Bulls Charged Through Inaugural OHL Season
After claiming their historic first OHL win against the Kingston Canadiens, the expansion Belleville Bulls were looking for more.
They got it quickly, winning their second game when captain Dunc McIntyre tipped in the winner to give the home team a 4-3 overtime win over Brian Kilrea’s Ottawa 67’s.
After that pair of home wins, the Bulls traveled to Kitchener to face the defending OHL champions.
16 fights and 314 penalty minutes later, the Bulls were handed their first defeat -an 8-2 loss to the Rangers.
The game started with a fight between Craig Kitchener and Mike Moher in the warm-up and escalated to the point where fans were throwing pop cans at the bench, At one point, coach Larry Mavety tore off his jacket and was ready to go into the stands after the culprits.
Cooler heads prevailed; the cops charged the can thrower and the Bulls left with their first loss.
Future Bulls’ coach and Belleville native Lou Crawford scored Kitcheners sixth goal and then ended the game with a fight with Crocock.
The club skated to an impressive 9-3 record at home to start the seaon, but Mavety was concerned with their play away from the Quinte Sports Centre – the Bulls were winless in 10 road games.
Mavety challenged his squad to start looking for better results on the road.
Nicholls responded with a pair of goals against his former team to lead the Bulls to a 6-3 win in Windsor in late November.
It was their first win on the road and Nicholls took a great amount of pride in helping the Bulls achievement while giving the Spitfires cause to consider why they left him unprotected in the off-season.
First round pick Dan Quinn had trouble finding the net early in his rookie season, but caught fire in November and had 30 points by early December including a hat trick and an assist in a 6-5 win over Kingston on December 12.
One week later, the Bulls picked up a 4-2 win against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
It was the Bulls 15th win and set a new record for an OHL expansion team.
“I think it was a very exciting time for the Bulls, not only for the players themselves, but also for the city,” MacIntyre said.
“By the second half of the season, we were legitimately contending for the playoffs and teams knew that when they came in to Belleville to play or when we traveled to their hometowns that it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park for them. It was going to be a tough game.”
“At a major level of hockey, Belleville is probably the most successful expansion team in the history of expansion,” Branch was quoted in The Hockey News. “That is because a lot of preparation went into having them join our league.”
After some roster shuffling before the January trade deadline that brought in overager Tony Butorac and defencemen Scott Defoe and Ian Macinnes, the Bulls hit a rough stretch in January.
They started the month tied with the Cornwall Royals for a playoff spot, but lost MacIntyre -the club’s top scorer -with a concussion and Defoe briefly left the club to ponder his future in the game.
Nicholls was sent to Kitchener for Mike Clayton, who brought playoff experience to the Bulls’ blueline.
The highlight of the month was back-to-back wins over the Rangers – who went on to win the Memorial Cup including a 6-5 overtime win in Kitchener. They lost two straight games in February when the winning goal bounced in off of a Bulls’ defenceman.
They also dropped a 5-4 overtime win to Kingston despite outshooting them 42-24.
Mavety told the local media that for his team to win games, they would have to be a lot tougher than they had been of late.
He assembled his squad for a meeting in late February to tell them as much. He wasn’t looking for bench clearing brawls as much as aggressive work in the corners and making their opponents pay a physical price.
Two days later, Mavety and four players were suspended after a brawl with the Toronto Marlies at Maple Leaf Gardens.
Goalie Ken Porteous was one of the players suspended he would miss the remainder of the season for his part in the incident.
The loss of players gave the Bulls the opportunity to call up “Cowboy” Joe McCallion from the Brampton Warriors. McCallion was instrumental in the Bulls Tier II win and scored a pair of goals in his first two OHL games.
A 2-1 loss to Sudbury on February 28 officially eliminated the Bulls from the playoffs. The team closed out the home schedule of their first OHL season with a 4-3 win over Kingston.
The 2,200 fans in attendance at the Quinte Sports Centre gave the club a standing ovation at the end of the game and called the players out to skate a final lap around the ice. The Bulls’ 50 points doubled the previous record for an expansion team.
“We were small and we were young and we had some battles,” said rookie Marty McSorley, who earned his spot in the roster after an invitation to training camp.
“We had teams that would try to take advantage of us and I think they found out that they had opened up a hornet’s nest. They had their hands full.”
“I think that team set the tone for Belleville teams in the future,” Mavety said.
Excerpt from 25 Years with the Belleville Bulls (Bell, Aaron 2005)
Intelligencer photo courtesy Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County