HAMILTON - The Hamilton Bulldogs hope that experience and some off-season personnel moves will make a big difference when they open their American Hockey League campaign on Friday.
Hamilton struggled mightily a year ago as its young roster was decimated by injuries and call-ups. The Bulldogs were at the bottom of the AHL standings with just 64 points in 76 games.
Head coach Sylvain Lefebvre is optimistic that his team will turn things around.
"Hopefully, the experience that (the players) got last year will translate to a good start this year, especially with the number of games that we have at home," said Lefebvre. "A good start will be imperative, and hopefully with all of the ice time that those younger guys have had, it will show immediately."
The cast surrounding Hamilton's young returnees looks much different as the organization signed a number of proven players at the AHL level. Over half of the 24-player roster for the season opener against the visiting St. John's IceCaps includes first-time Bulldogs.
A lack of scoring was the most glaring concern for a team that had a league-worst total of 159 goals last season.
The acquisition of Martin St. Pierre, a five-time all-star and seven-year AHL veteran, will give the team a different look up front. He played all 76 games for the Rockford IceHogs last season and had 26 goals and 59 points.
Experienced forwards Nick Tarnasky and Maxime Macenauer will also give Hamilton some additional depth. Quebec Major Junior Hockey League standouts Ben Duffy, Sven Andrighetto and Stefan Fournier will make their pro debuts after prolific seasons at the junior level.
Duffy had a QMJHL-leading 110 points for the P.E.I. Rocket last season while Andrighetto, who was drafted in the third round by the Montreal Canadiens, led the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies with 98 points.
Fournier, who signed an entry-level deal with the Habs last July, served as co-captain of the MasterCard Memorial Cup champion Halifax Mooseheads. He had 72 points in 66 games last season and added a league-leading 16 playoff goals.
Each player comes to Hamilton with a proven scoring record at the junior level, but will face a period of adjustment as they adjust to the pro level. Duffy, at five foot 10 and 177 pounds, suggested that the size of AHL defenders will take some getting used to.
"I'm not that big of a guy," he said. "In junior, I had a lot more time with the puck and a lot more space. Here the guys are bigger and stronger and when you get the puck, they're right on top of you.
"I'll have to make adjustments to make sure that I can move the puck and keep this team moving."
The call-up of Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu will thrust the likes of returnees Greg Pateryn and Morgan Ellis into the spotlight on the blue-line. Defensive experience has been added with the off-season acquisitions of AHL veterans Drew Schiestel, Nathan McIver and Joel Chouinard.
Magnus Nygren, a 2011 draft pick, arrives from Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League. He won the Salming Trophy as the league's best defenceman in 2012-13.
Ellis welcomed the infusion of veterans into the Hamilton lineup.
"[Experience] is going to make a big difference," he said. "Everyone will have a season under their belt and know what to expect, and I think that will show when we start the season. We didn't have a good year last year and we're hoping to turn the page."
The Bulldogs will play 11 of their first 15 games on home ice.