HAMILTON BULLDOGS REPORT – Evaluating the first Three Weeks of the Season
BarnBurner Sports Writer
Tuesday, October 8, 2019
HAMILTON, ON -- The Hamilton Bulldogs are in the second year of General Manager Steve Staios’ two-year rebuild plan and, so far, things have started about as expected.
They snapped a four-game losing streak on Sunday afternoon with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Kingston Frontenacs, who remain winless themselves. Prior to that, they opened the season with a 4-3 win over Sarnia (who are also still winless), then lost to Erie, Windsor, London, and Oshawa in fairly dominant fashion.
Granted, all of those teams are better than them both on paper and in the standings, so their rough start isn’t surprising. Bulldogs captain Isaac Nurse has missed the last five games with injury and Hamilton also started the season without centreman Logan Morrison, so their offence was thinner than usual.
Hamilton’s next stretch of games will also be challenging. They travel to Erie on October 11th to play the second-place Otters, return home on Thanksgiving Monday to face third-place Barrie, and then kick off a four-game road trip that sees them travel to Peterborough, Kingston, Ottawa, and Niagara in the span of nine days. And that Niagara game on Friday October 20th starts a triple-header weekend that includes a back-to-back with the currently undefeated Oshawa Generals.
October is going to be a tough month for this team and a healthy captain would be a welcome boost to their offence.
With just three over-agers on the roster, GM Staios has loaded Hamilton with young talent that are fresh and ready to be groomed at the OHL level. Over-agers Nurse, Bradey Johnson, and Kade Landry are the leadership core that is expected to guide the rookies through their first year in the league.
They also have a rookie bench boss in Vince Laise, who has a veteran leader of his own in David Matsos, who stepped down from his position at the end of last season with concerns of his health.
Staios kept all the rookies that were on the roster last year and added seven more to fill spots that the many off-season departures left vacant. He also added his son, Nathan Staios, to the defence core, who had a decent breakout year with the Windsor Spitfires in 2018-19. He posted 29 points in in 64 games and is a solid puck mover that has great speed and can contribute on the powerplay.
Zachary Roy has been trusted with the starting job this year with the departure of Nick Donofrio and will be backed up by local rookie Marco Constantini. As a second-year goalie, Roy has grown in his ability to make clutch saves in big moments as was demonstrated in the 3-2 shootout win over Kingston but, will need to work on doing it consistently against harder opponents.
Constantini was on the Bulldogs’ playoff roster last season but, remains a rookie for not reaching the target amount of games played to no longer be considered. He has shown flashes of great potential, keeping Hamilton’s 2-1 loss to Windsor close with some brilliant saves. The shots were a lopsided 35-19 for the Spits.
The defence needs to focus on shot suppression and helping each other out when their pressure in the offensive zone. Often times, the second-year players are getting caught flat-footed while defending rushes. With just one rookie on the blueline in Gavin White, Hamilton is hoping their defence can continue to develop poise under Landry’s leadership and the addition of Staios.
On offence, their top line is set once Nurse is healthy. With him on the right, he solidifies a lethal starting core with Jan Jenik at centre and Arthur Kaliyev on the left. Even without Nurse, Kaliyev and Jenik have already combined for 16 points and Jenik also missed 2 games so far.
The rest of the offence is made up of second-year players and rookies trying to make a name for themselves on this team. Tag Bertuzzi continues to impress along with Logan Morrison, and Liam Van Loon has been taking advantage of a golden opportunity filling in for Nurse on the top line. Their bottom six is mostly filled out with the six rookies up front, which will be exciting to watch their development.
Ryan Winterton seems to be a lead candidate for a regular spot up the middle as he leads the rookies in scoring with 3 points and has been given powerplay time.
It’s likely this season will be another ‘scrape into the playoffs’ type of year that will see Hamilton hit around the 60-point mark, a similar finish to last season.
With so few over-agers, GM Staios has put this team in a position to have the least amount of turnover Hamilton has seen since before its championship, which bodes well for continued success in the near future.