Bulls Charged Through Inaugural OHL Season

Bulls Charged Through Inaugural OHL Season


After claiming their historic first OHL win against the Kingston Canadiens, the expansion Belleville Bulls were looking for more.

They got it quickly, winning their second game when captain Dunc McIntyre tipped in the winner to give the home team a 4-3 overtime win over Brian Kilrea’s Ottawa 67’s.

After that pair of home wins, the Bulls traveled to Kitchener to face the defending OHL champions.

16 fights and 314 penalty minutes later, the Bulls were handed their first defeat -an 8-2 loss to the Rangers.

The game started with a fight between Craig Kitchener and Mike Moher in the warm-up and escalated to the point where fans were throwing pop cans at the bench, At one point, coach Larry Mavety tore off his jacket and was ready to go into the stands after the culprits.

Cooler heads prevailed; the cops charged the can thrower and the Bulls left with their first loss.

Future Bulls’ coach and Belleville native Lou Crawford scored Kitcheners sixth goal and then ended the game with a fight with Crocock.

The club skated to an impressive 9-3 record at home to start the seaon, but Mavety was concerned with their play away from the Quinte Sports Centre – the Bulls were winless in 10 road games.

Mavety challenged his squad to start looking for better results on the road.

Nicholls responded with a pair of goals against his former team to lead the Bulls to a 6-3 win in Windsor in late November.

It was their first win on the road and Nicholls took a great amount of pride in helping the Bulls achieve­ment while giving the Spitfires cause to consider why they left him unprotected in the off-season.

First round pick Dan Quinn had trouble finding the net early in his rookie sea­son, but caught fire in November and had 30 points by early December including a hat trick and an assist in a 6-5 win over Kingston on December 12.

One week later, the Bulls picked up a 4-2 win against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

It was the Bulls 15th win and set a new record for an OHL expansion team.

“I think it was a very exciting time for the Bulls, not only for the players themselves, but also for the city,” MacIntyre said.

“By the second half of the season, we were legitimately contending for the playoffs and teams knew that when they came in to Belleville to play or when we traveled to their hometowns that it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park for them. It was going to be a tough game.”

“At a major level of hockey, Belleville is probably the most successful expansion team in the history of expansion,” Branch was quoted in The Hockey News. “That is because a lot of preparation went into having them join our league.”

After some roster shuffling before the January trade dead­line that brought in overager Tony Butorac and defencemen Scott Defoe and Ian Macinnes, the Bulls hit a rough stretch in January.

They started the month tied with the Cornwall Royals for a playoff spot, but lost MacIntyre -the club’s top scorer -with a concussion and Defoe briefly left the club to ponder his future in the game.

Nicholls was sent to Kitchener for Mike Clayton, who brought playoff experience to the Bulls’ blueline.

The highlight of the month was back-to-back wins over the Rangers – who went on to win the Memorial Cup ­including a 6-5 overtime win in Kitchener. They lost two straight games in February when the winning goal bounced in off of a Bulls’ defenceman.

They also dropped a 5-4 over­time win to Kingston despite outshooting them 42-24.

Mavety told the local media that for his team to win games, they would have to be a lot tougher than they had been of late.

He assembled his squad for a meeting in late February to tell them as much. He wasn’t looking for bench clearing brawls as much as aggressive work in the corners and making their opponents pay a physical price.

Two days later, Mavety and four players were suspended after a brawl with the Toronto Marlies at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Goalie Ken Porteous was one of the players suspended ­he would miss the remainder of the season for his part in the incident.

The loss of players gave the Bulls the opportunity to call up “Cowboy” Joe McCallion from the Brampton Warriors. McCallion was instrumental in the Bulls Tier II win and scored a pair of goals in his first two OHL games.

A 2-1 loss to Sudbury on February 28 officially eliminated the Bulls from the playoffs. The team closed out the home schedule of their first OHL season with a 4-3 win over Kingston.

The 2,200 fans in attendance at the Quinte Sports Centre gave the club a standing ovation at the end of the game and called the players out to skate a final lap around the ice. The Bulls’ 50 points doubled the previous record for an expansion team.

“We were small and we were young and we had some battles,” said rookie Marty McSorley, who earned his spot in the roster after an invitation to training camp.

“We had teams that would try to take advantage of us and I think they found out that they had opened up a hornet’s nest. They had their hands full.”

“I think that team set the tone for Belleville teams in the future,” Mavety said.

Excerpt from 25 Years with the Belleville Bulls (Bell, Aaron 2005)

Intelligencer photo courtesy Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County

McSorley made his first impression in Belleville

McSorley made his first impression in Belleville


Marty McSorley needed to make a quick impression and he had a pretty good idea how to do it. 

More than 70 players were suited up at the Bulls’ first training camp before their inaugural season in 1981 and McSorley -a free agent invitee – would have to give GM/coach Larry Mavety a good reason to keep him around. 

McSorley made an impression all right. 

He scored and then got in a fight in his first exhibition game, a 9-4 loss to the Kingston Canadians. 

McSorley, who grew up on a farm in Cayuga, Ontario, had a solid season with the Hamilton Kilty Jr. B’s and was invited to the Bulls’ camp by team scout John Mowat. 

Mavety had a board in his office that had a card with each player’s name on it. He used the board to figure out who was going to play and who was going home. 

After one of the training camp sessions, Mavety was looking at the board and knew that someone was missing. He realized that it was McSorley. The other observers with the team had already dismissed McSorley as a candidate for the team and had trashed his card. 

Long time Belleville Bulls coach and GM Larry Mavety overlooks the team’s first trsining camp in 1981

“Unfortunately, I coach the hockey club, not you,” Mavety told the others. “I say he stays and he stayed.” 

Mowat had a heart-to-heart with McSorley during training camp that gave the young player some insight into what he needed to do to make the team. 

“They needed to know that there are some guys that could protect the other guys,” McSorley reflected. 

“Being a farm boy, he didn’t have to tell me twice. I went out there and got into quite a few scraps in that training camp. It opened the door for me to continue on. I really wanted to make the team.” 

Mavety liked what he saw in McSorley – he probably reminded Mavety of himself nearly 20 years earlier. 

“He was proving to everyone that he belonged.”

“Let’s face it, he was tough,” Mavety said. “But he worked. He was proving to everyone that he belonged.” 

McSorley made the Bulls’ opening game lineup, but was a healthy scratch for several games early in his first season. He missed more time with a back injury midway through the year, but worked hard to develop into a solid contributor by the end of the season. 

Defenceman Marty McSorley emerged as one of the first fan favourites of the Belleville Bulls

He spent his mornings on the ice at the Sports Centre. 

“I really think that Mav knew that I was going to keep working on trying to get there,” McSorley said. “The guys in the rink were so great to me. I know there were people that called to rent the ice and those guys who worked in the rink would say ‘sorry it’s booked’ because they knew that I was going on the ice in the morning. 

“For me, coming from the farm, going out on the ice was fun.” 

“I’d get my skates and just go and skate. When the ice was booked I’d go and skate on the outside rink. For me, coming from the farm, going out on the ice was fun.” 

The next summer, the Penguins were looking for an extra defenceman for their training camp. Mavety suggested that they bring in McSorley. He made enough of an impression that the Penguins signed him to a pro contract. 

McSorleydeveloped with the Bulls and became a force in his second season. He had six goals and 43 points through February and was selected to play in the all-star game on home ice in Belleville. 

Marty McSorley fearlessly patroled the Belleville Bulls’ blueline as a rookie in 1981

He was one of the club’s most dependable blueliners and finished the year with 10 goals and 51 points to go along with 183 penalty minutes. 

McSorley was a key ingredient that helped the Bulls make the playoffs in their second season. He and Dan Quinn were the only Bulls to play in all 70 regular season games that year, but McSorley suffered an ankle injury in the first game of their playoff series against Oshawa. 

He wasn’t 100% for the series finale, but refused to end his OHL career watching the game from the seats. 

After two seasons, McSorley had made his mark on the Belleville Bulls. 

He became an inspiration to other players who were never drafted, but made the most of their opportunity. 

He spent most of the next 17 years playing in the National Hockey League. McSorley won the Stanley Cup twice. 

Not bad for a walk-on. 

Excerpt from 25 Years with the Belleville Bulls (Bell, Aaron 2005)

Intelligencer photo courtesy Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County