Saigeon surg­ing for Bull­dogs

‘HE HIT THE RE­SET BUT­TON’

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - TERI PECOSKIE

Bran­don Saigeon hasn’t just turned his game around. He’s turned it on its head. In less than a year, the Grimsby na­tive has gone from hav­ing one of the worst plus-mi­nus rat­ings on his team (mi­nus-25) to lead­ing the Hamil­ton Bull­dogs with an im­pres­sive plus-23.

He’s scored seven goals in his last four out­ings and nearly tripled last sea­son’s point tally with a dozen games still to play. He’s also been a huge fac­tor in Hamil­ton’s cur­rent five-game win streak.

Yet, what’s in­ter­est­ing is not the fact that Saigeon is play­ing so well — as an On­tario Hockey League first rounder, he’s al­ways had the po­ten­tial. What’s in­ter­est­ing is the jour­ney. Rewind to last sea­son.

Af­ter a de­cent de­but with the Belleville Bulls, the six-foot-two, 200-pound cen­tre started the 2015-16 cam­paign in Hamil­ton slowly. He had one point in Septem­ber, two in Oc­to­ber and, by the end of De­cem­ber, had eight.

In Jan­uary, the Bull­dogs made some moves that gave the 18-yearold more ice time and op­por­tu­nity. He took ad­van­tage and it showed in his num­bers, which started steadily tick­ing up. Then, just like that, his sea­son was over.

Three weeks af­ter the trade dead­line, Saigeon got tan­gled up with a Mis­sis­sauga Steel­heads player and went ca­reen­ing into his own net. He broke one bone in his fore­arm and cracked an­other.

“I’m not look­ing back,” he said at the time. “I know what I’m ca­pa­ble of for next year and the year af­ter that. So my goal is to bring a cham­pi­onship to Hamil­ton and be one of the key guys to con­trib­ute.”

He trained hard all sum­mer — eat­ing clean, lift­ing weights, run­ning hills and car­ing for his arm. But this sea­son, again, it took him a few months to find his groove.

“He re­al­ized what he was do­ing in the past wasn’t work­ing,” said head coach John Gru­den.

“He was fo­cus­ing so much on the point part of it and not tak­ing care of the de­fen­sive side.”

So, to­gether, they hit the re­set but­ton. Gru­den helped Saigeon un­der­stand the value of play­ing a 200-foot game and held him ac­count­able — putting him on the fourth line, and even mak­ing him a healthy scratch — when he didn’t.

But he lis­tened, “and now he’s play­ing re­ally good hockey on both sides and get­ting rewarded for it.”

Saigeon, who’s fourth in team scor­ing with 41 points, is hum­ble when asked about his jour­ney. He’s also quick to give credit to his line­mates Michael Cra­marossa and Will Bit­ten, who, in his words, “have been awe­some.”

Like their coach, how­ever, the two wingers rec­og­nize that Saigeon has put the work in.

He’s go­ing to the net, play­ing well de­fen­sively and cre­at­ing of­fen­sive op­por­tu­ni­ties — in short, he’s mak­ing ev­ery­one around him bet­ter.

“It’s great for us,” said Cra­marossa, “so, hope­fully, he keeps it up.”

Saigeon and his team­mates will try to make it six straight wins in Bar­rie Thurs­day. Here’s a look at what they’re up against: At Bar­rie Thurs­day, 7:30 p.m. The sto­ry­line: The Colts are the last­place team in the OHL, but can’t be un­der­es­ti­mated — they won their first meet­ing with the Bull­dogs this sea­son and came close in the two af­ter that Player to watch: An­thony Ste­fano is sec­ond in team scor­ing and leads the Colts with three goals and two as­sists against Hamil­ton No­table alumni: Zac Ri­naldo, Alex Pi­etrangelo, Mark Schiefele Hamil­ton con­nec­tion: None

JOHN RENNISON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

How hot is Bran­don Saigeon th­ese days? He’s scored seven times in the past four Bull­dogs games.

JOHN RENNISON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Bran­don Saigeon: “My goal is to bring a cham­pi­onship to Hamil­ton and be one of the key guys to con­trib­ute.”

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