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BELLEVILLE, ON - The Bulls showed off some of their veteran savvy on Saturday night, grinding down a less experienced Guelph Storm club late in the game as a pair of powerplay goals sealed the deal in a 3-1 victory.
Garret Sparks and his neighbourhood friendly left goal post were the only things keeping the game scoreless through one period. Both Jordan Subban and Brendan Gaunce each hit iron in the last five minutes of the first after Sparks came up with some big saves early on.
The Bulls were doing an effective job of forcing Guelph turnovers and dominating the open ice with their speed at the Yardmen. The first period also featured a bout in the Belleville goal mouth as Branden Morris took exception to some extra shoving and dropped the mitts with rookie Tyler Bertuzzi. Although small, the relative of former Storm standout Todd Bertuzzi is willing to take on all comers as he got involved in his 14th scrap of the season.
The Bulls looked energized out of the gate, stringing together some nice give-and-go's and displayed an ability to use the boards well to create rushing opportunities.
A miscue at the Belleville blueline got the second period off to a gloomy start for the Bulls as rookie Jason Dickinson picked off an errant clearing attempt, eventually using Stephen Silas as a screen to beat Malcolm Subban over the glove hand. Guelph's second round pick this past May picked up his 6th goal of the season at 1:39 to give his team a 1-0 lead.
The goal seemed to kick the Storm into a monsoon as they were shooting from all angles, eventually narrowing their deficit on the shot clock to just 24-23 by period's end. Guelph collected ten second period scoring chances as Subban was at his best to keep the Bulls within striking distance.
Sparks continued to play well, and get a whole tonne of luck too. The Bulls struck iron a third time with under four minutes left as Daniil Zharkov was camped out in his favourite spot just above the right hash mark, beat Sparks but not the post with a low wrister. The puck sat loose momentarily, but Garrett Hooey wasn't able to muscle the puck away from the clutches of Sparks in the Guelph crease.
The Storm's hard work in the second period gave them a 15-10 victory on the shot clock as the Bulls regrouped in the dressing room, devising a plan to get their offence into gear.
The Bulls returned to the ice looking inspired as they competed their way to three consecutive third period powerplays. Belleville's defensive play was also stingy as the Bulls limited Guelph to three third period scoring opportunities, all coming in the first half of the frame.
The Bulls went on the offensive at 6:44 when Brendan Gaunce broke away from the pack. Gaunce forced a turnover at the Bulls blueline, with Austen Brassard collecting the loose puck and dishing up-ice to his linemate who made no mistake, beating Sparks with a quick release over the glove hand.
With full steam ahead, the Bulls were back at it at 15:19 as Stephen Silas unloaded a cannon from the high point that beat Sparks and gave Silas his third goal of the season and first since December 8th.
Joseph Cramarossa gave the Bulls some added comfort at 19:01 as Stephen Gaskin was in the box for the second time in the period. Adam Payerl fed the puck to Cramarossa as he skated in over the offensive blueline, displaying great patience to wait out Sparks and slip a backhander into an open net.
The well deserved 3-1 Bulls victory came in front of 2705 fans at the Yardmen, with Malcolm Subban earning first star honours as he made 34 saves.
"I feel like I'm back where I want to be," said Subban with a smile. "The injury required a lot of patience and coming to the rink everyday to rehab, it's nice to get back out there and stop pucks."
Subban added that he thought the turning point of the game was when the Bulls came out for the third period playing a tight defensive game. "It isn't easy to bounce back when the opposition kind of has you on the ropes. I thought our fans helped us get back into things tonight, they never stopped supporting us."
Brendan Gaunce continued his strong performance in recent outings, being named the game's second star with a goal and an assist. "I think Brendan exemplifies the kind of confidence we want to play with as a team," added Malcolm. "We need to go into Ottawa tomorrow and play with that kind of confidence."
The Bulls racked up an impressive 20 scoring chances on the night as their on-ice communication seemed to be at one of the best levels it's been all season. Belleville is now 15-10-0-0 at the Yardmen Arena this season.
The battle rages on tomorrow afternoon in Ottawa as the Bulls try and take advantage of a 67's club that hasn't been playing it's best hockey of late. Ottawa has dropped it's two games this weekend in one goal losses to both Peterborough and Guelph.
The Bulls square off with the OHL's leading scorer in Tyler Toffoli and his 67's on Sunday afternoon at 2:00pm. Bulls play-by-play voice Jack Miller goes live at 1:45pm with pre-game coverage on AM 800 CJBQ.