Hamilton Bulldogs season preview

By Dan Linn

The Hamilton Bulldogs are coming off back to back first place finishes after the team has relocated from Quebec to Hamilton just two years ago. Their first year in Hamilton, the Dogs came within one win of the Calder Cup, and the following year saw them bow out in their second round after getting a first round bye for winning their division.

For the third year in Hamilton, it will be one filled with turnover and new faces as the Montreal Canadiens and Dallas Stars entered into an agreement which allows for Dallas to send up to six players to Hamilton on loan. This would make for the third such arrangement in as many years. The Canadiens shared the team with the Edmonton Oilers two years ago, and last year with Stanley Cup winner Tampa Bay. The agreement is only for one year, as Dallas will have its own full AHL affiliate in Des Moines, Iowa starting in 2005-06.

As for the roster, gone are several key veterans from last season. The players on loan from Tampa, such as captain Benoit Gratton, Francois Beauchemin, Karl Dykhuis, Patrick Traverse, Rene Vydarney, both goalies J-F Damphousse and Eric Fichaud, as all have signed with other teams or will not be sent to Hamilton. Only Dykhuis remains in the organization. In addition, top prospect Alex Perezhogin will not be with the team, as he serves a year long AHL suspension. Instead, he is back in Russia playing for RSL champs Avangard Omsk. Marcel Hossa has signed with Mora of the Swedish Elite league, and Ron Hainsey is still considering his options and may or may not report to Hamilton this year.

Bulldogs camp is already underway, and with all the new faces in camp second-year head coach Doug Jarvis, who has just signed on as the assistant coach of the Canadiens once the NHL season resumes, will have a lot of tough choices to make. Of the 32 players in attendance at camp, only 21 are Canadiens prospects, and only 10 of those players saw regular time with the team last season. With former ECHL affiliate Columbus ceasing operations as the franchise prepares to move to Sarasota, those who do not make the cut will be sent to new affiliate Long Beach Ice Dogs.

Goaltending

Goaltending will be the biggest question mark for the team going into training camp. The team is without any veteran netminders, and the three goalies in camp have a total of 38 games of combined AHL experience. Yann Danis, a standout goalie in the NCAA for Brown University of ECAC, will be fighting for the starter’s job according to Coach Jarvis. A Hobey Baker finalist in his senior year, Danis was signed by the Canadiens and was in nets for three games, getting a shutout in his first professional start. Also fighting for a job is Dan Ellis, a top Dallas prospect and the most experienced of the three goalies. He played at three pro levels last year and led the ECHL Idaho Steelheads to the Kelly Cup Championship. Olivier Michaud is the third goalie at camp. He could make a return trip to the ECHL where he spent most of last season when he wasn’t filling in for injuries in Hamilton.

Defense

Another question mark will be the defense, as only two defensemen in camp played the entire season in Hamilton last year. Making a return to Hamilton due to the NHL lockout, Mike Komisarek’s strong play in last year NHL playoffs will be a welcome addition. Also back is last year’s standout rookie J-P Cote who was just recently signed by the Canadiens after a year under contract with Hamilton where he led the team in plus/minus with a +27. Second year player Andrew Archer will be looking for an increased role with the team, as injuries and depth made ice time difficult to come by, but this year he’s in full health and coming off a good showing at the Development and Rookie camps this summer. Looking to make his debut with the team, Matt Shasby spent his first season outside of the NCAA playing in the ECHL. Philippe Plante who’s under contract with Hamilton is the oldest defensemen on the team. The 26-year-old has spent the last five seasons playing in the AHL and IHL, and his veteran presence will be needed.

In camp from the Stars is another top prospect, Trevor Daley, who brings his offensive game and will be the likely the power play quarter back. He brings a small frame but lots of skill. The Stars also have unsigned defenseman Dan Jancevski, who will bring a good physical stay at home defensive game, and will be one of the more experienced defensemen as he enters his fourth season in the AHL.

In addition to the Stars defensemen, there are three tryouts in camp and another on loan from the Long Beach Ice Dogs, who sent two players to camp. Jonathan Jolette tries to impress management and earn a contract with the team instead of returning to the QMJHL as an overager for Shawinigan. He is known for his time spent in the penalty box, amassing 560 minutes in his last three seasons. James Sanford is in the same situation as Jolette, as he looks to get a contract over returning to Moncton of the QMJHL, where he doesn’t shy away from the physical side of the game despite his small stature. Sanford has been an effective offensive defenseman, producing 172 points in the last three seasons with Moncton, and he will look to bring some offense to Hamilton if he can get a roster spot. Derick Martin makes his second appearance as a tryout, after making an attempt to earn a roster spot last year he is back again looking to crack the roster after spending the last two years at Saint Mary’s of the CIS. From the ECHL, defensemen Gary Zinck looks to make an impression on management. The Cole Harbor native has spent the last few years playing in the QMJHL, CIS, UHL and CHL.

Forwards

Returning to the Dogs is last year’s leading scorer Tomas Plekanec, who will enter his third season in the AHL, after showing improvement over each season he’s played in North America. Chris Higgins will also be relied on to carry much of the offense, with the loss of Alex Perezhogin, but this shouldn’t be a problem for one of last year’s top rookie scorers. Duncan Milroy will be looking to play an increased role with the team, coming off a somewhat disappointing rookie year, with injuries and depth keeping him out of the lineup at times. Fresh off a strong showing at the Canadiens Rookie Camp, the WHL standout will need to help fill in offensively. Another second year player, Jonathan Ferland, will look for a bigger role with the team this year, and his physical presence will be a welcome addition to the lineup. Marc-Andre Thinel will be looking to play in his fourth season in the AHL, also spending time in the ECHL as well, after a very solid career in the QMJHL. Christian Larrivee spent most of last year in the ECHL, but he will be looking to crack the roster on a full time basis after getting a brief call up last season.

New to the Dogs will be Canadiens first round pick of 2003, Andrei Kostitsyn, who is coming over from a successful season playing in Russia’s junior league. Kostitsyn will be looked upon to bring his highly skilled offensive game, as many fans await their first view of him in action. Corey Locke is also looking to make his debut with the Dogs after just signing a three-year contract with the Canadiens, although he will have his work cut out for him, as the center position will be one of Hamilton’s strongest positions. Cory Urquhart is in the same situation as Locke, in that he will be fighting for a roster spot, but if ice time is hard to come by, he may be forced to the ECHL or back to the QMJHL. Also CHL eligible is Michael Lambert, a teammate of Urquhart’s. He will also look to earn a roster spot after signing with the Habs this summer on the tails of a career year with the Rocket of PEI.

The veteran presence is limited this year, but with new comer Gavin Morgan and Benoit Dusablon, the Dogs will have a mix of experience, leadership, skill and character, which will surely be needed. Raitis Ivanans will be looked upon to fill the tough guy role, as he brings his impressive size and strength to the team, after leaving last year’s Calder Cup champion Milwaukee Admirals. Ben Carpentier will also be there to fill the tough guy role.

On loan from Dallas is Steve Ott whose NHL experience will be of assistance to the team, as well as his work ethic, penalty-killing and speed. In addition to Ott, Antti Miettinen will also join the Dogs, and bring a well rounded game as well as several years of professional experience playing in the Sm-liiga and a brief NHL stint. Also on loan from the ECHL is Marco Rosa, a former Stars 2001 pick and NCAA regular, as he looks to earn a spot in the AHL. Journeyman Eric Normandin is at camp on a tryout basis, as he is one of the oldest players at the age of 27 years old, having played in seven different leagues over the last few years. The Laval native will try an earn a contract with the Dogs.

Outlook

With so many new faces and lack of experience at the professional level, there’s going to be big question marks for the Bulldogs, if they can gel quickly, develop prospects and remain competitive at the same time. NHL-bound Doug Jarvis is certainly up to the task of pulling the team together. There’s no shortage of offensive skill at the forward position, but the question remains is how the defense and goaltending will standup against the rest of the league.

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.