11/30/2012 11:45 AM
By: Stuart McComish
HAMILTON, Ont. – The Hamilton Bulldogs’ two-game trip to British Columbia will be an early Christmas present for rookie right winger Brendan Gallagher.
The Bulldogs’ games on Friday and Saturday night against the Abbotsford Heat will be the first opportunity for Gallagher, who starred for four seasons with the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League, to play as a professional in front of his family and friends. Game time both nights is 10 p.m. eastern.
“Any time you get a chance to see your family it’s pretty special, especially when you are living on the other side of the country,” Gallagher said Wednesday as the Bulldogs prepared to head off to the west coast. “It’ll be nice to go back and catch up and have a good, home-cooked meal.”
Gallagher, 20, is a resident of Delta, B.C., a Vancouver suburb 70 kilometres west of Abbotsford.
“It’s something I have been looking forward to quite a bit. Once the schedule comes out you look for any chance you can get to play in front of your family and friends. I have some former teammates who are in school out there who are going to come out and watch as well.”
The Heat leads the North Division with a record of 12-2-2-2 for 28 points and is unbeaten in regulation time at home, compiling a record of 8-0-1-1 at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sport Centre. The Bulldogs skated to a 2-1 win at home on October 28th in the first of eight meetings between the division rivals. Aaron Palushaj scored the winning goal on a second-period power play while goaltender Robert Mayer made 28 saves.
Since that game the Heat have won eight of 11 games, with only one loss in regulation, and had veteran goaltender Barry Brust set an American Hockey League record for longest shutout streak by not allowing a goal for 268:17 over five games. The previous record of 249:51 was set by Johnny Bower in 1957.
“We tell our guys that the bigger the challenge is the bigger the response they need to give,” said Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre. “They are a big challenge. Their goaltending has been unreal over the last month. We know they are a good home team and we need to go in there and take care of our own business. We have to be focused on what we need to do no matter who the opponent is. We beat them here and we can use that as motivation.”
The Heat are opening a four-game homestand after compiling a record of 3-1-1-0 over five consecutive road dates. The Heat have allowed 32 goals, fewest in the AHL while second-year centre Roman Horak is seventh in the league with 10 goals.
“They were playing really well when they came in here earlier this season,” said Gallagher, who leads the Bulldogs in scoring with six goals and four assists for 10 points in 16 games. He also leads the team with 55 shots on goal
“They present a lot of challenges and you need to be aware of a lot of their team. They have solid forwards, defence and goaltending and we need to find a way to go in there and get some wins. They don’t give up many power-play goals so special teams are going to be big for us, but at the same time we need to find a way to get behind their defence. There will be some pressure on me to produce offensively, but that’s something I enjoy. It is a good opportunity for me to go in there and try to get to the net to get some shots.
“The majority of goals are scored around the net and we have talked about simplifying our offensive game so we can get goals any way we can. We don’t care how they go in. We need to find a way to build some chemistry with our lines and find a way to get some dirty goals that can kickstart the offence. If we are working hard and doing the right things the goals will come. We know the strength of our team is defence and taking care of our own end and we focus on that a lot in practice.”
Lefebvre said he expects veteran defenceman Mike Commodore to make his Bulldogs debut Friday night. Commodore, 33, was signed to a professional tryout contract on November 22nd. He has played 484 games with seven teams over 11 National Hockey League seasons and won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-2006.
“Mike will bring size and experience. He’s won a Stanley Cup and in our locker room it’s good to have that kind of experience. Mike has played a lot of games in the NHL and he will not only bring stability but knowledge of what it takes to win in the NHL. We will manage his ice time. We want him to get right back at it and he has done pretty well in the last couple of days.”
Lefebvre said he hadn’t decided if Mayer or Cedrick Desjardins would get the start in goal for the opener. Desjardins, who had posted wins in his first two starts after missing 11 games with a groin injury suffered in training camp, allowed four goals on 14 shots in 30:28 in the Bulldogs’ 4-1 loss to the visiting Lake Erie Monsters last Sunday. Mayer made 13 saves the rest of the way.
“We’ll talk with the guys and decide on game day. Cedrick had a tough game and it happens. When you are out of the lineup for a while you are excited and eager to get back and sometimes there is a downer after that. We want him to succeed out there, he is a big part of our team. If he doesn’t play Friday it isn’t based on how he played in the last game. We know we have two good goalies and we want to utilize them.”
The Bulldogs allowed the opening goal for the 14th consecutive game and were down 4-0 before Palushaj got them on the board late in the second period.
“We want to have better starts, but at the same time, if we get scored on we need to battle back,” said Lefebvre. “We need to be strong mentally. We want to score first in every game, but if it doesn’t happen we can’t have guys putting their heads down or getting deflated right away. This is testing our mental toughness and we just need to be better every shift. We are aware of that stat, but we have other things to focus on and we don’t want to get paralyzed by that.”
The Bulldogs will visit the Syracuse Crunch on December 7th and the Hershey Bears the following night before returning home to host the Monsters on December 11th at 7:30 p.m.