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PLYMOUTH, MI - Some games don't start the way you'd like, but the Belleville Bulls showed on Saturday that packing it in isn't always the only option. Rather than take their foot off the gas after falling behind 2-0, the relentless Bulls battled back to take a 3-2 shootout win at the Compuware Arena, their first win in the building since March 1st, 2008. Malcolm Subban made 33 saves while younger brother Jordan pitched in with two assists before Joseph Cramarossa collected the shootout winner.
Pulling two points out of the Compuware Arena can be a daunting task. The Bulls learned that quickly on Saturday night, as the Whalers struck just 51 seconds into the first period. Former Bull Alex Aleardi, who might be the fastest player in the OHL, wheeled the puck up-ice, curling around the Belleville goal before finding overaged captain Colin MacDonald alone on the point. MacDonald fired a low shot on the Belleville goal that was tipped past Malcolm Subban by Ottawa Senators first round draft pick Stefan Noesen. The opening night crowd at the Compuware exploded as the Whalers grabbed the early momentum.
Mike Vellucci's Whalers struck again at 8:42, when 18 year-old rookie Ryan Hartman collected his first career OHL goal. The former member of the US National Development Program capitalized on a turnover at the Plymouth blueline as the Bulls failed to get the puck in deep, prompting an odd-man rush the other way. Tom Wilson dropped for Hartman, who made no mistake, beating Subban over the glove hand on the short side.
Still determined to make a game of it though, Belleville didn't let up as Austen Brassard scored his second goal in as many nights, swatting a rebound past Matt Mahalak after the lanky netminder couldn't handle a routine Jordan Subban wrister from the half wall in the Plymouth zone.
Brassard`s goal at 14:45 seemed to give the Bulls new life as they escaped a forgettable first period, being outdone 9-2 in scoring opportunities. Despite allowing a pair of goals, Subban's presence in the crease was a large reason the Bulls came out of the first relatively unharmed.
The second period saw a vast improvement from Belleville. The pesky line of Garrett Hooey, Carter Sandlak and Alex Carnevale was buzzing, delivering checks and making life miserable for the opposition. Plymouth's grinders were out in full force as well, with Tom Wilson and Cody Payne doing their best to answer the call.
Persistent work paid off 6:17 into the second when Sandlak was the beneficiary of Hooey's signature sandpaper style. Hooey busted out of the corner with the puck and was muscled off the biscuit before Sandlak swooped in and put it in the basket with Mahalak out of position. Credit Carnevale for some strong play along the boards in the Plymouth zone leading up to the goal.
Despite being outshot 10-7 in the second, the Bulls registered five good scoring chances. The second frame also saw some physicality, with Brady Austin being pushed into the boards from behind by Whalers rookie Zach Bratina. Coming to the aid of his teammate was defenceman Adam Bignell who squared off with big Plymouth forward Connor Sills in the corner. Both players received game misconducts for being the third man into a fight.
The two clubs set the stage for a highly anticipated third period, and delivered the goods as expected. The Bulls tightened up and played their defensive brand of hockey, allowing just seven third period shots. The last one however, was a huge save by Malcolm Subban to push the game into overtime and clinch the Bulls a point in a tough building. Ryan Hartman's first shot off the rush was blocked, but despite being out of position in reaction to the first attempt, Subban reached back to rob Hartman's second attempt with the glove hand with no time left on the clock.
The overtime saw action both ways, with the Bulls controlling their fair portion of the play. Subban made a big save off of Tom Wilson to preserve the tie while, at the other end, Mahalak turned aside a glorious opportunity by Jake Worrad as he swatted at a rebound but couldn't finish.
With Subban in goal, the Bulls put the Whalers away in the shootout as Joseph Cramarossa beat Mahalak through the legs on a backhand on the Bulls' second attempt. Subban continued his run of success in shootouts, making saves off Stefan Noesen, Alex Aleardi and Garrett Meurs.
The Bulls start their season with a successful Western Conference campaign with victories in Sarnia and Plymouth, bringing home four of a possible four points.
The Bulls continue their current road trip next Friday when they visit the Brampton Battalion at 7:30pm.