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By Lucas Punkari - Fort Frances Times
With his time in the OHL having come to an end last Monday night, it’s just starting to sink in for Emo native Luke Judson that he won’t be suiting up for the Belleville Bulls again after spending the last five seasons with the team.
“There’s a whole lot to reflect on and I’m sure when the summer comes around, I’ll spend a lot of time thinking about it,” said Judson, who currently is touring universities throughout Canada.
“The biggest [thing] for me right now is that I’m happy with how the team did this year as we’ve won a lot more games than the last two seasons,” he noted.
“And in the playoffs, we were able to push Ottawa to six games, which was something that not many people thought we would do.”
The 21-year-old Judson, who had 39 points in 67 games for the Bulls this season, captained his team to a 35-32-1-0 record, which earned them seventh place in the highly-competitive Eastern Conference.
“I don’t think I’ve seen a year where it was so close going from fourth place to ninth place in the standings,” he remarked.
“And if you had one bad weekend, you could find yourself right out of a playoff spot.
“It was exciting to play in that environment,” he added. “But it was also great to know that we didn’t have to wait until the final day of the regular season in order to make the playoffs as that made things better for us.”
The Bulls’ roster looked more like a M*A*S*H ward at times this past season with players going in and out of the lineup due to injury, which led to a lot of juggling.
“In my case, I ended up spending a lot of time on defence, which was a little bit of a change for me as I hadn’t played there since I was playing in the Novice age group,” Judson noted. “But I wasn’t afraid to go back there and give it a try.
“And with everyone playing different spots, I think it helped us out a lot going into the playoffs as we got to know some different linemates,” he reasoned.
Heading into their Eastern Conference quarter-final series against the second-place Ottawa 67’s, many pundits thought the Bulls wouldn’t put up much of a fight. But that just gave Judson and his teammates extra motivation.
“It probably didn’t hurt us all that much as far as motivation goes,” he said. “Obviously, there’s always pressure going into a series, but I think Ottawa might have had a little bit more going into the playoffs as they were in the same spot last year and were swept by [the] Sudbury [Wolves].”
After falling behind 2-0 following losses in Ottawa, the Bulls bounced right back with two dramatic overtime wins at the Yardmen Arena in Belleville to even the series, with Game 3’s triumph being a truly dramatic affair.
“We were down 3-1 in the third period in that game,” Judson recalled. “And if they had won that game, it would of been nearly impossible to try and come back.
“We fought our way back to tie it up and then Jordan Mayer [scored] the winner in overtime. And I think that’s what changed the series around and made everyone think that we had a little bit more life.”
But an upset was not to be. The 67’s regained control of the series with a 5-2 win in Game 5 on home ice before wrapping up the series with a 2-1 victory on the road last Monday.
As the buzzer sounded at the Yardmen Arena following Game 6, it was then that it began to hit Judson that this was the last time he would be wearing a Bulls’ uniform.
“One of the things that we do as a team following every game is to go out to centre ice and salute the fans,” he explained.
“It was pretty loud in there after that game, and it was one of those moments that I knew that it was all over, and it was pretty emotional.”
Part of the reason why the moment was a special one for Judson was the fact he spent his entire career with the Bulls’ organization, having been drafted by the team in the fifth round of the 2007 OHL priority selection.
“Not many guys can say that they have spent their entire OHL career in one city,” he noted.
“Usually you don’t end up playing your over-age season with a team, or you may spend your first season playing somewhere else before coming into the league, and you might be traded somewhere along the way.
“To play in Belleville for all five years was very special, and it’s a special place to me that I will be coming back to a lot in the future.”
Another memorable moment for Judson was when he was named the winner of the team’s Jake Gilmour Memorial Award, presented to the Bulls’ player who best demonstrates pride in the jersey, passion for the game, and respect for fans, teammates, and opponents, for the third-straight season.
“That’s probably the most special award that I’ve won in my time in Belleville, and for the fans to appreciate what I’m doing on the ice and out in the community is very important,” he enthused.
With his OHL tenure now complete, Judson currently is looking at all of his options for next season. At the moment, he’s visiting a number of CIS programs that he could be suiting up for this fall.
“I’m basically travelling everywhere right now,” he joked.
“What I’m looking for is a combination of a place where I can get a good education, and to also play for a good hockey team as I want to be playing for a team that has a chance to win it all, wherever I end up going.
“Right now, I’m just trying to narrow it down more than anything as I don’t want to be doing tours all summer,” he reasoned.
Still, Judson is not giving up on his main goal of signing a contract in the pro ranks.
“As far as that goes, there are teams still dabbing around for as early as next season, and I’m still trying to get those doors open for something this summer,” he explained.
“That’s still the ultimate goal, but you always have to have a back-up plan,” he stressed.