The Hamilton Bulldogs want to win the Memorial Cup in 2018. No, really.
That has never been more evident than on December 28, when the Bulldogs acquired veteran defender Riley Stillman from the Oshawa Generals for two second-round draft picks, a third-round pick and two conditional picks.
This team moved pieces of their future to win this season. The message is clear: the Hamilton Bulldogs are all in on a championship in 2018.
Stillman is a veteran defender and a fourth-round pick of the Florida Panthers in the 2016 NHL draft. In two full seasons with the Oshawa Generals, Stillman showed an ever-improving ability to move the puck and score points. The team made him an assistant captain in just his second season, a clear sign the team had faith in him as a leader both on and off the ice.
In his rookie campaign, Stillman played all 62 games for the Generals, scoring 21 points with 69 penalty minutes and a plus-minus rating of -9. He showed significant improvement on both sides of the puck in his sophomore campaign, scoring 33 points with 76 penalty minutes and a plus-minus of +6 in 62 games.
“Riley Stillman will be an excellent addition to our team,” said Bulldogs president Steve Staios via press release. “His skill level in both ends of the rink will give the coaching staff options making an already deep group of defensemen even better.”
That last part is what makes this move to interesting; this team already has a deep, experienced defense that can bring both speed, skill and toughness to the game. Captain Justin Lemcke is a tough, competent veteran defenseman who is known for his stay-at-home capabilities. Others like Reilly Webb, who was a sixth-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 2017, are known for their abilities at both ends of the ice. Benjamin Gleason is the most dynamic skater on the team’s back end, showing an ability to make plays and be an offensive defenseman.
What does Stillman add to this group? Well, he’s good at everything. He can skate. He can hit. He can score.
Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships. The Hamilton Bulldogs have defense.
The Bulldogs currently sit first in the Eastern Conference of the OHL, five points ahead of the Barrie Colts. They are third overall behind a special group of talent in Sault Ste. Marie and a fiery Sarnia Sting team.
The hill to an OHL championship and, just maybe, a Memorial Cup, is still steep. However, the Stillman acquisition helps. Don’t be surprised if this team isn’t finished dealing.
Get excited, Hamilton. Your Bulldogs are really, really good.
Shawn W. Smith is a writer and reporter from the Hamilton area. His work has appeared on Sportsnet.ca, SB Nation and Vice Sports. He is desperate to see the Tigercats win one more Grey Cup before he dies, but is losing hope.
***** Feature photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images