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BELLEVILLE, ON - The Belleville Bulls fell behind 4-1 on Saturday night at home to the Kitchener Rangers. The difference in this game compared to their recent losses however, was that they didn't allow the state of the game to stay that way.
An outstanding showing of teamwork, toughness and a relentless work ethic saw the Bulls claw back into the game to tie the score at four before the Rangers managed to ride off with two points after what was surely quite the scare.
The Bulls may be 1-8-0-0 in the new year, but their latest defeat was one that deserved a better fate as they outshot the highly skilled Rangers 42-24 and had them on the ropes for much of the third period.
The Bulls started the game off well as there was an immediate physical tone to the action with aggressiveness on both sides of the puck. That aggressiveness spilled over when Brendan Gaunce was sent to the box at 5:38 for a checking to the head minor, giving the Rangers their first powerplay of the night.
The Kitchener lead stretched to two just over two minutes later at 9:58 when Murphy picked up his second point of the night on another low point shot that was tipped in by the stick of Eric Ming in the slot.
Down 2-0 and clearly not pleased with the appearance of the scoreboard, the Bulls sent a clear message that they wouldn't be bullied as the Kingston Frontenacs were on Friday when the Rangers skated to a 9-1 win. Three fights went down in the final four minutes of the first period as Adam Payerl and Tyler Randell swapped punches, Ben Thomson and Joseph Cramarossa squared off and Ming and Jason Shaw mixed things up. The Rangers would lose Thomson (game misconduct for removing Cramarossa's helmet) and Randell (ankle injury) for the remainder of the night, a pair of key losses that would factor into the game's second half.
Belleville fans were right into the game once the beginning of the second period rolled around. If the fights weren't enough, the Kitchener Rangers fan bus accompanied the team on their Eastern road swing and gave Bulls fans a little incentive to vocally support their team.
Bulls fans wouldn't have much to celebrate immediately however, as Lorentz was back on the scoresheet with his 17th of the year with an assist from Radek Faksa at 4:01 of the second. Faksa and Lorentz broke in on a two-on-one, with the end result being Lorentz' attempted return feed banking into the net off the stick of a retreating Jordan Subban.
Scott Simmonds sparked the 2,453 on hand at the Yardmen at 7:25 with his second goal of the season off a tip. Former Rangers defenceman Branden Morris teed up a shot that was deflected by Simmonds past a sprawling Franky Palazzese in the Kitchener goal. The combination of Jordan Mayer and Garrett Hooey worked hard to create the scoring opportunity as the two would team up later in the game as well.
With the Bulls on their second powerplay of the night early in the third period, the hard work of Rangers captain Michael Catenacci paid off in a big way as he outmuscled a Bull along the boards in his own zone and quickly flipped up ice for the fleet footed Tobias Rieder. Rieder would proceed to work his way around a Belleville defender to deposit the puck in behind Charlie Graham who attempted to pokecheck the soft-handed German on the play. Rieder's 24th of the year shorthanded gave Kitchener a 4-1 lead.
Despite being up three goals, Kitchener appeared to be losing steam as the Bulls won puck battles and were clearly displaying the grit and tenacity they had shown early on in the season. The absence of Randell and Thomson was clear as Belleville seemed to be winning the physical game inside the Kitchener zone.
The Bulls powerplay came alive at 9:06 as Garrett Hooey was in the right place at the right time, beat Palazzese with a rebound through the legs as Subban and Mayer chipped in with assists.
Austen Brassard picked up goal number 22 at 11:14 after an accurate cross-ice feed through the neutral zone from Adam Payerl provided the Windsor native with the time and space he'd need to snap a wrister over the shoulder of Palazzese and off the crossbar to bring the score back to 4-3.
With all the momentum on their side and a clear aura of confidence in their corner, the Bulls pressed forward and would tie the score at 4 on a second goal by Hooey to give him his first career OHL multi-goal game. A bulldog down low in the offensive zone throughout the entire game, Hooey continued to wreak havoc on the Ranger defence as he was left alone on the powerplay to swat a backhand past Palazzese inside the near post at 13:50. The Yardmen erupted with energy for what seemed like the first time since the turn of the new year as the Bulls were back to playing their rugged brand of hockey.
Tied 4-4, a late slashing penalty to Jordan Mayer put the Bulls in a tough spot as the Kitchener powerplay took centre stage. At 16:39, Carolina Hurricanes first round draft-pick Ryan Murphy collected his first powerplay goal of the season as he slightly resembled Bobby Orr in a coast-to-coast rush before slipping a quick release in behind Graham on the blocker side.
Despite an honest effort, the time ran out on the Bulls who didn't stop trying until the final buzzer but came up just short in a 5-4 loss.
"This really sucks," said Hooey who was named the game's first star. "You hate to lose, but there were a lot of positives for us tonight. I really liked the way we didn't quit once we were down 4-1. I think we did a really good job of picking up our teammates tonight and pushing each other regardless of the result on the scoreboard."
Hooey spent considerable time this past week reviewing video of his recent performances.
"I watched my shifts from the past few weeks and realized that I just needed to simplify things," said the Hampton native. "I wanted to take some of the fluff out of my game and just get back to getting pucks deep and getting pucks on net. I felt good about my game tonight."
Head Coach George Burnett also saw a lot of positives in the loss, particularly the energy and desire the team showed late in the game. "I thought our guys really fed off the late game adrenaline and made Kitchener work for the two points. Unfortunately we gave Murphy a little too much time and space tonight and a player of that calibre is going to find ways to succeed when you allow him to do that."
The 5-4 loss gives the Bulls a 9-5-0-0 record against Western Conference opponents this season. Unfortunately, the Saturday night schedule in the OHL wasn't friendly to the Bulls as wins by Peterborough, Sudbury and Oshawa put the Bulls in 8th place in the Eastern Conference, three points behind Mississauga.
"We're going to build off the positive things we did tonight," said Hooey in conclusion. "We've got to get ready to go back to work tomorrow against a team we can't afford to take lightly. We certainly won't be doing that."
The Bulls visit the Kingston Frontenacs on Sunday afternoon at 4:00pm. Belleville is 3-1-0-0 in it's encounters with the Frontenacs this season. Kingston enters action on the heels of a rough weekend where they've allowed a combined 20 goals in a pair of losses to Kitchener and Oshawa.
Bulls play-by-play voice Jack Miller goes live on AM 800 CJBQ at 3:45pm on Sunday. The Bulls don't return home until next Saturday, January 28th when the Sarnia Sting visit the Yardmen. For tickets, contact the Bulls Box Office at 613-966-8338.