11/13/2012 9:33 PM
Story By: Stuart McComish
HAMILTON, Ont. – The Hamilton Bulldogs frequently hit the ice at Copps Coliseum in the morning, but rarely with two points on the line.
That will be the case for the Bulldogs on Wednesday when they host the Rochester Americans in a school-day game that begins at 10 a.m.
“I have never coached or played at 10 a.m. so it will be different,” Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre said Tuesday. “But the guys have to adjust their schedules to it.”
Veteran right winger Mike Blunden said he is looking forward to the early start.
“It’ll be rise and shine, hopefully we’ll be ready to go. We’ll need a lot of coffee, but it should be fun with a packed building full of screaming kids.”
The game is the first of three American Hockey League North Division matchups ahead this week for the Bulldogs, who will begin a home-and-home set with the Toronto Marlies at Copps Coliseum at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The Marlies host the return engagement at 3 p.m. Saturday.
The Bulldogs are fifth in the division with a record of 4-4-1-1 for 10 points, five behind the fourth-place Americans. The Bulldogs dropped two games to the Syracuse Crunch last week, a 3-0 verdict at home last Wednesday and a 4-1 decision at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Friday night.
“There are many things we need to learn from those games against Syracuse,” said Lefebvre. “We need to play a more composed game and not get frustrated. We need to stick with our game plan. We didn’t play our game either time against Syracuse and we know we can be better. The last two games were tough on us and we have to learn from them. We have to regroup and make sure we are ready to go tomorrow.”
Lefebvre said the Bulldogs, with 10 AHL rookies on the roster, are still finding their way.
“Syracuse isn’t an old team, they have a lot of young guys. It took them a while last season to get accustomed to the AHL and we are living that right now. We have seven or eight guys who are still adjusting. As coaches we have to keep plugging away with them every day and if the players keep doing that too they will get better.”
Wednesday’s game will be the fourth of 12 regular-season meetings between Hamilton and Rochester. The Americans prevailed 3-1 in a neutral-site game at Buffalo, New York on October 23rd and skated to a 3-2 win via shootout at home on November 2nd. The Bulldogs earned a 4-3 decision the following night at home.
“Rochester has a good team and they are ahead of us in the standings,” said Blunden, who has two goals and three assists for five points in 10 games this season. “This is a big game. We’ve lost two straight, we need get back to our winning ways. This is a big week with some tough games ahead. All of the teams are so stacked and so good now because of the lockout. We need to get off to a good start tomorrow.”
The Bulldogs continue to be without centre Louis Leblanc who is recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered October 20th in a 5-0 loss at Toronto. Centre Blake Geoffrion is out indefinitely after a first period check at Montreal by Crunch defenceman Jean-Phillippe Cote sent him to hospital to undergo surgery for a depressed skull fracture. Geoffrion, who remains in a Montreal hospital, has four goals and two assists for six points in 10 games. He is tied for the team lead in scoring with rookie right winger Brendan Gallagher.
“I saw Cote stepping up on him and I was yelling at Boomer to keep his head up,” said Blunden, who was on the ice at the time of the check. “I missed the play because I was going for the puck, but I saw the impact it had and stepped up and fought Cote. It’s unfortunate what happened to Boomer. It’s a good thing he was in good hands with the doctors and training staff.”
Lefebvre said he didn’t expect one player to step in and replace Geoffrion.
“We have to do it as a group. Our power play has to be better, we have to hit the net with our shots and we have to be better at driving the net. There are opportunities now for others, not only to step in, but to play different roles. We need guys to show us what they can do when they get those chances.”
Said Blunden: “We’re a tight team. Losing Boomer is a huge loss, he is a big part of our hockey team. We hope he gets back soon and we hope to see Leblanc back soon too. But we need to rally around and find ways to win. This is a team game, not an individual one, and we need to come together and play better as a team.
“We have a lot of learning to do. We are a young team, but I think we have done well through the first 10 games. We are off to a good start and we’ve competed in every game, but there are a lot of areas where we need to improve. You don’t win a championship in the first 10 games. It’s a long season, we’re only in November and we have a lot of time to get better.”