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Last month, our readers and writers were invited to submit their questions for the play-by-play voice of the Hamilton Bulldogs, Derek Wills. Part one of this Q & A based interview with Derek takes a look back at October's training camp, the new coaching staff and their roles, some early thoughts on new GM Marc Bergevin and his management team, and more.
HabsWorld: There were a number of tryouts at training camp, what did Antoine Corbin show the coaches to earn that spot over the others (such as Etienne Boutet and Kevin Gagne)?
Derek Wills: "From the first day of training camp, Antoine Corbin has played with poise. He doesn’t look like a rookie. At 6’3”, 206-pounds, he’s also a good-sized defenceman who skates well, makes a good first pass, makes good decisions and who usually doesn’t try to do too much."
HW: There were some surprising cuts from training camp, players who had spent a lot of time in the AHL in past years. Were you caught by surprise by any of the ‘veterans’ who were sent to the ECHL? Is there a cap that you know of as to how many players can be sent to Wheeling?
DW: "I wasn’t shocked by any of the cuts at training camp. If Hamilton and Montreal were healthier last season, a few players who spent all of last season in the AHL would have been in the ECHL with the Wheeling Nailers. Some fans were surprised that Olivier Fortier and Ian Schultz were sent down. Fortier had surgery during the offseason and didn’t start skating until about two weeks before training camp. Skating is Fortier’s biggest strength, but he clearly wasn’t skating as well as I know that he can. Once he’s back to full strength, I wouldn’t hesitate to recall Fortier when needed. I am a big Olivier Fortier fan and believe he can be a significant contributor at the AHL-level. The biggest knock on Schultz has been his lack of consistency. Schultz was one of the team’s top players at times last season, but was inconspicuous at other times. Between injuries (and call-ups if / when the NHL lockout ends), I’m sure both players will have an opportunity to prove to the coaches that they belong at some point in time this season."
HW: From what you’ve seen in past seasons and training camp, do either of the goalies vying for the backup role to Desjardins have an advantage? Do you foresee this getting settled in the near future or do you think the Bulldogs will carry three goalies for a little while longer?
DW: "The good news is that Cedrick Desjardins is scheduled to start skating with the team this week and should be back in 7-10 days. At that time, the coaches will have to choose his back-up. I suspect Robert Mayer has the edge based on his experience and success so far this season. With that said, Peter Delmas signed a three-year NHL / AHL contract prior to the 2011-2012 season and has shown that he can play at this level, too."
HW: What are the duties for each of the coaches this season?
DW: "Sylvain Lefebvre has spent time with both the forwards and defencemen, Donald Dufresne has focused on the defencemen and Ron Wilson has primarily looked after the forwards."
HW: For the first time in quite some time, the Bulldogs have a goaltender consultant in Vincent Riendeau on their staff. How often will he be working with the goalies? What type of coaching did the goaltenders have in past years when there wasn’t a consultant on Hamilton’s staff?
DW: "To be honest, the Hamilton Bulldogs have always had great coaching for the goaltenders, going back to Pete Peeters when they were the Edmonton Oilers’ affiliate, and with Rollie Melanson, Pierre Groulx and Vincent Riendeau as the Montreal Canadiens’ affiliate. The advantage that the goaltenders have this season is that Riendeau is able to spend more time in Hamilton than his predecessors were because his primary focus is the Bulldogs."
HW: Are there any differences in the coaching style of Sylvain Lefebvre compared to Clement Jodoin? System wise, do there appear to be any changes?
DW: "It’s very difficult to compare this season’s team to last years. I think that Clem Jodoin did an outstanding job keeping last season’s call-up and injury-riddled team competitive. Based on talent alone, Hamilton shouldn’t have been able to compete with the vast majority of teams last season, especially in the second half. Jodoin’s team was very difficult to play against and they were tough to beat on almost every night despite the lack of talent. This season, Sylvain Lefebvre has to deal with a different set of challenges. Talent is not one of them. In my opinion, Hamilton has had as much, if not more talent than any of the teams that they’ve played this season. The knock on the Bulldogs is their lack of experience. The ‘Dogs are the second-youngest team in the AHL. Lefebvre and his staff have done a great job teaching their young players how to be better individually and as a team. With the plethora of top prospects that Hamilton has this season, and with one of the league’s best goaltenders, the Bulldogs can play more aggressively and can win different ways. Last season’s team had to try to win low-scoring one-goal games. This year’s team can win that way, too, but they can also win high-scoring shootouts.
HW: One of the criticisms of the now previous management regime was a lack of public communication both in Montreal and in Hamilton. From what you’ve seen from the new group led by Marc Bergevin, is this something you anticipate will improve considerably?
DW: "Marc Bergevin and his staff have been wonderful to work with. They have done a great job communicating with our staff and providing us with the information and tools necessary to do our jobs, one of which is relaying information to the media, and in-turn, the fans."
Part two of our Q & A will appear next week and will cover some of the Bulldogs' keys to success as well as his thoughts on several players.