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SAULT STE. MARIE, ON - Not typically recognized as one of the higher scoring clubs in the OHL, the Belleville Bulls rolled the highlight film on Thursday night in Sault Ste. Marie, taking a 5-3 victory over the Soo Greyhounds at the Essar Centre. A combination of nice goals, solid backchecking and a complete road effort saw the Bulls skate to their fourth consecutive win.
The Bulls shook off the bus legs early in the first with short shifts and a high tempo. After a win on Wednesday, the opposing Greyhounds looked to have their feet under them as they carried the first few minutes of action, pressing the Bulls off the forecheck.
After braving the early storm, the Bulls staked out the first lead of the hockey game as Joseph Cramarossa got the Belleville offense rolling 10:06 into the frame. After Brendan Gaunce's shot was blocked, Jason Shaw stepped into a howitzer that Murray couldn't control, allowing a rebound to squirt out to his left where Cramarossa was waiting for his second goal of the season.
The Bulls went 0 for 2 on the powerplay in the first period, but registered twelve shots on Matt Murray in the Sault Ste. Marie goal.
The second period saw back and forth action, with Belleville extending their lead to 2-0 midway through the period. After Jake Worrad hustled back hard through the neutral zone to strip a Greyhound of the puck inside the Belleville zone, the smooth skating defenceman brought the puck back up-ice, dropping for Sergey Kuptsov just inside the offensive zone. Kupstov whistled a hard wrist shot under the catching glove of Murray and inside the post at 9:08 for goal number three of the season.
The feisty Greyhounds weren't about to roll over and die though, as a pair of quick goals within 1:16 of each other had the score knotted at two again. Hometown boy and recently acquired defenceman Chris Buonomo got involved in the offence, creeping in off the point to draw a Belleville forward out of position before snapping a low shot past Subban on the glove side. Moments later Swedish forward Michael Schumacher was left alone in the goalmouth and given three whacks too many as the third time was a charm for his sixth goal of the year at 11:50.
Despite seeing their early lead slip away, the Bulls continued to send pucks towards Murray in the Greyhound net, and their effort quickly paid off. Jordan Subban picked up his second goal of the season 1:10 after Schumacher scored to tie it, reinstating the Belleville lead. Subban beat Murray with a knuckling puck from the high point that somehow evaded the Pittsburgh Penguins prospect in the crease. Jake Worrad and Niki Petti had assists on the goal.
The Belleville powerplay was back at it inside the final minute of the second as Michael Curtis extended the lead to 4-2 with a well placed shot inside the far post from the left circle. Credit Worrad with a great pass cross-ice, finding a seam in the Sault Ste. Marie coverage.
Although the Greyhounds managed to claw back into the game, the pair of Belleville goals that put the Bulls back ahead 4-2 effectively took the 3,716 on hand at the Essar Centre out of the game, as the Hounds embarked on a third period challenge of generating momentum in a quiet building.
The Bulls continued their steady play into the third, holding the Hounds off of significant offensive chances. With the knowledge that Sault Ste. Marie has come back six times this season when trailing or tied after the third period, Belleville approached with extra caution.
The brahmas took a three goal lead at 9:30 of the third when rookie Niki Petti jumped all over a Murray rebound after the Soo goalie made a big save off of Stephen Silas who crept in off the point. Austen Brassard's behind the back feed to Silas was the catalyst on the play as the Bulls found themselves up 5-2 with ten minutes remaining.
The Greyhounds managed to squeak out one last yelp before the Bulls managed to slip the muzzle on. Russian speedster Sergey Tolchinsky managed to break away from the crowd, beating Malcolm Subban on a backhand attempt in alone with four minutes left on the clock. Although the goal was briefly reviewed, it was ruled that the net coming dislodged didn't affect the puck's journey over the goal line.
Jake Worrad was named the game's first star with three assists in a 5-3 victory. In front of several relatives in Sault Ste. Marie, Worrad returned from a minor injury that kept him out of Saturday night's win over Oshawa. "I liked Jake's game tonight," said Bulls Head Coach George Burnett. "He, along with the rest of our defensive group really settled down after the first four or five minutes. I thought the pairing of Silas and Shaw did an effective job of shutting down Cousins and their big shooters."
The line of Nick Cousins, Michael Schumacher and Dylan Staples was held to one goal on the night. Cousins has yet to record an OHL goal against his hometown club. In four seasons playing against the Bulls, he's recorded four assists.
The Belleville victory saw some nice goals scored by a Bulls club that is better known for their lock down defence. "We aren't typically known as a team that scores a lot," Burnett continued. "I think we saw some nice skill up front tonight though, with the addition of our forwards improving in their ability to apply pressure off the back check. The one thing I'd like to see us do better is improve on our faceoffs. When you don't win those, you're doing a lot of chasing."
The Bulls move on to Sudbury for their first meeting with the Wolves on Friday night at 7:35pm. At 7-2-1-0, the Bulls are tied for first in the East Division with the Oshawa Generals. Bulls voice Jack Miller goes live from Sudbury with game coverage on AM 800 CJBQ at 7:20pm.