Last weekend the Belleville Bulls played what Bulls Head Coach and General Manager George Burnett said was maybe "the toughest part of our schedule all season". He called the weekend a big learning experience for some young Bulls. "We have a number of guys in our lineup who just played an OHL three-in-three for the first time. These three games might be the toughest part of our schedule all season and some of our young guys learned the kind of preparation and output it takes to stretch yourself over three games like this."
The weekend started with a 4-2 loss in Windsor Thursday night, followed by a 6-1 drubbing by the Knights Friday, but ended on a high note with the Bulls hanging on to defeat the visiting Guelph Storm 6-5 thanks in part to a 67 save performance from Charlie Graham.
After Saturday night's games the Bulls record improved to 2-6-1-1 on the season. A few weeks ago GM and Coach Burnett reminded us all that on any given night the Bulls could be dressing up to 10 rookies and that patience is needed. Burnett is right, fans, media and even himself and his staff need to stay calm. We knew the Bulls would be a different team this year, anytime a club has a long playoff run , you have to retool , you start a 3 or 4 year plan all over again.
This is a different year for the Bulls, George Burnett knows what he's doing and always comes through for his club, be it with trades or through the draft. he has always does well in both aspects since taking over the Bulls in 2004, he knows his club very well and has to be one of the best at finding players who fit his plan. Its hard to say if the Bulls can afford a total rebuild, literally . Its no secret that the Bulls are on a short term lease and have a strong season ticket campaign in place. For the Bulls to stay put in one of the smallest CHL markets they must meet certain seats sales numbers. It can and will be done, but its a lot easier to put butts in the stands if you are winning. Hardcore fans will show up through a full rebuild, but its tough to grab the casual fan when the team isn't winning, Belleville is a small city and good news travels fast, bad news travels even faster. Saying that I am in no way implying that the Bulls ownership would ever meddle in on ice affairs. This ownership trusts Burnett, he has the final say. And yes its early but right now the Bulls are sitting on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
The Bulls made some roster moves last week. 1st they moved seldom used D-Man Daniel De Sousa to the Saginaw Spirit in exchange for Peterborough's 4th round pick in 2014 and Saginaw's 7th round pick in 2016. The Bulls choose De Sousa a Toronto Marlboros Minor Midget product in the 2nd round (31st overall) in the 2012 Priority Selection. Daniel appeared in 44 games with the Bulls, he picked up 2 assist and 28 penalty minutes. When the Bulls picked The Mississauga native in the 2nd round in 2012, some of us thought it was a steal because many mock drafts had De Sousa going in the 1st round. He was never really given the chance to become the hard-hitting defenseman with flair that we thought he would. When he played he seemed to be prone to make mistakes, mainly because he was probably rusty or not really comfortable in the system because he never played. It was easy to see that he wouldn't be with the club long, after being a healthy scratch in his rookie season, this was his year right ? Not so much as he was a healthy scratch early on again this season. De Sousa is a smart skilled player who can be difficult to play against. Its our opinion that given the chance to play De Sousa will meet his potential.
The Bulls weren't finished, in a blockbuster the Bulls sent overage D-Man Brady Austin to the London Knights in exchange for Remi Elie. To be clear if it wasn't London calling I doubt very much that Brady Austin would have been moved. Austin came to the Bulls from the Erie Otters and played 139 games for the Toros, picking up 15 goals and 39 assists. He really came in to his own with the Bulls and that lead to him being drafted in the 7th round by the Buffalo Sabres in 2012. You never like to see fan favourites get traded but this is a real opportunity for General Manger George Burnett to reward Austin for being a real good solider for the Bulls. The Knights are hosting the Memorial Cup this spring as we all know, and now as a 20 year old Austin will get to end his OHL career playing on the biggest stage. We believe that Austin with his size an ability to jump in the rush will fit in to the Knights line up very nicely.|
Coming to Belleville is 6'1", 203Ibs Remi Elie. The Green Valley native was drafted by the Dallas Stars last spring in the 2nd round (40th overall). Burnett likes what Remi brings to the table. "Remi brings championship experience and a power game to our club," said Burnett of the deal. "He plays the game hard and possesses a good release from down the wing. We look forward to seeing what his skill and intensity will bring to our game up front.". Elie has lived up to the hype so far and has 2 goals and 3 assists in 3 games played with the Bulls.
In an other deal the Bulls brought in blue liner Mark Raycroft from the North Bay Battalion. In exchange, the Bulls dealt a 6th round pick in 2015 back to North Bay. An 18 year-old native of Woodstock, Raycroft brings a 6'2", 198Ibs. frame and a smooth stride to the Yardmen Arena.
New bodies are fine and dandy but Belleville needs more from it returning core. Captain Brendan Gaunce has 9 points in 8 games, but Gaunce has another gear, Brendan is most effective when he uses his size and strength to drive the net. Coach Burnett has already paired Gaunce with Elie and so far its been effective.
Jordan Subban has 8 points, all assists so far this season. Subban has the most accurate wrist shot on the team, and he's been using it just not scoring, but Coach Burnett called Subban and his defensive partner Jake Worrad (7GP, 1A) out saying the club needs more from them. Subban is expected to be an offensive leader on this club and he will be. One thing we've noticed is that teams are really targeting Jordan this season and its working. We have seen on a couple of occasions where Subban has become rattled from the extra attention, and thats something that Jordan has to expect if he wants to be an elite player in the Ontario Hockey League. Belleville needs Subban on the ice, he must stay out the box.
Scott Simmonds has had some early injury trouble but as an overager he has already scored 4 goals in 7 games, just 2 off his career high. Garrett Hooey has also been a nice early season surprise and is showing Bulls fans that he deserves to be in the top six. Luke Cairns has started to hit his stride. David Tomasek started out like a house on fire, he has cooled off a little but that was expected as he adjusts to the OHL.
Belleville needs more from Niki Petti (10GP, 1G,1A), and Michael Cramarossa (10GP, 2A). Petti is a 1st round pick and was drafted to produce offence. Not that anyone thinks Niki should be leading the league in scoring but 1G every 5 games isn't enough. We give Cramarossa a little bit of a break for a few reasons, one being last season he wasn't used a lot and 2 , although we understand that 3rd round picks also have to score, its our opinion that Cramarossa will in time fill a role on this club, a role that is a signature role on the Burnett era Bulls.
We can't talk about the Bulls so far this season without mentioning Charlie Graham. All he has done is face 361 shots in 8 games and has made 328 saves. Graham's GAA of 4.22 is a little high but as he makes save after save and his .909 save percentage improves that number will lower. I've been critical of Charlie early on, he seemed to be committing to early and hadn't really stole a game. That changed last Saturday when he made 67 saves in a 6-5 victory vs the nationally ranked Guleph Storm. Its not often that goalies steal games or are the games 1st Star when they give up 5 goals, but Graham was. He made save after save after save, I'm not sure what the scoring chances were but Guelph was firing everything at Graham. To be fair Charlie missed some time in camp with injury and has been left alone a lot, but I bet if you asked him he would say he needs to be better. Now that he has picked up his first win of the season my money says he settles down.
Notes : Bulls are on the road this weekend 1st in Erie. Wear we will get our 1st look at former Bulls Michael Curtis and the highly touted Conner McDavid......Then its off to Niagara to see our old friend Mack Lemmon and for the 1st time in his OHL career Bulls rookie Andrew Ming, will play against his older brother Eric who was recently traded to the IceDogs....
Alumni: Scott Thornton (87-91) is doing very well on CBC's Battle of the Blades....