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MISSISSAUGA, ON - In just his second game back in the lineup after spending three months recovering from a broken fibula, Carter Sandlak is looking better than ever as his pair of goals lifted the Bulls to a big 4-2 win in Mississauga on Friday.
Acquired in exchange for Richard Panik last January, Sandlak has brought a physical presence to the Bulls lineup, but an offensive touch is something he's starting to show more and more and on Friday it took control of the game.
Following a brief pre-game ceremony raising colon cancer awareness, the two teams hit the ice and battled it out in the game's opening ten minutes. Both goaltenders were tested as both Brandon Maxwell and Malcolm Subban set their sights on continuing their strong play of late. Last week's CHL Goaltender of the Week Maxwell came up with a strong save three minutes as in as Joseph Cramarossa and Dylan Corson teamed up on a two-on-one with Maxwell flashing the pad on Corson's low wrist shot.
The Bulls opened the scoring at 12:44 as Daniil Zharkov accepted a pass on the tape through the slot from Brendan Gaunce as the line of Zharkov-Gaunce-Brassard capitalized to get a cheer from the Belleville faithful on hand at the sparsely populated Hershey Centre. Zharkov swatted the puck over the catching hand of Maxwell as he was unable to move laterally quick enough to make the save.
Mississauga would answer two minutes later as two quick Belleville penalties put them in a hole five-on-three. With Joseph Cramarossa going off to the box on a disputed delay of game penalty, the Majors powerplay was licking it's chops and didn't take long to draw even on the board as Mika Partanen put the shot through Michael Curtis and Malcolm Subban's legs at 14:08.
Cramarossa nearly gave the Bulls a 2-1 lead with three minutes left when in the first when he rushed out of the penalty box and down the left wing but Maxwell was able to make a save on an attempt through the five hole.
Knotted at one early in the second, the Bulls managed to kill of a minor penalty as Carter Sandlak rushed out of the box, collected a Brandon Maxwell clearing attempt and sped in over the Mississauga blueline. After cutting around Brett Foy, Sandlak showed off his wristshot as the London native outpowered Maxwell over the glove hand for his 4th goal of the season at 5:42.
Despite holding a 2-1 lead, the Majors turned up the heat in the second period as Malcolm Subban was playing with confidence, providing timely saves to keep Belleville in the lead.
Mississauga outdid the Bulls 7-3 in the scoring chances department in the second, outshooting the Bulls 9-5. Subban came up with a pair of big saves off Sergey Kuptsov late in the second to preserve the Belleville lead into the intermission.
The Majors got to the Bulls with just over five minutes remaining in the third period after a relatively cautious frame played by both sides. Rookie blueliner Trevor Carrick's blast through a crowd somehow evaded the butterflied body of Subban and scooted past him low on the glove side. Carrick's 5th injected the Majors with some adrenaline as the Bulls would need to dig deep if they hoped to come away with points in a game that seemed to be turning sour for them.
Shortly after the Carrick goal, a crucial penalty put the Majors in a big hole. Rookie Ryan Duhaime cleared the puck over the glass from inside his own zone as the officials deemed the play a delay of game penalty. The Bulls would hit the powerplay for a second time after seeing limited result in their first advantage.
With thirty seconds left in the powerplay, Jordan Mayer managed to beat old mate Riley Brace to a loose puck along the half wall, setting the table for a Brady Austin point shot. Austin's shot to the blocker hand of Maxwell was tipped by Carter Sandlak in the high slot as the puck got past the goaltender to give the Bulls a 3-2 lead at 17:03. Michael Curtis would add an empty net tally at 19:54 to give the Bulls a 4-2 decision as they went home with two big points.
"When you're out of the lineup for three months you get that hunger brewing up inside you," said Carter Sandlak after his big night. The first star had a pair of goals and dished out five hits. "I've worked really hard to get back into game shape and our Assistant Coach Jason Supryka has had a lot to do with me getting back out here and finding success in my first two games, it feels really good."
With Adam Payerl out of the lineup for the next two weeks, significant minutes have opened up on the Belleville blueline as Luke Judson slots back into his position on the wing. "I think Jake Worrad has really stepped up his game for us on the blueline," Sandlak added. "With a combination of seeing his game develop from the stands and on the ice, he's definately taken on a bigger role for us and it shows."
Good thing the Bulls came away with two points on Friday night. The team bus had some problems in the parking lot after the game as the boys savoured the victory in an hour of team post-game bonding. Team bus driver Bob Heath got the issue taken care of and the Bulls were on their way as they prepare for a date with the Niagara IceDogs at home on Saturday night.
Losses by both Peterborough and Oshawa on Friday but the Bulls in a tie for 6th place in the Eastern Conference with the Majors. Belleville took four of a possible six points from Mississauga this season, going 3-1-0-0 against them.
Saturday's game at the Yardmen features the Eastern Conference's top ranked Niagara IceDogs featuring high end talent in New York Islanders first round pick Ryan Strome as well as current OHL goaltending leader Mark Visentin. Tickets for Saturday's 7:05pm game are still remaining. For ticket information, contact 613-966-8338 x 3885.
Saturday is Faith Night at the Yardmen as a pre-game skate kicks off at 4:00pm followed by pizza and special guest speaker Bruce Mackay. Bruce is a representative from Hockey Ministries International.
Lt. Col. Dan Harris will conduct Saturday's ceremonial puckdrop as the Bulls salute the troops at 8 Wing Trenton before they take the ice in search of more much needed points in their playoff drive.