Thursday, May 03, 2007
Bulls against Bulls 2007 Playoffs
Last year the Belleville Bulls celebrated 25 years in the Ontario Hockey League. Since their inception, many graduates have played in the NHL. A few of those players have hoisted the Stanley Cup above their shoulders.
The possibility exists that another former Bull will drink from the grail of hockey some time in the near future. There are still a few former Bulls in the hunt this year.
Local sports fans are following the exploits of the following: Daniel Cleary with the Detroit Red Wings, Jonathon Cheechoo from San Jose, David Clarkson who is with the New Jersey Devils and Jason Spezza from the Senators. Other players still in the hunt include Matt Cooke of the Vancouver Canucks, and Danny Bois---who played his first NHL game with the Senators this year, (and is on the “taxi squad” in the playoffs). Both are former Wellington Dukes.
Cleary is having an outstanding playoff run this year with the Wings. He played well during the regular season, but has taken his game up a notch or two in post season play. It comes as no surprise to local hockey followers, as Daniel led the Bulls with his brilliant play when he was in Belleville.
Coach Mike Babcock has been instrumental in helping to revive Cleary’s career. He gave the native of Carbonear, Newfoundland a chance to prove himself. Cleary took the proverbial bull by the horns, and has never looked back. At the beginning of the playoffs, Babcock had this to say about Cleary: “He can really finish checks and really hang on to the puck and can play on our power play. He’s just a good usable player.”
More recently, Babcock’s assessment of Cleary’s play is that Daniel is “our best player on the ice”. With his graceful style of skating, his tenacious checking, and his gifted scoring ability, Cleary has something to add to the Wings’ game.
On the opposite end of the rink stands Jon Cheechoo. Cheechoo gave us many of our fondest memories of the Bulls with his brilliant play in Belleville. Like Cleary, it took “Cheech” a little time to find his legs in the NHL. Last year he led the league in goal scoring, capturing the Rocket Richard Trophy. His goal totals are off a little this year; nonetheless, he is a star with the Sharks, and a perfect fit with Joe Thornton.
Cheechoo is not afraid to mix it up in the corners, and his physical play as an attacking forward results in scoring opportunities for the Sharks. But it is his play in front of the net, and his deft scoring touch that are valued in the West Coast Offence.
On the Eastern front, the Senators are getting full value from Jason Spezza. His linemates, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley complement his style perfectly. The trio leads the team, and presents a difficult challenge for Lou Lamoriello and his Devils. Spezza starred with the Bulls, and plays an important role with the Senators.
Coach Murray brought Spezza up slowly from his junior days, and Jason spent some time in Binghamton honing his skills. It is now full speed ahead for Spezza, and his play is reminiscent of a Beliveau, or a Lemieux, because of his size, his grace, and his tenacity.
David Clarkson began his OHL career with the Bulls, but was moved to Kitchener early in his second year. He had an outstanding OHL career with the Rangers, and has spent time in Lowell and Albany in the Devils’ farm system. Lamoriello likes Clarkson’s robust style of play, and his ice time has increased during the playoffs.
A couple of former Bulls are now at home watching the games following their teams’ exit from the playoffs. Darren McCarty is now with the Calgary Flames. The Red Wings proved to be too much for the Flames, relegating them to the sidelines.
Richard Park had a strong playoff with the Islanders; the crafty forward was an offensive wizard with the Bulls from 1992 to 1996. Park played all 82 games for the Islanders this season, always dangerous near the opposition net. The Islanders were no match for the powerful Sabres in the first round.
The Canucks surely miss Matt Cooke’s play. The team has been decimated with injuries, and miss Cooke’s presence on the ice. Not many players on the Ducks look forward to “Cookie’s” return---his physical play, and his constant chatter tend to distract during the game.
Another former Wellington Duke, Danny Bois, played his first NHL game with the Senators this season. Although he is not in the current lineup, Danny is “in the wings” on the team’s taxi squad enjoying the action.
Hot off the wire is the news that another former Duke, Derek Smith, has signed a two year deal with the Ottawa Senators. Smith has enjoyed great success in the NCAA at Lake Superior State University, and completed his third year there this year.
Having such a wealth of local talent in this year’s playoff run keeps us glued to the television on these fine spring nights. There will be time for grass cutting, pruning, planting, painting. Not yet Ethel, the game starts in twenty minutes. Game on!