The Hamilton Bulldogs’ 2016-17 season came to an end on April 4. In just their second season since moving from Belleville, the Bulldogs had a record of 33-27-4-4 and made the playoffs. However, there was still a lot of issues that occurred throughout the season. Let’s take a closer look at the season.
The Bulldogs started off the season with seven wins in their first nine contests. How did they win those games? Well, scoring 49 goals in that same time frame helps a lot. In fact, that is how the Bulldogs won most of their games throughout the season. If they didn’t score at least three goals in a game, it usually didn’t go well. That streak at the beginning of the season saw the Bulldogs appear on the CHL’s Top 10 weekly rankings.
Unfortunately, that would be the best the Bulldogs appeared all season. They were never bad, but they could never reach that level of play they had in those first nine games.
The tale of the rest of the season can be described in one word: streaky. Any streak of a few wins was then quickly followed by a streak of a few losses. The time when this was most prevalent was from Feb. 4 to March 4. They started off losing three straight, followed by a season-best six-game winning streak, followed by another four losses in a row. The problem was that the losing streaks were usually longer than the winning streaks.
This led to the Bulldogs finishing fifth in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the Kingston Frontenacs. The thing is, what plagued the Bulldogs in the regular season came back to haunt them in the playoffs. They managed to win the first two games of the series in Kingston but lost three straight to be on the brink of elimination heading back for Game 6 in Hamilton. They managed to stay alive with a strong second period, led by Matthew Strome and won 5-2. That was their last win, however, as they would give up a 2-0 lead in Game 7 and lose 3-2.
As the Bulldogs season ended, three OHL careers ended as well. Niki Petti, Michael Cramarossa and Dawson Carty all were in their over-age season and have played their last game.
Petti scored 76 goals, had 95 assists for a total of 171 points in 286 games. After the season, he signed an amateur try-out contract with the St. John’s IceCaps of the American Hockey League for the rest of the season. He also signed a regular contract for next season as well. As one of the most respected Bulldogs, he will be missed but it is great that his hockey career can move on past the OHL.
Cramarossa scored 57 goals, had 107 assists for 164 points in 305 games. Nothing has been said about his plans for the future, but he is obviously wished well by the organization. Maybe his big brother Joseph can put in a good word for him with the Vancouver Canucks.
Carty was acquired from the Kitchener Rangers before the trade deadline and eventually took the starter’s job away from Kaden Fulcher. Carty had 50 wins in his 107 game career. He’ll always be the first goalie that led the Bulldogs to the playoffs.
On top of those three players who are done for sure, the Bulldogs could potentially lose Matt Luff as well. A Los Angeles Kings prospect, he could very well graduate to the AHL next season. He was called up to the AHL’s Ontario Reign after the Bulldogs season was over and recently made his debut. If he is not back, that is a lot of offence that needs to be replaced.
Getting Draft Ready
The Bulldogs had four players in the North American rankings released by the NHL. Although all four players dropped in the rankings from where they were in the mid-term rankings, at least three of them stand a good chance at being drafted. Strome is ranked No. 33, down from No. 19. Mackenzie Entwistle is ranked No. 44, down from No. 35. Marian Studenic is ranked No. 101, down from No. 86. Fulcher is the 18th-ranked North American goaltender.
Strome and Entwistle look to be second-round picks while Studenic will probably fall into the fourth-round or later. It’s hard to determine where Fulcher could go because goalies could go anywhere after the top names are gone just based on which team likes a certain goaltender.
Strome and Entwistle were both named to Team Canada for the Under-18 World Championship. Entwistle was named Player of the Game for the first game with one goal and one assist. With strong tournaments, they might be able to improve their draft stock.
All in all, this was a year of growth for the Bulldogs. While they will not be hosting the 2018 Memorial Cup as hoped, they will hopefully take another step forward next season and make it farther into the postseason.