NORTH BAY, Ont. — The North Bay Battalion, paced by Ontario Hockey League scoring leader Justin Brazeau, opens a three-game weekend with a 7 p.m. Thursday visit from the Barrie Colts, the first clash this season between the Central Division rivals.
“We start with a very skilled team in Barrie, so one thing that we’re going to have to do is limit their time on the special teams,” Battalion assistant coach Adam Dennis said Wednesday.
“It’s not something that we want to do, give up six power plays night in and night out and, if we do that tomorrow, it’s going to bite us, so that’s a start. We have to be a lot more disciplined and, I mean, we want to keep the feelings that have been good in the room lately. That happens when you get rewarded, and I think there’s still lots to work on, and we want a more balanced attack. We can’t rely on the one line every game.”
“The one line” is right winger Brazeau, who tied a franchise record for points in a game Sunday with three goals and four assists for seven points in an 8-3 home-ice victory over the Kingston Frontenacs, centre Matthew Struthers, who had six points, including two goals, in the game, and left winger Egor Postnov, who joined the trio recently.
Brazeau, who has 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points in 12 games to top the OHL scoring race, was named Monday as the OHL’s Player of the Week for the period ended Sunday, then was announced Tuesday as the Canadian Hockey League’s Player of the Week.
“It’s obviously a great feeling,” said Brazeau. “I had a pretty good weekend, and to be recognized by not just the league, but the whole CHL, it’s a great feeling.”
Said Brazeau, who stands six-foot-six and weighs 226 pounds: “I think in minor midget and my second year in midget I was more of a playmaker. My last year of midget I had 20 goals and 47 assists, so I think parts of my game from my past are just coming together, and I have a lot of confidence playing right now in this league, so things are coming together and it’s showing on the ice.”
Dennis said Brazeau, a 20-year-old native of New Liskeard, Ont., long has been regarded as a potential breakout points producer by the Battalion, which chose him in the 13th round of the 2014 OHL Priority Selection from the New Liskeard Cubs midgets.
“I definitely think that, internally, we thought that he was capable of this kind of offensive output. I think that he was in a sense a bit of a secret to the rest of the league, and I don’t think that’s the case anymore. It will be really interesting to see him go up against teams that know who he is now and know what he’s going to provide, so what it does is it puts a lot of pressure on our secondary scoring to get going so that we can even it out.”
Dennis suggested that Brazeau has emerged off the ice as well.
“It says a lot about your captain and your leader when he’s already got six points in a game and he’s still harping on players on his team about doing the details to get a win. That was really important for me. I mean, he’s such a naturally gifted player that we know that the points are always going to come, but the biggest thing that I’ve seen in him this year is that he’s really developing into a leader. He’s vocal on the bench, he’s added a physical element to his game, and the results speak for themselves.”
Brazeau’s newfound notoriety has attracted particular attention from defenders, said Dennis.
“I think you could make an argument for a penalty call almost every time he goes to the net, because you have two or three guys that are draped over him. There’s a free hand, there’s a stick on him, and this isn’t a knock against the refs. I just think it’s a testament to how he plays and how hard he is to defend right now for other teams’ defences.”
Brazeau tied the franchise record set by centre Wojtek Wolski against the Erie Otters at Brampton on Jan. 22, 2006. Wolski wore No. 17, as does Brazeau, and Wolski also earned CHL Player of the Week honours.
Barrie has a won-lost-extended record of 7-5-1 for 15 points, fourth in the division. North Bay is fifth, at 5-7-0 for 10 points.
The Battalion completes the weekend on the road, facing Erie at 7 p.m. Saturday and the Hamilton Bulldogs at 2 p.m. Sunday.