BROSSARD – While the American Hockey League may be just a single step below the NHL, most players are quick to point out that subtle differences often aren’t so subtle when they make the jump to the big club early on in their careers.
For recent Habs call-ups Jarred Tinordi, Gabriel Dumont and Michael Blunden, and rookie sensation Brendan Gallagher, who debuted with the Habs on Jan. 22 after spending 36 games in the AHL, time spent with the Hamilton Bulldogs narrowed that learning curve to the point where they were ready to go upon arrival in the NHL.
In his post-practice press conference on Monday afternoon, head coach Michel Therrien explained that the Habs’ close-knit partnership with the Bulldogs has served the club well after a recent string of injuries to key assets both up front and on the blue line.
“The players learned a lot at the American League level,” said Therrien. “When you put those guys in the lineup, you see that they’re not in there to waste any time. It’s a great demonstration of the work done by [head coach] Sylvain Lefebvre and the coaches there. When we use these players, they’re ready and capable to deliver the goods. We’ve got a great working relationship with our farm club and we want to give these players quality minutes of ice time when they come up with us.”
Tinordi, who played his first NHL game on Saturday night in the Habs’ 2-1 win over New Jersey and registered his first career point on Tomas Plekanec’s game-winning goal, noted that playing 55 games in Hamilton this season provided invaluable insight.
“I felt good. The first couple of shifts I had to get rid of some of the jitters. But, after that I felt really comfortable,” said the 6’6, 205 lb. defenseman who played alongside veteran Francis Bouillon in his NHL debut. “From playing in the minors for 50-something games, it definitely helped me with the pace of pro hockey, so I think that was big for me.”
Dumont, who led the Bulldogs in scoring with 15 goals and 30 points prior to being recalled by the Canadiens on March 1, confirmed that playing under a similar system in Hamilton has made the trio’s transition into the Habs’ lineup almost seamless.
“I think that everyone has jumped on board here. Everyone is working off the same philosophy, the same idea. I think it’s going well, and that it’s been easy to get on board for us,” said Dumont, whose stellar play earned him a roster spot in the 2013 AHL All-Star Game earlier this season. “It’s about 90 percent the same. It’s true that there are some small differences, but the coaches are aware of it and they make the necessary adjustments with us during the game. But, it’s really good that it works that way. It takes away a lot of the stress.”
Witnessing the impact Bulldogs’ products both past and present have had on the success of the Canadiens so far this season, nine-year NHL veteran defenseman Josh Gorges praised the combined efforts of the two clubs to develop young talent.
“And I think that's important,” indicated Gorges. “I think it's important in the American League that they preach the same kinds of systems and the same kinds of philosophies that we want to accomplish up here, so when they do get the chance, they do get called up, there's no learning curve. They can jump right in and feel right at home.”
No matter the length of their stay with the Habs down the stretch, Therrien believes that Tinordi, Blunden and Dumont’s experiences in Hamilton have provided an important sense of familiarity that will ultimately enable them to contribute to the Canadiens’ cause both now and in the future.
“When a player is called up, you want to make sure that he feels comfortable. You don’t want to speak half-an-hour explaining how things work,” mentioned Therrien. “The young guy is already a little bit nervous, so the fact that he knows how things operate already, that can give the player a measure of confidence.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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