Bulldogs Report: Regular Season Wrap-Up

By Jim Harnock

The 2001-2002
season for the Hamilton Bulldogs was one of exciting highs and excruciating
lows. It was a season in which the team led the American Hockey League
in every way, at one point, and then stumbled so badly there was a real danger
that they may miss the playoffs.
Below, you will find a list of players who distinguished
themselves in one way or another this season. I have divided the players
into several categories, based on their play over the course of the year —
a report card of sorts, like my mid-season report, but better-organised.
Each player will have his final regular-season scoring stats beside his name,
in the goals – assists – total points format.

Far Beyond Expectations

17 Jason CHIMERA LW (26-51-77): With 77
points in 77 games, Chimera led the Bulldogs in scoring this season.
He also led them in many other ways, being an alternate captain as well as
“Mr Everything” for the team, playing both PK and PP and adding a much-needed
physical dimension to his game (he led the team in PIM). In his 3-game
call-up with the Oilers, he notched his first NHL goal and many people — this
writer included — don’t expect him to be in the AHL next season.

22 Brian SWANSON C (34-36-73): After a 59-point season and a
47-point season, Swanson exploded offensively in 01-02 and would most likely
have led both the team and the league in scoring had he not been recalled
by Edmonton. His defensive game did suffer a bit, but he was fortunate
in that several of his team-mates were able to pick up his slack effectively
enough that Swanson could focus on his offensive output.

2 Bobby ALLEN D (6-16-22): Though his full-season stats are
hardly impressive — 22 points in 59 games — Allen’s 7 points in 10 games,
plus his steady physical game, since joining the Bulldogs puts him in this
category. The big question is, can he keep up the pace next season?

25 Fernando PISANI LW (26-34-60): After a 25-point rookie season,
the Edmonton native established himself as a legitimate pro hockey player
in 01-02, playing on the Bulldogs’ first line with Swanson and Chimera.
Pisani spent a lot of his ice-time right around the blue paint of the opposing
goal crease and played a big role on the Hamilton PP, where he scored 11 of
his 26 goals.

Beyond Expectations

24 Jani RITA LW (25-17-42): Last season,
Rita put up very unimpressive numbers as he toiled on Jokerit’s fourth line
in the SM Liiga and as a result, expectations were mixed. His jump
from 15 points with Jokerit last year to 42 points this season — his first
playing in a more physical North American league — have silenced many detractors.
His speed and stick-handling are first rate and in an online poll conducted
by the Bulldogs, he was voted as the fans? favourite.

10 Kevin BROWN RW (28-36-64): For a guy who split last season
between Britain and the WCHL, 64 points in 70 games was a bit of a surprise
to me. Brown’s biggest contribution to the Bulldogs was on the PP,
where he chipped in a team-leading 12 goals, often playing point.

36 Sven BUTENSCHON D (9-35-44): Setting a career-high in points,
Boots was, without a doubt, Hamilton’s best defenseman this past season.
He led the Bulldogs’ blueliners in scoring and played a pivotal role in the
team’s potent offence, resulting in his selection as a first-team All Star.

27 Michael HENRICH RW (14-24-38): While Henrich did not have
the kind of season he would have liked, being hampered by injury, he certainly
exorcised the demons on 00-01, a season in which he scored a total of 15
points in 73 AHL games and was demoted to the ECHL. He has improved
his defensive game a great deal, becoming a steady two-way forward and had
his injury not limited him to 67 games, he would certainly have reached the
20-goal plateau and perhaps the 25-goal mark.

Below Expectations

20 Greg LEEB C (14-17-31): A solid PK’er,
Leeb did not acquit himself well 5-on-5, clocking in at a team-worst -17
rating. After scoring 65 points in 78 games for Utah of the IHL last
season, 34 points fewer in 79 games was a major disappointment. At
5’9″ and 160 lbs, he was very easy for larger players to push around and
spent almost as much time on his butt as he did his skates.

33 Alexei SEMENOV D (5-11-16): Perhaps it’s a bit inaccurate
to classify Semenov as playing below expectations, as his defensive play
was actually better than I was expecting, as was his willingness to take
the body and battle along the boards. While he did show some offensive
flair, jumping into the rush and creating some chances, I expected more offensive
output after his 63-point total in his final year of junior.

30 Ty CONKLIN G (13-12-8, 2.61 GAA): Regularly outplayed by
team-mate Marc Lamothe, Conklin never really established himself as a top-flight
goaltender. There were games were he seemed to be on the cusp of greatness,
but then would follow up the performance with a stinker. He also wanders
too often and too recklessly — to quote a fellow member of the media contingent,
“Conklin… it’s always an adventure when that guy leaves his net.”

Well Below Expectations

7 Jan HORACEK D (0-5-5): Okay, I was
wrong. At the beginning of the season, I raved about Horacek’s play,
but after an early-season knee injury, he just was not the same player —
he had been a physical force who did a good job of keeping the front of the
net clear and bouncing smaller opponents off the boards, but after the injury,
he was a physical defenseman prone to bad penalties at inopportune moments.
Here’s hoping the rest he gets in the off-season and the rigors of training
camp bring back October Horacek. He was limited to 44 games this season,
partly due to his injury and partly to his undisciplined play.

21 Marc-André BERGERON D (2-13-15): After setting a
QMJHL record for most goals in a season by a defenseman with 42 (and rounding
it out with 59 assists, for a total of 101 points), Bergeron was expected
to bring an offensive dimension to the Hamilton blue line. He did not.
Not only that, he did not bring much of a defensive dimension, either.
While Bergeron did improve his game later in the season, he has a long road
ahead of him.

Other Notables

18 Peter SARNO C (12-40-52): Continues
to be the team’s top playmaking center and is starting to add a physical
dimension to his game.

6 Alex HENRY D (4-8-12): Solid defenseman who ended the season
second to Butenschon for top +/- rating among defensemen with +12.
Played a very physical game, collecting 143 PIM in 69 games.

5 Chris HAJT D (2-3-5): He finally scored an AHL goal!

4 Ales PISA D (6-12-18): Played a solid, if unspectacular game.
Not a heavy shot, but very accurate.

15 Mike BISHAI
C (0-0-0): Signed to an Amateur Try-Out (ATO) by
the team. Played only three games, but he looks to be a guy to keep
an eye on and may very well be signed to a full deal in the off-season (with
Hamilton or elsewhere).

Jim Harnock
HF / AHL Report