Monday, March 19, 2007


Jaff Leavitt-A Perfect Fit Wellington

The Belleville Bulls recently played their final regular season home game at the Quinte Sports Centre. They bested the Ottawa 67s six to one, thumping the nation’s capital for the seventh time in eight tries this season. With a Sudbury victory over the Ottawa squad on the weekend, the Bulls will now face the 67s in the first round of the playoffs.

Prior to the game, the Bulls recognized two of their players for a special award. Andrew Gibbons and Matt Beleskey received the Jake Gilmour Memorial Award, named after the former Bull who passed away in November last year. The award is a good citizen award, in a nutshell. They received the award from Gilmour’s mother, and from last year’s winner, Jeff Leavitt. As soon as Leavitt’s name was announced, and he walked on the red carpet at centre ice, the crowd rose to acknowledge him with a standing ovation.

Truly a fine tribute. Leavitt has paid his dues in the OHL. The Picton native left home several years ago to begin his career with the Windsor Spitfires in 2002. Always a defensive specialist, he began his fifth year of OHL hockey with the Bulls in September. Born in 1986, this was his “overage” season. (Each OHL team is entitled to carry three overage players.)

Selecting overage players is always a difficult task for OHL management. They have to “give a little of this to get that”---referring to offence, defence, special teams, goaltending---whatever the case may be. At the trading deadline in January, the Bulls decided to trade for firepower, and obtained overage sniper Tyler Doig from the Guelph Storm. As a result, Leavitt was released from the team on waivers.

Bulls GM and coach George Burnett summed up his dilemma: “It’s one of the hardest choices we’ve had to make. There will always be a place for Jeff with the Bulls organization---now or in the future.”

Within a matter of days, Leavitt elected to join the Wellington Dukes. The Dukes were smarting from the loss of Justin Taylor, one of the team’s premier goal scorers to his parent club---the OHL’s London Knights. The Dukes had also lost goaltender Edward Pasquale to the Bulls earlier in the season.

Leavitt has more than filled the gap left by Taylor and Pasquale. He has been a force on his regular shifts, and has excelled as a penalty killer. An excellent skater, he sweeps across the tiny pond in Wellington, thwarting opponent’s efforts to get into the Dukes’ zone. He can also snare off an errant pass, and has scored key short-handed goals for the Dukes. A character player, he adds an element of maturity to the Dukes.

It goes without saying that the Dukes were thrilled to get Jeff Leavitt. The Prince Edward County native was both exhausted and thrilled following the Dukes’ playoff win over Kingston last Friday night. “This is really fantastic,” he told me. “It was great to be honoured by the Bulls’ fans. I really couldn’t ask for much more than that.” Bulls’ fans realized that it was the perfect time to honour Leavitt---for his skill, his patience, his tremendous effort.

Coach Marty Abrams summed up the general feeling of all Dukes’ fans after the Kingston game. “Jeff Leavitt is a quality kid. He is a leader, but leads in an easy going manner. He has a great personality, and knows that it is important to speak his mind---at the right time.” Abrams also paid credit to Leavitt’s circumstances in the OHL. “There was an enormous amount of pressure on Jeff when he returned to his home town---the Quinte area---never an easy thing to do. He handled that so well.” Regarding his return to the DukeDome? “We could not have asked for any more out of Jeff Leavitt. He really is a Class “A” kid, and will be a success wherever he goes.”

The Bulls are now gearing up for their playoff run. They have captured the Eastern Division title. For the most part, they have met expectations this year. They have done that with significant changes throughout the year.

The Dukes will have their hands full with St. Mike’s. They have been there before. And with Jeff Leavitt buzzing the opposition zone, the Buzzers will find the frustration others have had to get near the Dukes’ net---and even get over centre ice! Drop the puck!

See you at the DukeDome Friday night!

James Hurst

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