Well, here we are again at the beginning of another OHL season. I love this time of year, so much to look forward to on ice rinks around the world. Before I get going on the outlook for the Belleville Bulls this season, I would just like to congratulate Canada’s under-18 team on bringing home the gold medal, proving that we still have great talent in this country and the resources to develop it. I would also like to extend my deepest sympathies to all those affected, in whatever way, by the tragic events this past week.
I see that The Hockey News has picked the Bulls to finish last in the division for the second straight year. Pin it up in the locker room next to the division title won by last year’s team. I have contended in the past that it is a futile exercise to rank junior league teams because of the high turnover of players and the steep improvement some players make from one season to the next. Examples on last years team alone can be sited to make this point. Kyle Wellwood went from a promising young player to one of the best players in the league. Randy Rowe began his career in Belleville as a 4th line checker and ended up as the leagues top sniper. If prognosticators last year would have known these two players would have turned out that kind of season, I’m sure they would not have been picked last. So any way, let’s see what surprises the Bulls have in store for the league this year.
Mike RenziKyle WellwoodNate Robinson
David SilverstoneMatt StajanCody McCormick
Marc RancourtAndre DeveauxBrad Efthimiou
Alex WhiteRane CarnagieAndrew Brown
Adam Paiement- Injured (shoulder)
Gone this year are Randy Rowe and Branko Radivojevic as they leave for the pros.
This year’s line-up looks pretty good at the top, but I am of the opinion things will be shaken up if the top line doesn’t produce early. The line-up obviously will change once Paiement is ready to go. The 1st line is unquestionably very talented, maybe too talented. We saw last year that Wellwood plays good with a triggerman in front of the net. Renzi and Robinson both like to create opportunities with the puck and are too small to park themselves out front. I believe we could see Silverstone move up with Wellwood and Renzi pair up with Stajan again. Silverstone has shown a great slap shot and has good speed, he has also shown his toughness numerous times, but must stay out of the penalty box. The other major shake-up we might see, is when Paiement comes back, somebody’s gonna have to go. This could possibly be Andrew Brown, he’s a big strong winger that has been underachieving in Belleville. Efthimiou would then drop down to the fourth line to make room for Paiement.
Look for big things from Wellwood this year, he has dropped 20lbs and looks quicker on the ice as a result. He was good enough at the Leaf rookie camp to get an invite to the big camp, however due to many different circumstances caused by the World Trade Center tragedy, the Leafs could not keep as many players in camp as they wanted and therefore sent the junior players back. All the other veterans looked excellent in camp, second year guys Stajan and Deveaux looked faster and were both shooting well.
This was an excellent draft year for the Bulls, with all of their first four picks making the roster, three of which are forwards. Rane Carnagie showed a wide range of abilities on the ice in camp, he is sturdy on his skates, has good moves and a good shot. Jake Gilmour was drafted to add some size and toughness and at 240lbs and 17 years old he should have no problem doing that, needs to be a little more hungry for the puck. Ben Snell is a 6’4” winger with great hands and who will turn only 16 this month. Once he puts on weight and gains confidence at the OHL level he will be a force.
Matt CoughlinDan Growden
Adam Sturgeon Malcolm Hutt
Trevor BartonOliver Maron
Key losses this year include Mike Jacobsen (traded to Sudbury), Rob Dmytruk (traded to Sudbury), Nick Policelli (traded to Kitchener) and David Cornacchia. At first glance it would seem like the defense would be devastated. This is not the case however. Matt Coughlin has improved his skating and shooting immensely over the summer and looks to be ready to takeover the power play duties along with Growden, who looks to be in great shape this year. The other returnee, Hutt, looks good and along with Adam Sturgeon will make a good second pair. Sturgeon came from Sudbury where he was not used due to conflict with the Wolves staff.
Their loss appears to be The Bulls gain, as he has great puck skills and is smart in his own end. The last pair is made up of a couple of draft picks from this year, Barton was the Bulls second choice in the priority selections. He has good skating ability and puck skills but lacks a physical game as of yet. Oliver Maron was an import draftee from Slovakia. He is very skilled and is a smooth skater, he also appears to want to mix it up a bit with the opposition. Michael Knight is a rugged type d-man who had a good camp and could turn into an excellent stay-at-home defenseman.
Finally, between the pipes, Belleville gets both goalies back from last year, but I don’t believe they will both be kept. Chovan was drafted by the Leafs and needs all the playing time he can get this year to begin his progression to the pros. This means he will not want to share time with Colaiacovo like last year. However, Paulo is a good goalie as well and needs to showcase his talent, looking for camp invitations for next year. Add this in with the fact that Eric Tobia has played very well in camp and exhibition and I believe Colaiacovo will be traded. We saw this exact scenario play out last year with Cory Campbell, when Chovan played well and was given a share of the duties. I should also note that I attended the Bulls bantam camp and they appear to have a few goalies who will be challenging for a spot in the near future.
The Bulls open their season at home on Saturday September 15 against the Ottawa 67’s. And don’t forget it will be $2 for parking this year and beer will be sold in the stands. Enjoy.