March Break Musings
There are five regular season games that remain that are of interest to fans of the Hamilton Bulldogs. The Bulldogs play their final two games of the season on the road, playing in Ottawa against the 67s on Friday night and in Kingston facing the Frontenacs Saturday evening. They are fighting for their playoff lives, and the forecast is cloudy as the Oshawa Generals are currently two points up and have a game in hand on the Bulldogs. Everyone who follows the Bulldogs will have their eyes locked on Oshawa’s road trip, beginning tonight when they will take on the Mississauga Steelheads. They then play in Kingston on Friday, and host Ottawa Sunday evening.
Best case scenario for Hamilton is that Oshawa fumbles and loses all three of their remaining games, but no one is counting on this result. In order for the Bulldogs to make the playoffs, they need Oshawa to collect 2 or less points of a possible 6 between now and late Sunday evening. If Oshawa does collect two points this week, Hamilton’s only chance is finishing with a tie in the standings, which requires winning both of their games this weekend. Alternate captain Niki Petti is confident in his team and his teammate’s abilities. “I think we just gotta keep the pace we’re playing with, we gotta bring it every night. We know it’s do or die now. No one in that room wants to end right now, everybody is committed and everybody is going to be working hard and there is going to be no stopping regardless of what happens.”
If they can overcome this mountain at the end of their schedule, then they’ll be ‘rewarded’ with a wildcard game against Oshawa (likely in Oshawa) on Tuesday evening. Then we can talk about playoffs.
Playoffs?! Don’t talk about playoffs! Are you kidding me? Playoffs?! I’m just hoping we can win a game, another game! – NFL Coach Jim Mora
Let’s talk practice then…
The Bulldogs are practicing hard this week under the supervision of Associate Coach Troy Smith, as Head Coach Burnett is taking in as much of the OHL Cup being played in North York this week. Hands down the highlight of today’s practice was when Smith was stressing the value of defenders cutting down on a rushing forward’s angles. To drive home his point, he challenged Matt Luff to see if he could beat him one-on-one. You could hear a very audible “For real?!” from a disbelieving Luff, who seemed to think it rather comical. They lined up at centre ice, went full tilt towards Kaden Fulcher, and Smith easily batted away the puck once they got to the faceoff circle. A few stick taps from the team turned into a chorus of laughter as Smith lost an edge and fell with grace. It’s great to see that the team isn’t stressing too much in the face of the playoff push adversity, and a bit part of this comes from the environment that the coaches have developed.
Following practice, import defender Ondrej Kachyna spoke about the high tempo of Ontario Hockey League practices, and his international competition prospects following the regular season. “I like to play here, it’s a good experience for me for both language and hockey for sure. Practice is more hard than in the Czech, in Czech is easier. Here is a bit more intimidating”. Kachyna has the opportunity to showcase his skills for his home country this April in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Team Czech Republic’s General Manager Robert Reichel has extended an invitation to make the team. “After the season I will go to Winnipeg for the camp and I will see if I will make the tournament or if I will go back home. For sure it’s an important experience, it’s a lot of games, a lot of scouts will be there, so I will try to be there”. Kachyna has already represented his national team once this season, suiting up for the Czech Republic in December at the 2015 World Junior A Challenge, where the team placed 5th out of 6 teams.
A strong tournament could make a huge difference for in hearing his named called in June’s NHL Entry Draft. While the large defender only ranked #173 on the NHL Central Scouting Mid-Term Ranking, he’s made significant strides in cleaning up his defensive game while adjusting to the higher intensity of the OHL. The benefactor of injuries on the back end the team has suffered, Kachyna has shown a much higher level of confidence handling the puck in both the offensive and neutral zones. Where he used to look for the first and quickest option to pass, Kachyna has learned to be patient with the puck and is now entering the zone with confidence and grace for such a big body. He’s also show himself to be an effective hitter, pulling out a few well timed hip-checks that have really surprised the opposition. He’s definitely been putting in the work to stay an effective contributor during the long playoff push.