The St. Michaels Majors are an excellent defensive hockey team but on this night the hometown Belleville Bulls tore into them for 9 goals. Peter Budaj played the 1st and 3rd periods and Andy Chiodo played the 2nd as the Major’s coaches tried to stop the bleeding anyway they could. The Bulls offense is potent and is assisted by the international size ice surface at the Yardman Arena. The Majors on the other hand use their size to their advantage at their home rink in Toronto, which is no bigger than an average living room but that size was ineffective against a strong Bulls team that dominated every aspect of the game including the physical side.
Michael Knight and Dan Growden were the most active Bulls players throwing their weight around, the latter nailing Michael Gough with a textbook hip check that sent Gough off for the rest of the game. Belleville’s captain Matt Coughlin had a less than stellar game on the blueline but redeemed himself with 2 decisive fight wins in coming to the aid of teammates. David Clarkson played with a lot of tenacity, as he seems to be gaining more and more confidence as he gains more valuable experience. He also created scoring chances with some nifty moves in the offensive zone.
The energy and flow are stymied in the small rink and the Majors have geared their team to take advantage of this. They have 10 players listed at over 200lbs and they use this size to clog up the ice and make it almost impossible to create breakout chances. The Majors have the best home record in the OHL to show for it and hats off to them for playing smart. The Bulls have smaller faster players relative to the Majors to take advantage of their large ice surface and also win a lot of games at home but they also provide more entertainment in my estimation than games in the smaller rinks. We saw in the Olympics how the game should be played, if there is one thing the IIHF has right over the NHL it’s the larger rinks.
The Bulls showed tonight that they can play with any kind of team as the bigger Majors tried to intimidate Belleville after they had been embarrassed in the first half of the game being out shot 32-8. The Bulls major weakness was displayed in the 3rd period, as it usually is when they are leading by a large margin. They get sloppy and allow the opposing team back in the game. The Majors to their credit never gave up as they kept battling and ended up scoring 6 of their own goals. Frantisek Lukes had a good game for St. Mikes as the large ice surface suits the small Europeans’ style of play. He looked much more effective in this game than he usually does in Toronto.
Belleville shows signs of being able to compete for the Memorial Cup Championship this year and it could be the last chance for this group of players; for the second year in a row they will lose 2 of the top scorers in the league as Mike Renzi and Nate Robinson graduate from the OHL. This team has scoring ability, physical players, mobile and stay-at-home defensemen and excellent goal tending barring injury.
The final piece of the championship puzzle is superstar Jason Spezza. He recorded his second eight-point night as a Bull with 4 goals and 4 assists. If you are one of his critics and you are out there saying he won’t make the NHL, be prepared to eat your words. This kid controls the game and has more imagination and vision than most pro’s in the game. His skating is the major question but he is improving noticeably and with some hard offseason work will be skating at an NHL level by next year. Spezza could carry the Bulls on his shoulders in the playoffs if need be and will no doubt be hungry to win a championship in what will probably be his last OHL season.
With rookies such as Clarkson and Rane Carnegie picking up their games and veterans Andrew Brown and Adam Paiement playing the best hockey of their OHL careers will have an excellent shot at winning the OHL crown and competing for the big prize in May.
LAST YEAR’S GRADUATES
Springfield Falcons AHL 62 18 21 39 64
Phoenix Coyotes NHL 3 1 1 2 0
Peoria Rivermen ECHL 45 11 12 23 12
New-Mexico Scorpions CHL 33 6 10 16 49
Quebec Citadelles AHL 15 0 4 4 6