by Phil Phillips (@filphillips)
How can something so good, turn sour so fast ? That's a question the Belleville Bulls have to be asking themselves. After setting a franchise best record for the month of February going 11-1 and stringing together a 10 game winning streak, that seen the Bulls shut out Mississauga, Barrie and Brampton along with victories over three division rivals. They beat some opponent below them is the standings and finished the Western Conference portion of the schedule with a record of 16-2-2 after defeating the Erie Otters. Belleville scored 58 goals in February the most they have scored in any month this season.
March hasn't started so nice, I guess you could say it came in like a lion with the Bulls dropping back to back games. It started with a 3-1 loss in Kingston on March 1st ending their longest overall winning streak in 5 years, followed by a home ice 5-4 OT loss to Niagara the next night, that ended an 11 game winning streak at the Yardman Arena.
Don't get me wrong, its not all doom and gloom in Hastings County. With a record of 39-15-4-3 in 61 games played, the Belleville Bulls are in first place in the Eastern Conference with 85 points, where the Bulls have a 3 point lead on the Central Division leading Barrie Colts with one game in hand. Their lead in the East Division is by 5 points with 2 games in hand over the Oshawa Generals, who aren't going away. The Motor City Crew has gone 8-2-0-0 in there last 10 and are on a 5 game winning streak of their own.
Coach Burnett summed up the weekend telling the Intell that "Most of what happened was because we were in reaction mode, not initiation mode. The bench boss went on to talk about what his club learned saying "that we're not as good as we thought we were. We learned we've got a lot of work to do."
Friday night in Kingston, the Frontenacs brought a real strong fore check. The 1st period was kinda of slow but the Bulls managed to score first. Tyler Graovac scored his 36th from Jordan Subban at 14:17 of the opening frame. Kingston really came on strong in the second and third. Giving Belleville all they could handle out shooting the Bulls in the game 36-24. The Fronts out worked the Bulls the rest of the way. Kingston won all the battles and races for loose pucks.
In a lot of ways and by a lot I mean mostly all ways that goal was it for Belleville. Malcolm Subban was ok and wasn't the reason Belleville lost making 33 saves. The penalty kill was strong for both teams and both teams kept their collective cool, with each team only taking 2 minors.
Kingston got goals from Dylan Diprema, Sam Povorozniouk and Sam Bennett. Mike Morrison wasn't really tested all that hard but was good when he had to be making 23 saves.
The Kingston game was hard to lose, because its a loss to Kingston. Anyone worth their weight in Limestone knows that Belleville wants to beat Kingston as bad as Kingston wants to beat Belleville. Saying that, this weeks the lose to Niagara is maybe a little harder to take. Belleville had every opportunity to win this game and for a number of reasons it just didn't happen.
One thing for sure is this game had a little more edge to it. Not that there was fights because there wasn't and both teams took 16 minutes in penalties and both killed 5 penalties, so really no harm no foul as far as power plays go. But our old friend Mack Lemmon was very physical and since his trade to the Icedogs always seems to reintroduce self in an emotional way. Mack's hits vs Belleville have real meaning and he wants to show The Bulls staff that they made a mistake. Its easy to see why he's a fan favorite in Niagara.
Brett Ritchie scored his 35th in the first for the Icedogs and Aaron Berisha tied the game in the second with his 10th.
Starting the 3rd with game tied 1-1. Belleville took the dreaded 2 goal lead on goals from Carter Sandlak (8) and Austen Brassard (14). But at 16:20 Brett Ritchie scored his 36th of the season and 2nd of the night shorthanded and it fired up the Niagara bench. Carter Verhaeghe tied the game at 17:04 and Steven Shipley gave the visitors a 4-3 lead, their 1st of the game at 19:09 of the third. But low and behold with the 2955 fans at the Yardman on their feet and some headed for the exits, Alan Quine bagged his 20th to tie the game at 19:55 of the third.
By the time OT started must had finished celebrating and seen the teams play almost to the shot out but with 4 seconds left Verhaeghe beat a sprawling Charlie Graham with his 2nd of the game to give the Icedogs a 5-4 victory.
After the loss Coach Burnett wasn't pleased with the choices the Bulls were making and saying that the whole scenario might have been avoided had the power play unit protected the puck better, telling Paul Svoboda that "I didn't like our choices, we didn't need another goal. All we needed to do was keep the puck. We tried to do something that wasn't necessary" He didn't single anyone out, but just stated that there was plenty of responsibility to go around. The players know what happened with Austen Brassard stating that "We're scoring okay, but defensively we've got to get back to those things that made us successful". Bulls host the Ottawa 67's on Wednesday night and hit the road for the next three, playing in Sudbury Friday night, in Barrie on Saturday and Kingston on Monday.
Notes: What made the Bulls winning streak even more impressive is the bodies that have been out of the line up. OA Jake Cardwell missed 10 games and Carter Sandlak missed 2 games, both sat out due to suspension . OA Stephen Silas has missed the last 5 games and is now out indefinitely with a concussion and both Michael Curtis (knee) and 1st round draft pick Niki Petti (elbow) have missed the last 7 games. These are big holes to fill, anytime you lose two OA defense men its a lot of minutes for other guys to eat, even more so because of how little the Bulls staff uses Daniel De Sousa, its a lot of ice time for really only four guys to play. Austen Brassard filled in the best he could, but his body is needed in the forward ranks. With Michael Curtis out of the lineup, the Bulls are without maybe the OHL's strongest penalty killer. We all know that when injuries happen, it opens jobs for guys to step up and that young guys gotta play and yada ,yada, but at this stage in the season and with the Bulls looking to make a push for a league championship, you need all hands on deck. You need your best players, this season in Belleville is about learning, Jr hockey is always about learning the game, but this group is looking to prove that most are ready to move on to the next level and show what they have learned. Everyone on this team has accepted their role knowing that this is a real chance to do something special, but its tough for any squad to lose the type of players and roles that Silas and Curtis fill specifically. It says here that everything will be fine and that Belleville is a deep team and will move forward without missing a beat but everything is always easier said then done.