By: Hamilton Bulldogs
03/08/2013 2:49 PM -
Story By: Stuart McComish
The Bulldogs, playing a three-in-three for the first time since October, will kick it off at 7 p.m. Friday against the host Grand Rapids Griffins, the top team in the Midwest Division and the highest-scoring team in the Western Conference, who also boast the league’s leading scorer, right winger Gustav Nyquist, who has 22 goals and 35 assists for 57 points.
The Peoria Rivermen, who split two road games with the Lake Erie Monsters earlier this week, visit Copps Coliseum at 7 p.m. Saturday and the Bulldogs will entertain the Griffins at 5 p.m. Sunday.
The Bulldogs, who have posted shutouts in their last two games, head into the weekend without leading scorer Gabriel Dumont, who remains with the National Hockey League’s Montreal Canadiens, and defenceman Greg Pateryn who was recalled by the club on Thursday.
“There are challenges this weekend and we have risen to them in the past,” said Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre. “It’ll be one game at a time no matter the opponent and we will keep playing like we have. That’s how we will win, it doesn’t matter who we are playing against.
“You have to be ready to cope with any situation at this level. It gives opportunities for other guys to step in.”
The Bulldogs, with a record of 23-27-1-5, have nine wins in their last 13 games and Lefebvre said his team is playing with more confidence.
“They have a little swagger. The guys understand we need 20 guys to win games and we can not have any passengers. Everybody is chipping in one way or another and they take pride in contributing.”
The Bulldogs have not surrendered more than three goals in a game since a 6-4 road win over the Toronto Marlies on Feb. 6.
“If you look back this season we have played pretty well defensively,” said Lefebvre. “In a lot of games, every time we made a mistake the puck ended up in our net. Sometimes you need to go those tough times to become a winner and I think we have learned all season from those painful lessons.”
Lefebvre said he has never lost confidence in his squad.
“You can’t lose track of what they have to learn and what they need to do on a nightly basis. It can feel frustrating to have to repeat things, but that’s what coaching is. It’s nice now to see guys doing the right thing and doing it together.”
Despite his team’s struggles at times this season Lefebvre said he has continually stressed unity and a team-first concept.
“I felt bad for the guys because they were working so hard and doing good things, but we weren’t always rewarded with two points. I always told them to keep plugging and staying dedicated and passionate. I told them if they stayed within the structure and kept doing the right things that they would be rewarded at some point.”
The Bulldogs are last in the Western Conference with 20 games remaining and sit 10 points out of the last playoff spot. Six points separate the bottom five teams in the conference.
“We need to take care of our own business,” said Lefebvre. “Who knows what else is going to happen. We can’t focus on what other teams are doing, we have to focus on what we need to do.”