000-2008. During this tenure he led his team to three 40-plus win seasons, two 100-point seasons, and six playoff berths. He left Rochester as the longest-serving coach in franchise history and ranks second on the club’s all-time wins list. Cunneyworth also scored 101 goals in 377 games as an Amerks player and helped Rochester win the Calder Cup in 1983.
Perhaps inspired by Cunneyworth’s hockey history, the Bulldogs gave their new coach his first win of the season, his first win as the Hamilton bench-boss, and his first win against his old team as the Bulldogs earned a 5-2 victory over the Rochester Americans.
Rochester scored two quick goals in the first period in a span of 1:14 to take a 2-0 lead. That short scoring outburst was to be the only time in the game that the Amerks would find the back of the Dogs net. Hamilton responded by scoring five straight consecutive goals by five different players—Kyle Klubertanz, Ben Maxwell, David Desharnais, J.T. Wyman, and Andrew Conboy. Assists were provided by Frederic St.Denis, Brendon Nash, Yannick Weber (2), Ryan White, Ryan Russell, Gabriel Dumont, and once again, Desharnais and Maxwell.
In what appeared to be a surprising move at the time, Robert Mayer started in goal for the Bulldogs and earned his very first career AHL win, making 19 saves on 21 shots. It was later learned that #1 goaltender, Curtis Sanford, had been injured in practice and did not make the trip to Rochester with the rest of the team. Backing up Mayer was Peter Delmas, who was signed to a contract by the Bulldogs only the day before. He was originally on a tryout agreement at both Montreal’s and Hamilton’s training camps and saw action in one pre-season game with the Bulldogs, winning 3-2 over the Binghamton Senators.
After dispatching Rochester, the Bulldogs returned home to their Dog Pound at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton to prepare for their first home game of the season which took place the following day on Saturday October 16th. Their opponent was their arch-rival, the Toronto Marlies (affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs). There is nothing better than a hockey game on a Saturday night between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the two respective AHL affiliates lived up to that standard.
The atmosphere inside Copps Coliseum was electric as the Hamilton Bulldogs hosted a pre-game ceremony to acknowledge the start of the team’s 15th season. In the presence of some honoured guests which included Team Owner, Michael Andlauer; former Montreal Canadiens GM, Bob Gainey; and former-Bulldogs player, Ajay Baines (who scored the most famous goal in Bulldogs history—the game-winning goal which won the Hamilton Bulldogs the 2007 Calder Cup Championship), the current 2010-2011 Dogs players were introduced one at a time and skated out on to the ice surface to watch the raising of two new banners. These banners commemorate last season’s Bulldogs team as the North Division and Western Conference Champions.
Once the “pomp and circumstance” was finished, it was down to business. Ben Maxwell got the Bulldogs on the scoreboard first while on the powerplay, assisted by David Desharnais and Yannick Weber. Additional goals would be scored by Maxwell again and Weber. Max Pacioretty would assist on both of those additional goals to have a two-point night, but the Toronto Marlies spoiled the party in Hamilton by winning the game by a final score of 5-3. Robert Mayer started in goal once again and took the loss, stopping 28 of 32 shots. Toronto’s 5th goal was into an empty net.