NORTH BAY, Ont. — The North Bay Battalion, a quarter of the way into its Ontario Hockey League schedule, faces the Niagara IceDogs in a home-and-home series this weekend, opening at 7 p.m. Friday at St. Catharines.
“They’re a really fast and skilled team, a team that, if you give them too many opportunities with the man advantage, they’re going to hurt you, so we’re going to have to play disciplined,” Battalion assistant coach Adam Dennis said Wednesday of the IceDogs, who are tied atop the Central Division with the Mississauga Steelheads with a won-lost-extended record of 10-5-2 for 22 points.
“I think special teams is a big part of it. We need to stay out of the box and, like I said, we need to come ready to play right from the drop of the puck.”
Goaltender Christian Propp, who staffed the crease in a 4-3 road loss Sunday to the Sudbury Wolves, also suggested the Troops will have to be ready for a full performance.
“Niagara’s definitely one of the more offensive teams in the league, so I think we just have to be mentally prepared and know who their sharpshooters are and just be ready to try to eliminate their scoring chances as much as possible.”
The Battalion, which lost both its games last week after a season-high four-game winning streak, is 8-8-1 for 17 points, fifth in the division.
After falling behind 2-0 less than six minutes into the Sudbury game, North Bay got goals from rookie Harrison Caines, his first in the OHL, Justin Brazeau and Brad Chenier to take a 3-2 lead by the eighth minute of the third period only to have the Wolves tie it up and then win on Drake Pilon’s power-play goal at 19:16.
At home Thursday night against the Erie Otters, the Battalion erased a 2-0 deficit, taking a 3-2 lead on Brazeau’s goal at 19:07 of the third period before Joseph Mack precipitated overtime with his tally at 19:25 and Brendan Sellan scored the deciding goal against goaltender Christian Purboo in the 12th round of a shootout.
“Obviously, the first thing that jumps out is that there are goals in the last minute of hockey games, which is not something you want to do,” said Dennis, who saw some positives in the two losses.
“I like that we stuck with it. I liked that, after getting down 2-0 earlier on in the season, we could have folded up shop, but we didn’t. We had a nice pushback, and unfortunately it just came up a little bit short, which is why you can’t just show up for two periods.”
Brazeau continues to lead the OHL scoring race, with 36 points from 19 goals and 17 assists in 17 games. Tye Felhaber of the Ottawa 67’s, who’s second with 34 points in 20 games, assumed the goal-scoring lead with 21 with two goals in a 6-4 victory Wednesday over the visiting Kingston Frontenacs in a school day game.
Brazeau has 86 career goals, tied with Mike Amadio for second place among Battalion scorers since the franchise relocated from Brampton for the 2013-14 season. Brett McKenzie is the leader in the North Bay era with 88 goals.
Morgan Frost of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds ranks third in points with 33, including 12 goals, in 19 games, and Ottawa’s Austen Keating is fourth with 31 points, including a league-leading 24 assists, in 20 games.
Niagara’s Akil Thomas, with eight goals and 19 assists for 27 points in 17 games, is tied for eighth place with Arthur Kaliyev of the Hamilton Bulldogs, while the Battalion’s Matthew Struthers, who has 11 goals and 15 assists for 26 points in 14 games, is 10th in the points parade.
North Bay’s power play ranks first in the league, having scored 23 goals in 72 opportunities for an effectiveness of 31.9 percent. Niagara is fifth, with 15 goals in 71 chances, for 21.1 percent.
Battalion penalty killing is fourth in the OHL, having given up 11 goals in 74 opportunities for a kill rate of 85.1 percent. Niagara is tied for 11th with the Kitchener Rangers at 80.0 percent on 13 goals allowed in 65 chances.
The Troops are fourth in penalty minutes at 11.9 per game, with Daniel Walker leading the league with 39 penalty minutes. Niagara is 12th at 10.6 minutes per game.
North Bay has gone beyond regulation time twice, winning its only overtime decision and losing the lone shootout.
The Battalion plays host to Niagara at 7 p.m. Saturday, completing the home-and-home set and weekend play, on Lest We Forget Night as the club honours military veterans on the eve of Remembrance Day and the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
The game at Niagara can be seen live in North Bay on YourTV Channels 12 and 700 and heard on Country 600 CKAT.