With just 11 games left in what will be the final regular season for the Hamilton Bulldogs as an AHL franchise – Montreal is re-locating their AHL affiliate from Hamilton to St. John’s for the 2015-16 season – the Bulldogs sit one point out of the final playoff position in the Western Conference, tied with the Adirondack Flames at 70 points. The Toronto Marlies currently hold the eighth and final playoff position with 71 points in 64 games.
On Wednesday night, the Bulldogs will have a chance to leap-frog place both Adirondack and Toronto when they travel to Glens Falls, NY to take on the North Division rival Flames at the Glens Falls Civic Center. Like the Bulldogs, the Flames are also re-locating next season – out West to Stockton, CA as part of the newly-formed division hosting five AHL teams in California beginning in the 2015-16 season.
The Bulldogs have been mainly a .500 hockey club this season, except for a one-month span from January 16th thru February 18th where they won 11 of 13 games – propelling themselves up the standings both before and after the AHL All-Star break.
Even before that run, however, Bulldogs’ rookie forward Charles Hudon was starting to prove he is a consistent scoring threat at the AHL level, tallying 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) in a 20-game stretch at the beginning of the season. Hudon acknowledged that productive offensive start while representing the Bulldogs at this year’s AHL All-Star Classic in Utica, NY.
“I’m surprised what happened to me,” Hudon said of his fast start this season. “It was a nice transition from the ‘Q’ to the AHL,” he added, mentioning that getting in nine games at the tail-end of last season was a big part of the reason for what looks like a nearly seamless transition this season – his first as a pro.
The Montreal Canadiens’ fifth round draft pick in 2012 and former QMJHL standout with both the Chicoutimi Sagueneens and Baie-Comeau Drakkar has been a pleasant surprise this season. Hudon is currently in a three-way tie for the scoring lead among AHL rookies with 51 points (14 goals, 31 assists) while appearing in all 65 of Hamilton’s games to date.
“The speed of the guys, the size – every aspect of the game has changed,” Hudon said, noting the stark differences between the junior league he used to compete in and the AHL. “You have to come to every game ready to play, and when you’re on the ice, just play your game.”
Sven Andrighetto is another former QMJHL standout in the Canadiens’ system primed for future success. In his second professional season, Andrighetto has followed up a 17-goal, 44-point AHL rookie season in 2013-14 with a sophomore season that has included a 12-game stint in the NHL with Montreal in December – his first taste of NHL action.
The Swiss-born forward tallied three points (two goals and an assist) in 12 NHL games before coming back to Hamilton to pick up where he left off – currently with 37 points (13 goals, 24 assists) in 49 AHL games this season.
Andrighetto, Hudon and fellow rookie Daniel Carr have formed a dangerous line for the Bulldogs, one that has been difficult for opposing defenses to contain.
Carr had a breakout month for Hamilton after the All-Star break, tallying 10 goals and adding two assists in 12 February games. Entering February, Carr had just nine goals in his first 45 AHL games.
The leading scorer last season for the 2014 NCAA champion Union College Dutchmen signed an entry-level contract with the Canadiens last April before making his pro debut in the AHL in October. While there had been a bit of an adjustment period for Carr in the season’s first half, he is turning into a solid offensive weapon for the Bulldogs heading down the stretch run.
The Bulldogs will also need their other offensively skilled forwards – like veterans T.J. Hensick and Gabriel Dumont – to lead by example if they want to sneak into the postseason in the final four weeks of the regular season.
Follow Tony Androckitis on Twitter via @H_P_Hockey