Top 10 Bulldogs Narratives for 2016-17
In no particular order, here is a list of the 10 storylines and factoids that will most likely shape the 2016-2017 Hamilton Bulldogs season.
#10. NHL Aspirations
Six Bulldogs attended NHL Rookie Camps in the middle of September. Cole Candella (VAN) played in the Penticton Young Stars tournament, and spent the early days with the Canucks at their main camp. He’s playing for an entry-level contract this season, and because of the NHL slide rule, has plenty of time before they’re required to sign him in order to retain him. Don’t be surprised if the team takes their time.
Ben Gleason (CAR) and Justin Lemcke (CHI) saw action in the Traverse City NHL prospects tournament. Gleason received the invitation to stay on for the main camp after helping the Hurricanes win the tournament.
Niki Petti (ARI) and Matt Luff (LAK) got to enjoy the south western heat in a couple of exhibition rookie games between the two teams. Luff impressed Dean Lombardi so much between their summer development camp and rookie camp that he earned himself an entry-level NHL contract. He has also seemingly made a buddy in NHL enforcer Paul Bissonnette, who is in LA on a PTO.
Newest Bulldog William Bitten was drafted in the third round by Montreal in the 2016 draft, and was released from their camp earlier this week.
#9. Memorial Cup Hosts?
Scott Radley reported in The Hamilton Spectator that Hamilton has officially applied to host the 2018 Centennial Memorial Cup. It’s been 26 years since the Hamilton Dukes bowed out as the hosts of the 72nd Memorial Cup, when future hockey hall of fame centre Eric Lindros carried the Oshawa Generals to a commanding championship. FirstOntario Centre (then Copps Coliseum) still stands as the highest attended venue for the annual tournament. Will the City of Hamilton support owner Michael Andlauer’s vision?
#8. There has been an awakening…
Have you felt it? 44% of the current roster came to Hamilton from the Belleville Bulls, and 80% experienced life under the watchful eyes of former GM/Coach George Burnett. It’s not unheard of for OHL players to spend their entire careers under the same coaching staff throughout, but when change does come in it can often help reinvigorate a team’s culture. There are a lot of “new” variables coming into the second season of OHL hockey in Hamilton, and as a result, Burnett’s departure will likely be one storyline that is actually swept over. Unless that is of course if we’re talking about:
#7. A tale of two cities
As long as the Flint Firebirds and the Hamilton Bulldogs remain in the OHL at the same time, the more the media is going to be able to compare the two teams. Flint and Hamilton shared inaugural seasons, beginning at the same starting line. Theres lots to compare between the organizations, from rosters, to jersey choices, milestones, shared coaches and of course, ownership situations. As long as Flint remains a Mount Everest sized flaming tire fire, and Hamilton angles themselves to be members of the OHL’s heavy hitters, we’re going to have interesting parallels. Hopefully the OHL can work out the problems that have arisen in Flint, so that we can draw these plots out for years to come.
Not to mention, you know, players traded between the teams yesterday. Yeah, these teams are pretty much siblings now.
#6. Making a manager
I think that the citizens of Hamilton can all admit that they’re developing a hometown man-crush on one of their greatest homegrown athletes in Steve Staios. He’s been a big deal in my world for well over a decade. I’ve been an Oilers fan since I could walk, and very much admired the gritty, hard working, leave everything on the ice style of play that he exhibited as a member of the Copper and Blue. He’s made a seemingly seamless transition from professional player to being a builder of the game. He’s spent a year developing his stock with the business community throughout Greater Hamilton Area. It became very evident as last year closed out that he was more than ready to dig his teeth into managing the team. He’s an efficient communicator who justifies his stance on players very well, and it’s obvious that he’s very passionate about the game of hockey at all levels, and has the ability to take this team to new heights.
Staios will participate in the NHL’s Heritage Classic Alumni game alongside Oilers greats Gretzky, Messier, Fuhr and former teammate Ryan Smyth. There is a wonderful symmetry having 94 and 24 in the lineup, as they were on the ice in Edmonton over ten years ago in the real game. At this point outdoor games have become quite gimmicky for casual fans of the game, and you have to wonder if Staios feels the same way. He’s already participated in three outdoor games in one way or another, as a player with Edmonton and Calgary, and as Player Development Advisor with Toronto. You’ve got to believe he’ll be walking around taking notes on how to run a marquee event on this scale as he’ll still be plotting to host the Memorial Cup while he’s skating against the Jets.
Quirky tid-bit in this story? Staios played 1001 games in the NHL. He never once lined up against the Winnipeg Jets. Although, he was a captain of the Atlanta Thrashers, so he is a Jets alumni, right? Debate amongst yourselves.
Connor Roberts highlights the 2016-17 rookie class for the Hamilton Bulldogs. Hamilton has the luxury of a considerable amount of forward depth this season, allowing the coaching staff time to shelter Roberts on the fourth line as he adjusts to the speed of the OHL. He is joined by newcomers Zachary Jackson, Isaac Nurse, Cole Ceci, and Riley McCourt. Bulldogs second round pick, Reilly Webb aggravated his shoulder injury from last October, and will be missing approximately 4-6 months after having surgery this week.
#4. 2017 NHL Entry Draft
Matthew Strome and MacKenzie Entwistle will be drawing the eyes of scouts throughout the season. The sophomore forwards come into the season in great shape after representing Canada the Ivan Hlinka U-18 tournament in August. Strome will draw some national headlines being the last family member to skate in the OHL for a few decades. He’s going to get every opportunity to put up the same type of offensive numbers that Ryan did in his draft year, but will be hard pressed to match Dylan’s 129 points in his draft year.
Entwistle’s strong two-way game is beginning to turn a lot of heads, and will continue to do so as he’s starting the season as the second line centre. There are a few preliminary draft rankings popping up that have Entwistle squeaking in as a potential first round pick. Hamilton’s forward depth became much deeper this week with the addition of Bitten, who’s leadership and dynamic offensive game may mesh very well with Entwistle’s driven fore-check.
Hamilton’s Slovakian import winger, Marian Studenic, plays a very skilled offensive game. He will be featured on the second line to begin, and receive secondary power play minutes. We’ll see how he fares gaining the trust of the coaching staff, who have been preaching offensive systems this season. He shouldn’t take long getting used to the North American game, after playing professional hockey last season.
Newly minted starting goalie Kaden Fulcher is a ’98 with a late birthday, who will receive a huge boost in games played this season following the Hicks trade yesterday. Fulcher has already begun getting some recognition, being hailed as the “goalie of the future, today” back in March by Neate Sager on Sportsnet. He couldn’t have been more correct with that phrasing. Expect Fulcher to jump up rather quickly in the draft rankings being one of the youngest starters in the OHL.
There is not a single player on the Hamilton Bulldogs roster who has won an OHL playoff game (@Steph803 corrected me on this point. Petti and Cramarossa were rookies on the 2012-2013 Bulls team that lost in the third round, and Walters saw playoff action in Owen Sound.) The Barrie Colts swept the Belleville Bulls, who are still well represented by the current roster. FirstOntario Centre hasn’t hosted playoff hockey in over five years. This team is primed not only to make the playoffs – they will be contending for home ice in the first round.
The only issue that could make that difficult? Disney on ice is typically always booked when Hamilton’s first round should start.
#2. Coach Gruden
My favourite myth about the Greek hero Hercules is when he tricked the titan Atlas into putting the Earth back on his shoulders. Atlas had no intention of accepting the weight of the world onto his back a second time. There is a good chance that the enthusiasm that Gruden has been exuding these last few weeks must be akin to what Atlas felt like when Hercules first reached for the globe. Talk about a look of pure relief.
It must have been like a year under a shadow for John Gruden, who had left a well respected position with the US National Development program to accept his first head coaching job with the Flint Firebirds. No one would have believed what was to transpire over the next few months, especially the fact that he was fired twice by the same team.
- GP 53 – W 16 – L 31 – OTL – 6 – Winning Percentage 0.358
Flint was hovering around .500 hockey when Gruden was first fired last year, and it is well publicized that it was unrelated to the team’s record. Hamilton is already off to a stunning start to the season, and if they can keep up the hot streak, we’re going to be finding many references to just how good of a coach he is. Qualities associated with his brand of leadership already included accountability, honesty, and development.
The Hamilton Bulldogs went through two separate seven game losing skids last season. One of Gruden’s targets must be to get no where near that type of team failure. He has explained that the coaching staff is probably going to evaluate games in segments of five this season. On paper, the depth of this team should yield positive win/lose results when we analyze it through a five game scope.
#1. Black and gold branding
The marketing department has gone full bore in melding the brand of OHL Bulldogs to match the traditional brand of The Steel City. Over the summer the team has partnered with the most established sporting brand in Hamilton, the CFL’s Tiger-Cats. Going further, they’ve partnered radio play-by-play with TSN1150, ensuring a synergy with media content between the teams. There is the hope that uniting with TSN will bring the brand recognition that comes with one of Canada’s primer junior hockey promoters. TSN has made the U20 World Juniors a holiday standard for well over the past decade. The Bulldogs are hoping that this partnership, along with the Black and Gold, will result in more bums in seats than last season.
Despite a lower than hoped turnout at the season opener on Saturday night, one thing that the team can likely get excited about is merchandise sales. There seems to be a huge interest in jersey purchases from fans, casual and even Ti-Cats players.
At the end of the day
There will likely be several other interesting plot twists that can highlight the 2016-17 season as we trudge through the 68+ games. There are always variables that can affect headlines, no one would have been able to predict how much of an impact injuries would have on the roster last year. With 65 games left, we’ll possibly see more trades, some international play and ideally long winning streaks.