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By Aaron Bell
When the Belleville Bulls cruised past the Oshawa Generals in the Rogers OHL Eastern Conference championship series, they claimed their first berth in the Rogers OHL Championship Series since 1999, but the win came with an added bonus.
On the same night, the Kitchener Rangers won the Western Conference championship and that guaranteed the Bulls a spot in the MasterCard Memorial Cup next month. The Rangers were already in as the host team and regardless of who wins the OHL championship, both teams will play in the annual national championship tournament in Kitchener from May 16-25.
The Rangers will open the tournament on May 16 against the champions from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League while the Bulls will face the winners from the Western Hockey League on May 17.
Despite their automatic entry, the Bulls aren’t looking past their series against Kitchener and the opportunity to win the J. Ross Robertson Cup as OHL champions for the second time in franchise history.
“We’re trying to win an OHL championship,” said Bulls’ coach and GM George Burnett. “Just being satisfied because of the circumstances – Ontario hosting this year - would be a huge mistake on our part. I think the OHL championship is extremely important.”
His captain agreed.
“I don’t think anyone is looking past that OHL championship,” said veteran forward Matt Beleskey. “Nobody wants to go into the Memorial Cup on a losing streak.”
Burnett said that playing against Kitchener in the OHL Championship Series will give them a valuable experience heading into the Memorial Cup tournament.
“I think the fact that it is Kitchener it gives us the opportunity to have the experience of playing in that building and in front of their fans,” Burnett said. “There are a lot of things that can be accomplished. We hope that we are best prepared.”
Burnett has been to the Memorial Cup before. He guided the Guelph Storm to the OHL championship in 1998. His squad lost to the Portland Winter Hawks in double overtime.
The Bulls are deep at all positions with forwards like Beleskey, Jan Mursak, A.J. Perry, Bryan Cameron and Andy Self and on the blueline with P.K. Subban, Nigel Williams and top draft prospect Shawn Lalonde. In net, Mike Murphy was the OHL goaltender of the year and veteran Parker VanBuskirk is ready to fill in anytime.
Burnett guided the Bulls to the OHL semi-finals last year and has built the team to compete for their second OHL championship.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to take the next step,” Burnett said