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The Hamilton Bulldogs 2011-2012 season has passed the one-third point in the schedule and what a season this has been so far. Unfortunately, when I say “what a season,” this is not a positive statement. In fact, it has been savage and brutal.
In many of their past seasons the Bulldogs could be found at or near the top of the American Hockey League’s standings at any given time, climaxing with their Calder Cup Championship win in 2007. But not this year. The downward spiral began almost immediately after the season began back on October 8th and has continued to today with the Bulldogs sitting very close (within one point) to the AHL basement with a pathetic record of 11-13-1-3 in 28 games……good enough for 26 points.
To that, I say take a look at the team which is currently leading the AHL standings. The Oklahoma City Barons (affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers) are in 1st place with a 19-6-0-1 record and 39 points. This is where Hamilton usually sits, more or less, at this time of year. Instead, the Dogs have gone BOOM, BANG, CRASH.
So, what is behind this “Fall from Grace” which has made Hamilton so terrible this season? The answer to that are two things: the turnover in the roster during the off-season and then the injuries which have hit both the Montreal Canadiens and the Hamilton Bulldogs lineups, forcing call-ups. This happens each year, but usually the parade to the local hospital emergency rooms takes place as the NHL and AHL seasons are in the final push to the playoffs in the spring months. Never before has this happened so early in the season where the rosters are decimated by injuries to this extent.
So what can we see out of all of this?
Well, there is still a lot of hockey to be played this year and the Dogs can most certainly rebound with over half of the season remaining. Of course, this depends on the fact that the second half of the season does not continue as the first half has. The injuries must come to a stop if this is to be accomplished. I have always stated that the goaltending is the most important element to success. It’s the old sayings of “The Puck Stops Here” and that the goaltender is “The Last Line of Defense.” And this means that Nathan Lawson needs to be healthy in between the pipes. This is something that has not happened so far. He has been injured several times this season during play, which has forced backup goaltender Robert Mayer into action. Those who follow the Hamilton Bulldogs are aware that Mayer is not capable of taking over the role as a starting goaltender in a hockey game, and in my opinion, he is going to be written into the Bulldogs record books as one of the worst goalies to ever strap on the pads while wearing a Hamilton Bulldogs jersey. Mayer is one of the nicest people you could ever meet and talk to, but as a goaltender he makes one long for the past Dogs goalies such as Mathieu Garon, Eric Fichaud, Olivier Michaud, Yann Danis, Cedrick Desjardins, Curtis Sanford, and Drew MacIntyre to name a bunch.
However, a positive note to surface from all of this is the fact that some of the Habs prospects are getting the opportunity to play in Montreal to show what they can do. After all, this is what the AHL is here for, is to develop players to take the final step into the NHL. Sometimes it takes situations such as this, with injuries plentiful, to get a Bulldogs player prospect into the lineup of the Canadiens. For example, Aaron Palushaj has been bouncing back and forth between Hamilton and Montreal so often this year, he probably doesn’t know whether he is coming or going. Andreas Engqvist is another one who can be added to the list of Bulldogs players who has been collecting frequent flyer mileage. Both of these players are among the leading scorers for Hamilton this season and in their absence during the call-ups, Brian Willsie, Philip DeSimone, Frederic St. Denis, and Dany Masse, to name a few in the top team points, have stepped up to provide some offence.
Despite their efforts, the Hamilton Bulldogs sit dead last in goals scored with only 60. In comparison, the St. John’s Ice Caps (affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets) lead the League in scoring goals with a whopping 106 in almost the same number of games played.
To correct Hamilton’s season before it’s a complete write-off, the infirmary needs to empty and everyone on the current roster needs to take a step up in their performance, otherwise changes may be coming.
Is there a doctor in the house?