The Hamilton Bulldogs solidified their hold on first place in the North Division this week with 2 wins and a loss against a pair of their Division rivals, ending a season-high three-game losing streak, and improved their regular season record to 16-7-1-3 and 36 points.
First up, it was the Rochester Americans (affiliate of the Florida Panthers) who hosted the Bulldogs for two games in a row beginning on Wednesday December 8th, followed by the rematch game on Friday December 10th. These were the fourth and fifth meetings between the two clubs this season and the Dogs went into them holding a perfect 3-0 record vs the Amerks so far this year.
In the Wednesday game, Rochester scored early in the first period to take a 1-0 lead. Hamilton responded with three straight goals by Aaron Palushaj, Max Pacioretty, and Mathieu Carle. Assists were provided by David Urquhart, David Desharnais, and Alex Henry.
Just as they did for so much of last season, the Bulldogs set another franchise record during this match. Pacioretty’s goal, scored at six seconds into the second period broke the record for the fastest goal to start a period.
However, despite this record-breaking goal and the Bulldogs sitting on a 3-1 lead, the Amerks ruined the Dogs party by scoring three straight goals of their own against Curtis Sanford in a span of 6 minutes. Sanford concluded the game stopping 28 of 32 shots, but Rochester hung on to defeat Hamilton by a final score of 4-3.
In the rematch game on Friday, the Bulldogs defeated the Americans in Overtime by a final score of 3-2 and ended their losing streak. Hamilton goals in regulation time were by Andrew Conboy and Aaron Palushaj (who also assisted on Conboy‘s goal). The other assists went to Andreas Engqvist and Brendon Nash. Max Pacioretty scored the Overtime-winning goal, his 16th goal of the season, which tied him for first place in the AHL for goals scored.
Pacioretty would take over the AHL scoring race two days later on Sunday December 12th when the Toronto Marlies (affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs) visited the Dog Pound for a game which was Nationally televised across Canada on CBC.
It was jokingly mentioned in the Bulldogs Game Day Thread here on HabsWorld that this was the 3,354th meeting between Hamilton and Toronto so far this season, and as a Season Ticket Holder for the Bulldogs, I can faithfully say that, yes, it sure does feel like that sometimes. The AHL schedules it’s games heavily within the respective Divisions and with the close geographic proximity between Hamilton and Toronto it can seem like the two franchises play each other constantly, but officially for the record, this game was the sixth of ten meetings this season.
The story of this game was the player who wears number 14 for the Bulldogs: Olivier Fortier. The 21-year old from Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec, scored his first professional hat trick and also earned an assist in what ended up as a 5-1 whooping of the Toronto Marlies. As I mentioned above, “Mad Max” Pacioretty also scored his league-leading 17th goal, while Andrew Conboy received credit for a goal which was accidentally shot into the Toronto net by one of their own players.
Immediately following this game, which was watched by the Montreal Canadiens Head Coach, Jacques Martin, from the press box at Copps Coliseum, Pacioretty was recalled to Montreal.
Up next for the Hamilton Bulldogs is their last home game before Christmas when the Houston Aeros (affiliate of the Minnesota Wild) come for a visit and then the Dogs embark on a week-long road trip to the South-Western United States with stops in Oklahoma and Texas.