MONTREAL – The 2012-13 season was a learning experience for Hamilton Bulldogs players and coaches alike.
With nine rookies on the roster to start the season, a new coaching staff and numerous changes to the team taking place throughout the season, nobody really knew what to expect from the Canadiens’ American Hockey League affiliate over the course of the last several months. Despite his squad finishing last in the AHL standings, head coach Sylvain Lefebvre believes that many positives emerged over the course of the Bulldogs’ latest campaign.
|Sylvain Lefebvre believes that many positives emerged over the course of the Bulldogs’ latest campagn.|
"We really appreciated our first year in Hamilton. There’s a great working relationship between the three of us [with assistant coaches Donald Dufresne and Vincent Riendeau]. We saw a lot of each other this year. We spent much more time together than we did with our families this season," explained Lefebvre, who finished his first season at the helm of the Bulldogs with a record of 29-41-1. "Of course we wanted to win more often and develop our young players in a winning environment. But, I believe that a winning team has to battle through some difficult stages in order to get out of them, and ultimately become better players and better people."
In addition to having to work with so many first-year players, Lefebvre also had to deal with the loss of several of his standouts who joined the Canadiens over the course of the lockout-shortened NHL campaign. While he couldn’t count on the availability of those players in his lineup in Hamilton, the 45-year-old bench boss was extremely pleased with their progress at the next level.
"We faced some tough times, but we also lived some nice ones," said Lefebvre, who saw no less than 52 different players sport the colors of the Ontario-based franchise in 2012-13. "It’s great to see the progress made by rookies like Jarred Tinordi who’s now with the big club, and Brendan Gallagher after all he’s done throughout the NHL season. He showed us his relentlessness during the first 40 games of the season he spent with us, and he kept what he did with the Bulldogs going with the Canadiens."
|Brendan Gallagher and Jarred Tinordi
While the losses of Gallagher, Tinordi and Gabriel Dumont for the better part of the season hurt the Bulldogs, their departures afforded other prospects within the organization the opportunity to take their first steps into the professional ranks late in the year. The additions of Brady Vail, Olivier Archambault, Charles Hudon, Danny Kristo and Sebastian Collberg rejuvenated his team. Lefebvre believes that the few games they took part in can only help in their development down the road.
“Vail and Hudon are still junior eligible and will be back in the junior ranks next year. They had an opportunity to see what professional hockey was like. They had to raise their game a notch. They’ll have to play at that same level again next year and dominate in junior, without having to re-adjust," mentioned Lefebvre. "For Archambault and Kristo, they’ll be professionals next year. They’ll have a better idea of what to expect next season. It was definitely difficult for them to arrive at the end of the season like that after having played 40 games and play with or against players who already played 70. Those young guys had incredible experiences that will accelerate their development."
A lot like those youngsters that continued their learning experience in the AHL over the course of the last few weeks, Lefebvre, his assistants and several of his players recently arrived in Montreal to enter into the Canadiens’ fold during their playoff run. While they likely won’t play a front-line role during the NHL’s second season, practicing in a playoff environment and living the postseason experirence first-hand will undoubtedly be beneficial for each one of them.
"Being unable to make the playoffs in the AHL, for us as coaches and for the players, we’re learning just by being around the big club during the post-season," noted Lefebvre, who has established his new headquarters at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard. "We know that this year of experience will be a productive one for us in the future. For players to have a year of experience under their belts will be big. The upcoming offseason will be very important for them because they’ll know what awaits them, which isn’t always necessarily the case when you arrive in junior."