Hodson continues strong play; Perrott and Doull provide scoring from unlikely sources
The Baby Leafs went into their Sunday afternoon contest in Hamilton looking for two points to keep their slim play-off hopes alive. If they needed any indication that the task would not be easy, it came very early when AHL president David Andrews presented the Canadian Division Championship trophy to Hamilton’s captain Benoit Gratton in a pre-game ceremony. The Bulldogs have given the Leafs trouble all year; having taken 9 out of the 11 matches between the two teams this season, and every single contest at Copps Coliseum
The Bulldogs top line of Jarret Stoll, Raffi Torres and Michael Ryder came out of the gate quickly, scoring 17 seconds into the game. Ryder fired a nice pass from Stoll past Jamie Hodson, who has started the last five games in goal for the Baby Leafs. The goal was Ryder’s 33rd of the season. The Newfoundland native has surprised many by becoming a very dominant AHL player this year, and looks to have a bright future with the Canadiens organization.
Thing looked like they were going to get a lot worse for the Leafs only seconds later when Doug Doull took a roughing penalty. The Bulldogs had plenty of chances on the power play, but Hodson turned them away time after time. The penalty kill seemed to boost the Leafs confidence, and they soon evened the score on a goal very similar to the Bulldogs’ tally. Defenseman Ryan Bonni took the puck along the boards in Hamilton’s end, and fired a nice pass from behind the net onto the stick of captain Craig Mills, who converted the chance behind Hamilton’s starting goalie Ty Conklin.
The Leafs continued to play well for most of the first period, but as has been the case far too often recently, failed to generate enough quality scoring chances. Head Coach Lou Crawford had to have been feeling a bit desperate about his scoring combinations when he put Nathan Perrott and Luca Cereda out on the power play late in the period with Doull. Unfortunately for Crawford, Perrott took an interference penalty about a second after he touched the ice to negate the Leafs’ power play. The Bulldogs answered quickly on their subsequent man advantage with a hard shot from the point by Francois Beauchemin, to take a 2-1 lead going into the first break.
The second period got off to a bad start for the Leafs three minutes in, when Aaron Gavey suffered an apparent upper body injury. Gavey, one of the few consistent scoring threats on the squad, rushed to the dressing room and did not return. Gavey’s absence meant that coach Crawford had to come up with some pretty interesting line combinations for the remainder of the game. One of the more effective lines in the second was a unit consisting of Cereda between veterans Brad Leeb and Dwayne Hay. All the line juggling didn’t help the team generate more chances however; while the Leafs had their fair share of puck possession in the period, they were unable to move the puck into danger zones in front of Conklin.
At the other end of the ice, Hodson continued to provide the Leafs with solid goaltending, and the defense managed to contain the high-powered Bulldogs offense. The Leafs were particularly strong on the penalty kill, holding the likes of Jani Rita and Tomas Plekanac to minimal scoring opportunities. The Leafs got a bit of a break late in the period when Torres’ stick shattered as he was about to fire a shot on Hodson. Shortly afterwards, the Bulldogs were awarded a penalty shot after Hodson threw his stick attempting to make a save. High-priced forward Mariusz Czerkawski took the shot, and was stopped by Hodson, who stood his ground as Czerkawski attempted to go five-hole. The period ended the same way it started: 2-1 for the Bulldogs.
The Leafs started the third period with a two-man advantage due to penalties to Stoll and Beauchemin late in the second. The Bulldogs managed to kill off the penalties, but couldn’t hold the Leafs off the board only minutes later, when Doull connected on a nice pass from Perrott to tie the game at two. The goal was the 14th of the year for Doull. The teams continued to trade chances throughout the period, but solid work by both netminders kept the game tied, and headed to overtime.
Neither team seemed too interested in acquiring the extra point in overtime, as most of the play was stuck in the neutral zone. Hamilton outshot St. John’s 5-4 in the extra session, but Hodson continued to play well, and the Leafs held on for the 2-2 tie. The three stars of the game were Raffi Torres, Doug Doull and Jarret Stoll.
The point moves St. John’s to within 4 points of 10th place Springfield. The Falcons have two games in hand on the Baby Leafs, who must also leap frog 11th place Albany to slip into the play-offs. While the task seems daunting, the Leafs have to be encouraged with the recent strong play of young defensemen Christian Chartier and Jay Harrison, and the fact they don’t have to play the Bulldogs anymore.
The Bulldogs gave their fans a sneak preview of their new uniforms for next season, the bleu, blanc et rouge of their parent club, the Montreal Canadiens. The new uniforms have the Bulldogs logo in the center of the jersey. Hamilton area fans voted on the uniform design, and chose to keep the Bulldogs name, which has become popular with youngsters in the city.
The announced crowd at Copps was 10,315, a season high for the Bulldogs. The Baby Leafs are always a big draw in Hamilton, which is just 40 minutes from Toronto.
One of the highlights of the game for the home crowd was a tussle in the second period between Ben Carpentier and Doug Doull. The local Bulldogs fans have no love lost for Doull, and were more then happy to see him line up against Carpentier, a noted pugilist. Doull fared well in the fight however, and earned the draw.
Former Maple Leafs first round pick and current Bulldogs goalie Eric Fichaud is the star of a send-off of the classic interview with goalie Dennis Lemieux from the movie Slapshot. Fichaud is interviewed by Bulldogs play by play announcer Derek Wills in a perfect recreation of the scene. The spot is shown in the arena during T.V. time outs.
Many Leafs fans were disappointed that Carlo Colaiacovo did not join the team for the weekend in Hamilton. Toronto team doctors have advised the young defenseman to have season-ending shoulder surgery. Colaiacovo is expected to need 3 months to recover, and should be ready for training camp next fall in Sweden.