Barrie Colts fall 3-0 to Belleville in battle for top spot
Belleville Bulls forward Tyler Graovac, top left, skates away after scoring a second-period goal against Barrie Colts goalie Mathias Niederberger during Ontario Hockey League action in Belleville, Monday afternoon. At centre are Colts defencemen Ryan O'Connor and Jonathan Laser. The Bulls won 3-0. LUKE HENDRY QMI AGENCY
George Burnett said Belleville Bulls fans got their money’s worth. Maybe more.
In a battle between the two top teams in the OHL’s Eastern Conference, the Belleville Bulls blanked the Barrie Colts 3-0 before a throng of 3,664 on Monday afternoon at Yardmen Arena to take over first place overall in the 10-team group.
Bulls now have 76 points, while Barrie has 75.
Billed by some as 'The Barnyard Battle', and a potential conference playoff final match-up, Bulls were the better team from goaltender Malcolm Subban on out in the first meeting of the season between the east’s elite.
Tyler Graovac, Joseph Cramarossa, on a penalty shot, and team captain Brendan Gaunce, into an empty-net while Belleville played shorthanded late in the third period, supplied the Bulls goals. Subban slammed the door on Barrie shooters, including Belleville product Zach Hall, who hit two posts, and recorded 29 saves for the shutout — his third of the season.
Just to add a dash more drama to the much-anticipated contest, the game was pushed back two hours from its original 2 p.m. Family Day start time when the Barrie bus got caught behind a crash on Highway 401.
“We might’ve caught a couple of breaks,” said Burnett, the Bulls GM-coach. “Barrie was coming off a tough loss Sunday at Brampton (5-3) and got delayed on the highway. But there was great energy in the building, a tremendous crowd and it did feel like a playoff game.
“People got what they paid for.”
After a scoreless first frame, Bulls got on the board early in the second stanza when Graovac fired a rebound into the open side of the Barrie net — his 31st goal of the season — at 5:04. Jordan Subban assisted.
That score stood until Cramarossa was hauled down on a third-period breakaway at 11:22. On the ensuing penalty shot, he deked Barrie goalie Mathias Niederberger, then went backhand five-hole to give Bulls a 2-0 lead.
“I usually start with speed to push the goalie back, then I read it,” said Cramarossa, describing his decision to deke instead of shoot. “I saw him shuffle back so I thought I’d go for the move.”
Barrie yanked Niederberger in favour of an extra attacker with three minutes remaining in the third period, while on the power play, but a clearing pass by Cramarossa was collected by Gaunce and deposited into the empty Colts cage to secure Belleville’s sixth straight victory.
“We had that big kill at the end of the game and some big saves by Malcolm,” said Burnett. “Today he gave us a tremendous effort, but he didn’t have to be over the top, because we played with discipline.”
Burnett said it was especially satisfying to win a game that felt like a post-season meeting.
“It’s fun to be able to win those low-scoring games against an elite team, because that’s what’ll be required in the playoffs,” he said.
Cramaraossa said adhering to the strategy mapped out by the Bulls coaching staff paid dividends.
“Barrie is the only team we hadn’t played yet this year and we didn’t really know what to expect, except they were the top team in the conference,” he said. “We stuck to the game plan and got a huge win. It feels great (to be first in the conference) and it took a lot of hard work, some big acquisitions and a full team effort.”
Jake Worrad, Jordan Subban and Cramarossa earned assists in the win, with Belleville outshooting Barrie overall, 30-29.
Power plays were not a factor: Bulls went 0-for-5; Barrie, 0-for-4.