A recipe for Ontario Hockey League success rarely contains the following three ingredients:
- The worst record in the 20-team league the previous season.
- No NHL draft picks on the team.
- Just three 19-year-olds in the lineup.
With all that going for first-year Belleville Bulls general manager/coach George Burnett, it is natural for OHL fans to question the accuracy of the East Division standings.
Improbably, Belleville (5-2) is tied for first in the five-team division after Burnett's Bulls beat his old team, the Oshawa Generals, for the second time in a week on Monday.
"Everybody in the hockey world probably picked us to finish last and to not make the playoffs," Burnett, whose team plays host to the Ottawa 67's tonight, said. "But we've told our kids not to worry about everybody else."
Burnett, who signed a long-term deal (believed to be five years) with the Bulls this summer after he was fired by the Generals following his fourth season with the club, is the first to admit nobody should be planning a parade route just yet.
But he has plenty to feel good about, especially overage goalie Eric Tobia, who has a 2.67 goals against average and a .920 save percentage in six games. Burnett told Tobia before the season he would trade him for youth if the team was struggling, something the native of Cloyne (about an hour north of Belleville) does not want to happen.
"I want to finish my career as a Belleville Bull," said Tobia, who takes classes at Queen's University in Kingston. "If I want to stay here, I have to make a difference every game."
The Bulls missed the playoffs for the first time in 21 years last season and Burnett knows it won't take much for the Bulls to slip into a non-post-season spot again.
"It's a lot easier to sell what you're preaching when you have success," Burnett, who won a Memorial Cup with the Guelph Storm in 1998. "But I don't think we're getting lost in the idea that we've got it mastered. We've got a lot of work to do."
AROUND THE OHL
The London Knights (8-0), featuring OHL player of the week/scoring leader Corey Perry, are threatening to break the OHL record for consecutive wins to start a season -- 11 by the 1992-93 Peterborough Petes and the 1995-96 Guelph Storm ... Red-hot Kitchener Rangers centre David Clarkson (nine points in four games) will be out at least four weeks after he broke a wrist when he was slashed by the Plymouth Whalers' Mike Martinelli on Saturday ... Maple Leafs prospect John Mitchell of the Whalers, who suffered a lower back strain at Leafs rookie camp, made his debut Friday and has recorded two assists in his first three games ... Brampton Battalion overage winger Dan McDonald, acquired in a trade with the Kingston Frontenacs four days before the season opener, leads his first-place club with 10 points ... St. Michael's Majors defenceman Dale Good is day-to-day with a shoulder injury.