Story and Photos by DAVE PAUL
It may have been the best performance of the year -- for the Belleville Bulls.
The Sarnia Sting got thoroughly throttled on Thursday night at RBC Centre -- outworked, out hustled and badly outscored, 7-2, by one of the few teams in the OHL that trails Sarnia in the overall standings.
In fact, even following Thursday's result, the Bulls still sit in last place in the 20-team league with 32 points. They also have the third-lowest scoring team in the OHL and they entered Thursday's contest on a four-game losing streak.
None of this mattered last night, though, as they resembled Memorial Cup contenders against a Sting team that turned in a virtually highlight-free performance.
"That was tough to take. It's embarrassing … to play a game like that in front of your home crowd," said Sting head coach Trevor Letowski, following the game. "It was a very disappointing night."
Letowski added the Sting may have taken the last-place Bulls lightly, which "we can't ever afford to do.
"We have more to play for than they do," added Letowski, referring to the Bulls' fading postseason chances, while the Sting are still in the playoff hunt.
Although it was an overall forgettable night for the home team, the first half of the game really wasn't so bad.
Sarnia fell behind 1-0 in the first minute of the game, but tied things up when Davis Brown scored an unassisted goal at the six minute mark.
The Bulls also got a goal in the last minute of the period, on a power play, to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission, then increased the lead to 3-1, when Jake Marchment scored his first of two goals on the night, five minutes into the second period.
But, Sarnia captain Nick Latta got that one back a few minutes later. After scrumming the face-off, Latta picked up a loose puck and roofed a shot over Belleville goalie Charlie Graham's shoulder for his 29th of the season to make it 3-2 at 8:59 of the middle period.
It was all downhill from there, however, as Belleville scored twice more before the period was over, to extend their lead to 5-2, and chase Sarnia starter Taylor Dupuis from the goal.
The Bulls then got the only two goals of the third -- a period which they dominated -- firing 18 shots at Brodie Barrick compared to Sarnia's feeble six shots on goal. Overall, the shots were 41-28 for Belleville.
Stephen Harper (with a goal and two assists) and Jake Worrad and Aaron Berisha (three assists each) all had three-point games for Belleville.
Although his goaltending didn't stand out, Letowski wasn't singling out starter Taylor Dupuis for blame in the loss.
"Dupes wasn't Dupes tonight," said Letowski. "But it wasn't his fault. We were just flat … we didn't have a lot of fight."
While the Sting have shown some remarkable resilience this season, particularly after tough losses, bouncing back after this defeat will not be easy on Friday night, against a very strong Storm team, in Guelph.
"We've been able to do it in the past, when everything looks like it's doom and gloom," said Letowski, "but this will be a really tough test."
Sarnia travel to Guelph on Friday then return home to host Mississauga on Saturday night at 7:05 p.m.