by Phil Phillips
To say the least January of 2012 has not been kind to the Belleville Bulls. The Bulls have been two different teams this season, after being 10 games over .500 at one point, and having one of the best November's in franchise history, along with a couple 6 six game winning streaks. Everything was working. Well that's in the rear view mirror now, because January 2012 has been one of the worst in team history. Going 1-10, helped the Toro's see their record drop below .500, and fall to 9th in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Coming in to Saturday night Vs the Sarnia Sting, Belleville was on a 6 game losing streak, but worst they where also on a 6 game , record home losing streak. But as the great Yogi Berra would say "It ain't over till it's over." And for the Belleville Bulls, January wasn't over and The Boys wanted to send the 2,658 Yardman faithful that braved the storm, home happy.
The fun started before the game started. Belleville native Andrew Shaw of the Chicago Blackhawks and Bulls Alumni PK Subban of the Montreal Canadians where introduced to a nice ovation before the game. Both have brothers on the Bulls.
I want to take the time to mention that during this miserable run in 2012 Bulls OA Adam Payrel has played some of the most "Character" hockey I've seen him play for the Belleville Bulls.
Rookie Charlie Graham got the nod for the Bulls, with the Sting going with JP Anderson. The home town crowd would get to see two former Bulls in Sting defence men Alex Basso and Julian Luciani. We would also get a look at the potential number 1 pick in this years NHL entry draft, Nail Yakupov. The first period wasn't good, but wasn't bad. Belleville's Dylan Corson tangled with Jack Kuzmyk , The Bulls killed a penalty , but missed on the PP 3 times. they were out shot 13-8, but after being out scored 58-38 in 1st periods this season the Bulls would enter the 2nd locked in a 0-0 tie.
The 2nd didn't start well with Ludvig Rensfeldt,(13) scoring at 1:59 from R.Boucher and B.Thompson. It wasn't until 9:06 when Garrett. Hooey scored his 10th against his former team ,from Austen Brassard and Brady Austin, to tie the game 1-1. The lead didn't last long when Rensfeldt lit the lamp for the 2nd time from Spooner, and Thompson at 10:03. and 1 minute later at 11:04 Domenic Alberga made it 3-1. Not wanting to be down 2 goals going in to the 3rd , Bulls OA Jordan Mayer scored his 13 from Brassard and Steven Silas. The period ended with the Bulls being out shot 28-20 and trailing 3-2. But this game had a real playoff , must win feel to it and you could see the Bulls weren't ready to quit.
Brendan Gaunce opened the scoring right out of the gate at 0:32 with his 22nd from Jason Shaw. With the game tied 3-3, the Sting were not about to lay down, and scored to take the lead again 4-3 at 3:29 when our old friend from Kingston and Peterborough Ryan Spooner scored. But the third period belong to Belleville and when rearguard Brady Austin skated coast to coast and beat Anderson 5-hole to tie the game 4-4. You could feel that after being down 3 times in this game the home team would not be beat. In the third the Bulls out shot the Sting 20-7. and played really well, from front to back.
OT was some of the best hockey I've seen at the Yardman this year, everyone was on there feet. Bulls goalie Charlie Graham was great and doing his part, after getting his 1st career assist on the game tying goal, he stopped Yakupov point blank to send the game to the Shoot out. Belleville was 4-0 in shootouts coming in with the Sting being 1-4. After Craig Hottot slipped one passed Graham he wouldn't be beat, stopping both Spooner and Yakupov , two world class players, in what Coach Burnett called "a pretty unique situation for a 16 year old goaltender to experience". the Bulls answered with Mayer missing and Gaunce and Joesph Cramarossa beat Anderson, and the Bulls win 5-4. That ends January for the Belleville Bulls.