Battalion embraces challenge

NORTH BAY, Ont. – The North Bay Battalion is about to embark on a playoff series like no other in the Ontario Hockey League franchise’s history.

North Bay meets the Kingston Frontenacs in a best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal starting at 7 p.m. Friday at Kingston and continuing there Sunday night.

But with the World Women’s Curling Championship at Memorial Gardens not ending until Sunday, and the Battalion’s home arena to be reconfigured to a hockey venue in the days after that, the Troops are to play Game 3 at the Sudbury Community Arena on Tuesday night before playing the fourth game on home ice next Thursday night.

“We’re just going to roll with the punches,” coach Stan Butler said Thursday at Pete Palangio Arena, where the team has practised in recent days. “We were well aware a long time ago of our situation here. It probably could have been even more challenging if we got home ice, because then we would have played the first two games in Sudbury.

“But the Sudbury Wolves organization, led by Rob Papineau on the hockey side and Andrew Dale on the business side, have been more than cooperative, and obviously they’re happy because it gives them an opportunity, no different than if it was our arena, to make some money on an event there. So they’ve been great, and it is what it is.

“It doesn’t matter if we play in the middle of Lake Nipissing. We’ve got to find ways to win.”

Never before in the Battalion’s 20-year history, including 15 seasons in Brampton, has the club had to find a substitute for its home rink for either a regular-season or playoff game.

In addition to the arena issue, sufficient hotel rooms at Kingston are unavailable because of Ontario Minor Hockey Association tournaments in the city and area, with the result that the Battalion was to travel to Peterborough on Thursday evening and overnight there for the first two games, commuting to Kingston and practising Saturday at the Peterborough Memorial Centre.

Kingston finished second in the East Division and third in the conference with a won-lost-extended record of 36-23-9 for 81 points, while North Bay was third in the Central Division and sixth in the conference at 30-28-10 for 70 points.

In four meetings, the Battalion went 1-2-1. The Troops won 8-2 at home Oct. 22, while Kingston prevailed 3-2 on home ice Feb. 11, 4-3 via shootout March 4 at North Bay and 5-3 in the Limestone City last Friday night. Goaltender Christian Purboo backstopped the Battalion to its win, while Julian Sime staffed the crease in the other three games.

“We understand that we are the underdogs,” acknowledged Butler.

“They obviously went for it this year. They traded away a lot of good young players but, saying that, the games that we played with them have been close, and our group is confident in the sense that they’re confident in their own abilities to play well. They know that the team they’re playing is a very good team and they know that we’ll have to play very well to give ourselves a chance to win.”

Butler said that goaltender Christian Propp, acquired in a trade from the Owen Sound Attack hours before the Battalion’s win over Kingston, will start the opener.

In 56 appearances, Kingston’s Jeremy Helvig went 31-16-9 with a 2.68 goals-against average, second-best in the OHL, a .916 save percentage and two shutouts. In 32 appearances with North Bay, Propp was 18-9-5 with a 2.86 GAA, a .908 save percentage and one shutout. He also shared a shutout with Sime.

“We know they’ve got a very good goalie,” said Butler. “I’ll give you a baseball analogy: If you’re going up against a Cy Young winner, you need to have something good on your mound, too, so obviously the first challenge for our team, and for Christian, is that he needs to duplicate what Jeremy’s doing at the other end. If he can play as well as Jeremy, then that obviously gives us a much better chance of being successful.”

Centre Jason Robertson paced Kingston points production this season with a team-leading 41 goals and 46 assists for 87 points in 68 games, while left winger Linus Nyman had 39 goals and 46 assists, tied atop the club’s ranking in that category, for 85 points in 67 games. Centre Gabriel Vilardi, injured for the whole season before a Jan. 1 trade with the Windsor Spitfires, had 22 goals and 36 assists for 58 points in only 32 games.

Brett Neumann registered 18 goals and 24 assists for 42 points in 68 games, and fellow centre Cliff Pu, who arrived via a Jan. 4 trade from the London Knights, had 13 goals and 26 assists for 39 points in 29 games with Kingston.

Game 1 can be seen live in North Bay on YourTV Channels 12 and 700 and heard on Country 600 CKAT.

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