As we near the midway point of the North Division Final between the Abbotsford Heat and the Hamilton Bulldogs, this series has a different tone than that of the previous series versus Rochester.
Against the Americans, the Heat, after a mid-series stumble that almost saw them eliminated, figured out that if they stayed true to how they wanted to play the game, they would be successful. In Games five, six and seven of the series, while Abbotsford were on the brink of elimination, it never felt like it. The Americans never had an answer for the tenacity that the Heat was able to put forth, and subsequently, not having that answers now has the Americans making putts for birdie in upstate New York.
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The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have answers to all of the Heat hard work, by working as hard as the Fraser Valley's finest. Hamilton finished at the top of the North Division and the Eastern Conference for a couple of reasons. 1) The had a relatively injury free season and 2) This team has made a commitment to team defence not seen since OJ hired a dozen attorneys a decade or so ago. The Bulldogs attack or lack thereof, is two-fold, and also efficient by the very nature of it. Early on in a game so far in this series, the Bulldogs will send in two fore-checkers deep and also pinch their defenders in the attacking zone, forcing the Heat to do one of two things, either give possession of the puck back to Hamilton, or find a way to make smart, short passes to get out of trouble.
In Game One, the Heat did a great job of identifying this early and getting the jump on the Bulldogs by countering with their bread and butter all year, dumping the puck in behind the defence, making turnovers happen thru a relentless physical battle in behind the opposition net, and generating shots thru the rush and from the turnovers caused by their style. Abbotsford scored the important first goal of the series and the Bulldogs had to change how they played...they had to play to score, not defend. While the Bulldogs do have players who can score on their team, they are very content with getting an early lead and sitting on it, like a mother goose waiting for her brood to hatch. We witnessed this first hand in Game Two and late in Game Three.
In Game two, an early lead for the Dogs had them revert to a 1-3-1 diamond in the neutral zone. Effective and efficient, a mistake by the opposition soon turns into scoring chances for the Bulldogs. In Game Two and Three, when taking the lead, the Bulldogs played 'Kitty-bar-the-door' and were content to have the Heat take their best shot. So far the Heat has not succeeded in breaking this cycle of defence the Dogs possess. However, if there is one thing that you have been able to take from Jim Playfair and the HEAT coaching staff thru this season is this...they can identify what is needed and get the lads to execute the game plan. In round One, the Heat needed to fix the penalty kill and be more responsible in their own zone to win. They did and they won. This round, the adjustment will need to be made to combat the Bulldogs defence...when that happens, and it will, this series will become the barnburner that we are expecting. Based upon the Game Three effort, the Heat are close to turning this series back into their favour.
NORTH DIVISION FINAL - ABBOTSFORD HEAT VS HAMILTON BULLDOGS (MONTREAL CANADIENS)
Game One - Thursday, April 29th - Abbotsford 3 @ Hamilton 2 (Brett Sutter - GWG)
Game Two - Sunday, May 2nd - Abbotsford 1 @ Hamilton 3 (Mike Glumac - GWG)
Game Three - Tuesday, May 4th - Hamilton @ Abbotsford (Olivier Fortier - GWG)
Game Four - Thursday, May 6th - Hamilton @ Abbotsford - 7 PM PDT
Game Five - Saturday, May 8th - Hamilton @ Abbotsford - 7 PM PDT
*Game Six - Monday, May 10th - Abbotsford @ Hamilton - 7:30 PM PDT
*Game Seven - Tuesday, May 11th - Abbotsford @ Hamilton - 7:30 PM PDT
THE ABBOTSFORD HEAT IS IN TO THE NORTH DIVISION FINAL AND TICKETS ARE AVAILABLE FOR ALL HEAT HOME GAMES BY CALLING 1-877-452-HEAT. YOU CAN ALSO VISIT www.abbotsfordheat.com FOR ALL OF YOUR TICKETING NEEDS.