|Marc Denis was sharp in goal for the Bulldogs last weekend, leading Hamilton to a pair of wins over the Manitoba Moose. |
MONTREAL – Little kids always like imitating their older siblings. That’s certainly the case for the Canadiens’ farm team in Hamilton, where the Bulldogs are looking to the kids to help put the club back on track.
Currently just two years removed from a Calder Cup Championship, Don Lever’s troop hit a bump in the road in 2007-08. Several components from that 2007 Cup triumph cracked the Habs’ roster and by mid-season had seen seven players graduate to the NHL. Heading into this year, Lever didn’t know what to expect from a bench that would include just three returning faces.
“Obviously your main goal is to make the playoffs but after missing out on it last year and so many new guys this season, my first goal was just to win a game,” admitted the ‘Dogs head coach.
The Bulldogs did just that. Twice, in fact. They opened their season with a pair of back-to-back victories over the Manitoba Moose on Friday and Saturday. It was the first time Hamilton had won its first two games since the 2002-03 campaign and while it’s only two games, Lever was pleased with what he saw in his kids’ triumph against a veteran-laden Manitoba squad.
“There were a lot of things I liked. Yannick Weber
was great on the back end and David Desharnais
has played well, too. I especially like seeing guys succeed in roles they might not be used to,” said Lever. “I experimented with Ben Maxwell on the point during the power-play, which seemed to work really well. He’s also been clicking with Greg Stewart and Ryan Russell to form a really solid checking line for us.”
But it wasn’t just the freshmen who impressed in their debuts. The Bulldogs added some solid veteran presence to their dressing room over the summer in guys like Marc Denis and Alex Henry
“Marc was really sharp in those games and pretty much won the first one for us, and Alex is a solid veteran presence on our blue line. I’m really happy with what these guys have done,” noted Lever.
“It’s always been a part of the program here,” he explained of adding guys who have been around the block at both levels. “It’s an important part of developing these kids, having guys with the experience that they do.”
Now in his fourth year behind the Bulldogs bench, Lever has seen plenty of his protégés come and go. He knows it comes with the territory, even if it sometimes leaves his roster looking like Swiss cheese. And while the constant turnover isn’t always easy, watching the kids graduate and succeed at the NHL level more than makes up for it.
“It’s always great to see one of our kids make the jump. I think our owner, Michael Andlauer, is the most excited of everyone!” laughed Lever. “There’s a sense of pride that goes along with it. We actually have a Hall of Fame here showcasing the guys who have come through our system and moved up to the NHL.”
The endless changes to his on-ice personnel can only mean good things for both the Bulldogs and the Habs. It gives others the chance to step in and step up and the proof was there over the weekend, with Weber, Maxwell and Ryan White
scoring their first AHL goals.
“It was good for us to start on the road and get those two wins. I figure it’ll be another month or so before I have better idea of what this team is all about,” said Lever.
“But, based on last weekend, there definitely were a lot of bright spots.”
With the days getting shorter and Daylight Saving Time soon to end, it looks like the road from Hamilton to Montreal is one that’s well-lit.Heather Engel is a writer for canadiens.com