12/13/2012 11:25 AM
Story By: Stuart McComish
HAMILTON, Ont. – The Hamilton Bulldogs will be missing a significant part of their offence when they begin a four-game road swing through the American Hockey League’s Midwest Division on Thursday night.
The Bulldogs, who meet the Chicago Wolves in an 8 p.m. (EST) start, will be without veteran right winger Aaron Palushaj who is out four to six weeks with a shoulder injury suffered in a 1-0 win over the visiting Lake Erie Monsters on Tuesday night.
Palushaj, who leads the Bulldogs with seven goals and is second in points with 10, left the game at 10:01 of the second period after taking a hard check in front of the Hamilton bench from Monsters forward Mitchell Heard. Palushaj returned later in the period.
Palushaj is the third veteran Bulldogs forward to miss significant time this season. Louis Leblanc lost 11 games to a high ankle sprain and Blake Geoffrion is out indefinitely after suffering a depressed skull fracture after taking a check in 4-1 loss to the Syracuse Crunch at Montreal on November 9th.
To replace Palushaj, the Bulldogs have recalled veteran centre Olivier Fortier from the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL. Fortier, 23, has played 106 games over the last three seasons for the Bulldogs recording 17 goals and 18 assists for 35 points. This season he is second in scoring on the Solar Bears with nine goals and 10 assists for 19 points in 23 games.
The Bulldogs, fifth in the North Division with a record of 9-10-1-1 for 20 points, will also visit the Rockford IceHogs at 8:05 p.m. (EST) Saturday and the Milwaukee Admirals at 6 p.m. (EST) Sunday. The trip concludes against the Peoria Rivermen at 8:05 p.m. (EST) Tuesday. The Bulldogs return home for two games before their Christmas break, entertaining the St. John’s IceCaps on December 21st and the San Antonio Rampage the following evening.
“As a team we are getting better defensively,” said goaltender Cedrick Desjardins, who turned in a sterling effort against the Monsters, making 29 saves to record his second shutout of the season. “We are finding a way to win games. We need to get back to the .500 mark, that’s our goal for Christmas. We have a big road trip coming up and for my part I just want to help us stay in the game.
“We need to stay in the mix for the playoffs. These next four games are really huge for us. We need those points really bad.”
Steve Quailer’s unassisted power-play goal at 16:17 of the third period was all the offence the Bulldogs would need against the Monsters as they won consecutive games for the second time this season since beginning the campaign with wins against the Grand Rapids Griffins and Toronto Marlies. The Bulldogs posted a 3-2 win over the host Hershey Bears last Saturday night.
“We played hard all game,” Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre said after his charges tested Monsters goaltender Calvin Pickard with 45 shots. “We had some good scoring chances and that was probably one of the games where we had the most scoring chances in a while. Their goalie was really good. I kept telling the boys to stay with it and it would come.
“We’re glad we got this win, it was a real character win for us. Cedrick was good in net, he wanted to beat his old team. It was a good team effort.”
Desjardins and Pickard were briefly teammates on the Monsters in 2011-2012. Pickard, 20, made two appearances for Lake Erie after spending the season with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League.
“I saw him play a couple of games last season and his game has improved a lot,” said Desjardins, who collected his 16th career AHL shutout. “He was ready and he had a really good game. He was very impressive and showed a lot of good stuff. It was a good matchup.”
The Bulldogs, playing the first of only four home dates in December, came out strong and tested Pickard right away while not allowing the visitors a shot on goal until the 13th minute of the first period. The Bulldogs outshot the Monsters 17-7 in the third period.
“We were very solid until we took some penalties in the second period,” said Lefebvre. “They started to get some shots and a little momentum, but we rolled up our sleeves and went back to work. We had some good offensive zone time and the boys are feeling good about that.”
Said Desjardins: “We couldn’t get that goal early and it took us more 50 minutes to score it, but we found a way to win. This was a huge win at home for us.”
Quailer’s goal, his fourth of the season, brought a blizzard of stuffed toys from the 3,945 in attendance at Copps Coliseum for Toy Toss night. Desjardins used the 10-minute delay to clear the ice productively, knowing the Monsters would be pressing hard for the equalizer.
“I rested my legs and was able to get a little rest,” said Desjardins. “I had to stay focused. It’s a great cause, but at the same time we had business to finish. The break might have also helped us get our best defensive players out there. We used that to rest a lot of our guys who played a lot in the third.”
The Bulldogs collected a power-play goal for the third time in their last four games after managing only three power-play scores in 41 opportunities over 10 games previous to that.
“We had some good chances and our power play was pretty good,” said Lefebvre. “That’s probably the best it has been over the first 21 games. We controlled the puck and had some good scoring chances and some shots on net. We need to build on that.”
The Bulldogs’ quartet of road games can be heard live with play-by-play broadcaster Derek Wills on Funny 820 AM beginning with the Pioneer Pre-Game Show 30 minutes before puck drop. The game at Chicago will be telecast on TVA Sports while the games at Rockford and Milwaukee can also be heard on TSN Radio 690 in Montreal.