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Photo Credit: Aaron Bell/OHL Images
BELLEVILLE, ON - It was right around this time last season that the Belleville Bulls began seeing their good habits translate into success. It's still early, but the Bulls' intense physical play, speed and teamwork are paying dividends in the win column as a 4-1 victory over the Oshawa Generals on Saturday has the club taking nine of a possible ten points in their last five games.
Malcolm Subban was at his best, checks were being finished and the Bulls' compete level was at it's peak on Saturday night, as goals from Brendan Gaunce, Austen Brassard, Daniil Zharkov and Michael Curtis paved the way to victory.
A rough n' tumble first period saw an abundance of nastiness from both sides of the puck as Oshawa bruisers Scott Sabourin, Scott Laughton, and Tyler Biggs were out throwing their weight around while the Bulls answered the call, with several big hits from Carter Sandlak, Brady Austin and Scott Simmonds.
With the big boys out to play, the Bulls took to the scoresheet early on, taking advantage of the presence of rookie Ken Appleby in goal for Oshawa, making his first career OHL start. The Bulls promptly put an end to any shutout streak Appleby might compile to start his tenure in the league, as Brendan Gaunce lit the lamp 1:23 into the first period on a hard work play by linemate Joseph Cramarossa. Tangled up with Oshawa defender Matt Petgrave, Cramarossa still managed to work his stick free to poke a loose puck through the slot to a waiting Gaunce who hit a gaping cage.
The Bulls increased their lead on the powerplay 4:43 into the frame as Jordan Subban continued to display his high calibre vision and puck skills, opening a seam in the Oshawa box to find Austen Brassard cross-ice as the Windsor native beat Appleby to make it 2-0.
Generals Head Coach DJ Smith clearly had some strong words for his players after the club fell behind early, as Oshawa elevated their physical game in the minutes to follow, challenging the Bulls to keep pace. Belleville would counter, eventually outshooting the Generals 14-12 in the period.
Clearly not accustomed to trailing after one period, the Generals came out like gangbusters in the second period, pressing Belleville hard off the forecheck and sending everything toward Malcolm Subban in the Belleville goal. Despite being outplayed, the Bulls defence was still doing a good job containing the Oshawa attack, limiting their forwards to shots coming mainly from the perimeter in the offensive zone.
Oshawa's persistence paid off 8:51 into the period, as big defender Josh Brown won a puck battle, allowing teammate Scott Laughton to grab the loose puck and dish up-ice just in time for Chris Carlisle to emerge from the penalty box. The sophomore defender busted in over the blueline alone, beating Subban with a low shot on the blocker side for his first career OHL goal in 41 games played.
With a sense of renewal, the Generals kept pressing, making the Bulls work for pucks, eventually outshooting them 17-4 in the second.
Oshawa showed early signs of pressure in the third period, but a Belleville goal stopped their train of momentum in it's tracks. Daniil Zharkov flashed his NHL calibre shot, beating Appleby from down the right with at 2:37. With an assist on the goal, Brady Austin made it a three point night and was eventually named the game's second star.
After a period of stiff resistance, the Bulls were finally able to put Oshawa away with an empty net goal from Michael Curtis with 21 seconds remaining. Despite being outshot 16-10 in the third period and 45-28 on the night, the Bulls skated away with two points.
Malcolm Subban was rightfully deserving of the game's first star award. He and goaltending partner Charlie Graham have now combined to stop 105 of the last 107 shots they've faced in a pair of victories over Brampton and Saturday's over Oshawa.
Bulls rookie winger Chad Heffernan locked horns with Oshawa defenceman Josh Brown for a second time this season to close out the game. The two had a long bout that saw each of them exchange big right hands before the officials stepped in.
The 6-2-1-0 Bulls sit tied for second in the Eastern Conference headed into Sunday. They're off until Thursday night when they travel north to battle the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds at 7:07pm. They'll then visit the Sudbury Wolves on Friday night at 7:35pm.