Gruden’s philosophy? Play ‘right way’
There’s something that matters more to John Gruden than a win or the number of points his players rack up.
It’s playing the game “the right way” — and it’s a phrase he keeps coming back to in interviews and in the dressing room this season. But what does it actually mean? “It’s battling,” the Hamilton Bulldogs head coach explained following Saturday’s loss to the Niagara IceDogs.
“It’s being a good teammate, it’s short shifts, it’s sticking to the game plan we give them and it’s skating on pucks. Getting to the dirty areas, winning one-on-one battles, working hard for your partner, discipline. It’s all those little details and habits within a hockey game.
“You’re not melting ice, you’re engaged,” he added. “Those are the things and, for the first time, it’s just a little disheartening. I expected our guys to be better.”
The Bulldogs jumped out to an early lead and later bounced back to knot the score in the second. However, with forwards Mackenzie Entwistle and Brandon Saigeon out of the lineup and Will Bitten, another topsixer, playing intermittently, they couldn’t pull off a win against a desperate IceDogs squad eager to snap a six-game skid.
“I don’t want to make excuses,” Gruden said. “Saig, suspension; Bitts with his ankle was in and out; Enwistle has mono; and guys playing too many minutes, probably, in situations that they’re not normally accustomed to. And again, it results in a loss. A one-goal loss.”
The 4-3 lost was Hamilton’s first loss in five games against Niagara this season, and its 14th by a single goal. Only one team in the Ontario Hockey League has more one-goal losses — the IceDogs, ironically, with 16.
“It wasn’t good,” Gruden said when asked if his club played the right way against Niagara. “They were fake working, cheating the game.”
Cheating the game. That’s another one of the bench boss’s favourite sayings — and it’s pretty much the opposite of playing the right way.
“All of those things I talked about before — if they’re not doing them, they’re not doing the right things,” he added. There’s good news, though. Despite losing four of their past five games going into Sunday’s matinee in Oshawa, the Bulldogs have been doing some things the right way, said Gruden — and more consistently.
The offence they generated against the IceDogs (who they outshot 41-32) is one example.
“Before, we were just giving games away with our decisionmaking. Tonight wasn’t like that. It’s a team effort, it’s a coaching effort. We’re in this together ... and we’ve got to figure out a way to get through the weekend with a win.” That didn’t happen. Against the Eastern Conferenceleading Generals, the fifth-place Bulldogs fell behind 2-0 in the first and never quite caught up. The result was a second straight loss — this one by a score of 4-2.
Eric Henderson led the way with two goals for Oshawa, including an empty-netter, while Renars Krastenbergs and Danil Antropov chipped in singles.
Saigeon and Niki Petti had the Hamilton markers.
Jeremy Brodeur was exceptional in goal for the Gens, turning away a whopping 43 shots and being named the game’s first star. At the other end, Dawson Carty had 27 saves in his ninth regulation loss.
With that, the Bulldogs fall to 1-5 in their past six outings. Their only win in the past two weeks came on Friday, when they downed the visiting Barrie Colts, 3-2. NOTES: Matthew Strome scored twice in Saturday’s loss to Niagara and Marian Studenic once — his third goal in two games. Oliver Castleman, Ryan Mantha, Akil Thomas and Danial Singer all found the back of the net for the IceDogs and Stephen Dhillon earned first star honours with 39 saves. Kaden Fulcher stopped 28 shots for the Bulldogs.
Bulldogs’ Marian Studenic gets laid out by a check Saturday against Niagara. Hamilton lost 4-3 to the IceDogs and 4-2 to Oshawa on Sunday.