Belleville Bulls rebound with help from 2005 eligibles

By Doug Pritchett





Last season, one of the biggest surprises in the CHL was the fact that<br />an expansion team – the Evert (Washingnton) Silvertips



One of the
biggest surprises during the first half of the 2004-05 OHL season has been the dramatic
turnaround in the fortunes of the Belleville Bulls. Last season the Bulls finished
with the worst record in the league by recording only 15 wins, missing the
postseason for the first time in 22 years.

Only 13 veterans
from the 2003-04 team were scheduled to return to the fall
opening camp, which would make this season’s Bulls team even younger than
the team of the previous season.

Despite
these potential problems, the 2004-05 team charged out
of the gate. With the first half of the season completed, the Bulls are second in
the East Division with a 16-13-4-2 record.

There have
been many factors that have contributed to the turnaround. Below are a few of
the on-ice factors.

Trades – The team has been very
aggressive on the trading front. So far, Belleville
has made six trades with five different teams in order to bring 12 new players
into the lineup. To swing these trades the Bulls have moved both players as well
as future draft picks. According to Coach Burnett, the common theme in these
trades for Belleville
has been the acquisition of more experience and depth. Several examples illustrate
the success of these trades: center Evan
Brophey
has increased his points per game from
1.00 at Barrie to 1.45 at Belleville, center Conner Cameron has increased his points per game from 0.11 at
Toronto to 0.38 at Belleville, defenseman Wes
Cunningham
has increased his points per game from 0.17 at Owen Sound to
0.38 at Belleville, and winger Jeff
Leavitt
has increased his points per game from 0.13 at Windsor to 0.46 at
Belleville.

Goaltending – Goaltender Eric Tobia
was the MVP of the team last season. This season he continues to perform well.
His save percentage has risen (from .898 in 2003-04 to a current .913), while his
GAA has dropped (from 3.69 to 3.12). Further, rookie goalie Kevin Lalande
has put up some impressive numbers as well, posting a 2.36 GAA, a .930 save
percentage, and one shutout in 15 games played. His save percentage is the
third best in the league, and his stats place him ahead of all rookie
goaltenders in the league.

Leadership, Character, and Role Players – The team has no superstars;
its success depends instead upon a good mix and combination of players. Marc Rancourt,
the captain, leads the team in scoring (43 points), followed by Evan Brophey
(42 points), Cody Thornton (28 points),
and Andrew Maksym
(24 points). Matt Kelly and Jeff Leavitt provide grit. Forward Evan Brophey leads
in the plus/minus category with an overall +7. The overagers
are: Eric Tobia,
Marc Rancourt
and Pat Sutton. There is one import
player, Martin Novak, and three 1988
birth year players selected by Belleville
in the 2004 OHL Priority Selection. These are John Hughes (1st pick overall), Matt Belesky (2nd round), and Shawn Matthias (6th round).
All three underagers are playing and contributing.

The Bulls
remain one of the youngest teams in the league. Eight players are in their OHL
rookie season, and two-thirds of the team is 18 years of age or younger, which positions
the Bulls for several more strong showings in the coming seasons. The youthfulness
of the team also means that there will be several Belleville players under consideration for
the next NHL Entry Draft.

There are
seven Bulls players with 1987 birth years eligible for the next NHL Entry Draft.
These are goalie Kevin Lalande, forwards Scott
Baker
and Ryan Berard,
and defensemen Wes Cunningham, Bobby Davey, Geoff Killing, and Steve Spade. Also, import player Martin Novak plus Evan Brophey have 1986 birth dates.

Of the
Bulls who are draft eligible, Kevin Lalande will end up drawing the most attention between
now and the next draft.

“He
has had an outstanding first half. He is poised, confident, and performing very
well,” said Coach Burnett. NHL Central Scouting’s
preliminary ranking has him ranked as second among OHL goalies. But if he continues
to play well, he may very well be ranked first when Central Scouting releases
its OHL mid-term ranking.

Also under
the spotlight is 1986 birth player Evan
Brophey. “He is strong, skates well, has
skill, competes hard, and has pro attributes,” said Coach Burnett. Although
Brophey was passed over in last spring’s draft,
he has a late (December 3rd) birthday, he has good size (6’2,
190 lbs.) and this season he has demonstrated both a scoring touch and sound
defensive play. NHL Central Scouting’s
preliminary ranking has him ranked as 16th among OHL skaters
eligible for the next NHL Entry Draft.

According
to Coach Burnett, three Bulls prospects currently under the radar are
defensemen Geoff Killing and Bobby Davey, and forward
Andrew Maksym. A good second half will raise their stock
as well.

The
team’s one previously drafted player is Ryan Rorabeck, taken by Carolina in the ninth round of the 2003 Entry
Draft. He has had injury troubles, sidelined by a shoulder injury during most
of November and December, but scored in the first two games upon returning from
disability. In the second half of this season it will be important for him to
stay healthy.

And when
the next NHL Entry Draft takes place, several more Bulls will undoubtedly join Rorabeck amongst the ranks of NHL drafted prospects.

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Future. Do not duplicate without
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