Monday, December 28, 2009

Hamilton Bulldogs are Contenders in the AHL's North Division

In an effort to promote the American Hockey League and their quality players, The Voice of Sport will look at teams in the AHL every Saturday throughout the season (A few days late due to Christmas break...). The teams in the AHL play an exciting brand of hockey and with a mix of veterans and NHL draft picks; the league is a great place to watch some tremendous hockey at a reasonable price. This week's team - the Hamilton Bulldogs...

The Hamilton Bulldogs (19-8-2-3) find themselves in second place in the Western Conference's North Division and are set to play their Southern Ontario and division rivals, the struggling Toronto Marlies this evening. The Bulldogs are coming off a 4-2 loss to the first place Rochester Americans on December 26th and the Marlies could be what the doctor ordered to start another win streak for the Montreal Canadiens AHL affiliate.

The Bulldogs have called Hamilton’s 17,383 seat Copps Coliseum home since 1996 and in the hockey-mad market of Southern Ontario, it is unfortunate that the Bulldogs only have an average of 4,305 fans per game; ranking 14th in the AHL in attendance. The Bulldogs have scored 94 goals this season, while allowing only 68 goals - the fewest goals against in the league. Hamilton is 16th in the league on the power play but it is on the penalty kill that they have excelled, ranking 4th in the AHL.

Leading the way for Hamilton this season is Brandon Manitoba native Brock Trotter. The former University of Denver forward is leading the Bulldogs in scoring with 9 goals and 26 points in 31 games. With the University of Denver, Trotter’s best season came during the 2006-2007 season, scoring 16 goals and 40 points. In his third season with Hamilton, Trotter has gained a reputation as a hard working center in the AHL and he will certainly improve upon his 18 goals and 49 points from last season.

Another forward lighting up the opposition is Quebec City native, David Desharnais. After four years with Chicoutimi in the QMJHL, including a 118-point season in 2006, Desharnais spent one season in Cincinnati in the ECHL, scoring 26 goals and accumulating 106 points in 68 games. Cincinnati would go on to win the ECHL Championship in 2008 and Desharnais scored 33 points in 22 playoff games for the Cyclones. Last year, his first full season in Hamilton, the young center scored 28 goals and his strong play earned a call-up to the Canadiens this year for one game. With 11 goals (5 on the power play) and 11 assists in 18 games this year, Desharnais will earn another trip to the NHL before too long. There is also a strong possibility that Desharnais will earn an invitation to the AHL’s all-star game.

The real story this year in Hamilton is the play of goaltender Cedrick Desjardins. The Edmundston New Brunswick native is behind only Brent Krahn of the Texas Stars as the best goaltender in the AHL. His five shutouts lead the league and in 16 games, he is 10-4-1 with a 1.52 goals against average and a .941 save percentage. Desjardins was part of the Cincinnati Cyclones team that won the 2008 Kelly Cup and he was the MVP of the playoffs that season.

Desjardins was also a member of the Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL) that went to the Memorial Cup in 2005 with Sidney Crosby and he won the Memorial Cup in 2006 as a twenty year old with Patrick Roy’s Quebec Remparts. This young man has accumulated several championships on his resume, very impressive considering he was not selected in the NHL entry draft. He could find himself leading the Bulldogs into the AHL playoffs and adding a Calder Cup to his list of victories, if he is still in Hamilton by season’s end.

With rumours swirling in Montreal that Jaroslav Halak may be traded, Desjardins or Curtis Sanford could become the back up to Carey Price for the Canadiens. However, with the up and down season Price and Halak have had so far, it is unlikely that he will move this year, allowing Desjardins to stay in Hamilton and take a shot at Halak’s franchise record for career shutouts; Desjardins is two shutouts away from the record.

Head Coach Guy Boucher has the Bulldogs working hard and ready for the second half of the season. After tonight’s game against the Toronto Marlies, the Bulldogs will host the division leading Rochester Americans on December 30th and make a quick trip to Grand Rapids (18-14-0-1) for New Year’s Eve. In 2010, the Bulldogs will start an eight game home stand to begin the year and four of the games are against the Lake Erie Monsters, the last place team in the North Division. Sweeping those games will put more distance between the second place Bulldogs and the bottom of the division. Have a great sports day everyone.

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