Belleville Bulls update

By Bill Thompson

There has been a lot of action in the hockey world as of late. The trades are starting to happen in the NHL, certain OHL teams such as Sudbury have been trading like mad and the preliminary rankings for the 2002 NHL draft are out from NHL Central Scouting. With the hockey world usually looking elsewhere, the Belleville Bulls manage to keep a low profile amongst the hockey action.

The Bulls have had a very active season so far, starting with trading OHL star defenseman Michael Jacobsen to the Sudbury Wolves at the start of the season for Adam Sturgeon. Many Bulls fans were upset at this deal, but it was a necessary one in order to keep the 2 superstar forwards Mike Renzi and Nate Robinson and the much-improved Matt Coughlin who was selected as the Bulls captain this year; all of those players were overagers so one had to go. This looked to be a good deal as Sturgeon was a highly touted d-man that just didn’t get along with the Wolves management and Jacobsen is a wuss who doesn’t like to hit or get hit, but unfortunately none of the Bulls defensemen have stepped up to fill the offensive role Jacobsen had. Also going to Sudbury were defenseman Rob Dmytruk and forward Brad Efthimiou who have both been released. Jacobsen was subsequently traded to Owen Sound.

The Bulls started off the season well debuting at #4 on the CHL’s first set of weekly rankings. But it has been up and down since then. With a record of 15-12-0-0 the Bulls are not the tying type. It’s all or nothing, with most of the nothing coming on the road. Belleville is among the worst teams on the road with a win % of .385, but they are almost unbeatable at the Yardman Arena except when Ottawa’s in town. Currently the Bulls are on a 3 game losing streak but hope to halt that nonsense tonight at home against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

Speaking of the Greyhounds, Belleville recently acquired homegrown boy Steve Cooke from the Soo for a 9th round pick. Steve is the younger brother of Vancouver Canucks forward Matt Cooke. Steve had been playing with the Wellington Dukes in the Provincial Junior A hockey league. Cooke played his first game for Belleville on Thursday night against Barrie.

Another local boy made his debut with the Bulls this week when Eric Tobia started in net against the Sudbury Wolves. Tobia was a pleasant surprise in the Bulls training camp and technically made the team, but was sent to play with the Kingston Voyegeurs of the Provincial Junior A hockey league because the Bulls still had veterans Paulo Colaiacovo and Jan Chovan. However, earlier this week Colaiacovo was traded to the Barrie Colts for a bag of pucks and a roll of tape (10th round pick), which opened the door for Tobia. In my first article this year I stated that Colaiacovo should be traded, but the Bulls waited too long. He has played awful this year, which lowered his stock to almost nothing. At the beginning of the year they may have gotten a decent player out of someone, but at least now there is decent goalie situation in Belleville with a clear number 1 and a younger apprentice.

Scoring has not been a problem for the Bulls on most nights. Robinson and Renzi are 1 and 2 respectfully in the OHL scoring race with 51 and 50 points. Kyle Wellwood was right behind them until a deep shoulder bruise forced him out of the lineup for 7 games while he went to Toronto so the Leaf doctor’s could take a look at him. He has been in and out of the lineup for the last couple of games. Bulls rookie Rane Carnagie has continued to impress with 12 goals so far and strong all round play. He will be one to watch for the 2003 NHL draft. Second year man Matt Stajan has been very good this year as well racking up 30 points in 27 games. NHL Central Scouting took notice as well, listing him as #9 in the preliminary OHL rankings.

Overall the Bulls have been working hard and have shocked many opponents and onlookers who thought the loss of Randy Rowe and Branko Radivojevic would assure Belleville a last place finish in the east. With players like Andrew Brown and Oliver Maron steadily improving their play the Bulls they still have lots of surprise left in them.