NORTH BAY, Ont. — With no reinforcements on the horizon and the injury-plagued North Bay Battalion having suffered two regrettable setbacks last weekend, coach Stan Butler has remained adamant that the Troops will soldier on.
The Battalion plays host to the Sarnia Sting, which has won its last three Ontario Hockey League games, at 7 p.m. Thursday before visiting the Mississauga Steelheads on Friday night and hosting the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds on Sunday.
It’s back to a three-game schedule after only two outings last weekend, when the Troops were robbed of a road win against the Kitchener Rangers on Friday night after an unnecessary video review turned an inconsequential play at 12:36 of the third period into a purported goal. Kitchener prevailed 5-4 via shootout.
On Sunday, Steven Lorentz of the visiting Peterborough Petes leaped high to catch and throw down a puck that Jonathan Ang drilled past screened Battalion goaltender Brent Moran with 4:23 to play, securing a 2-1 victory.
“We all know what the right call was, including the league, and we’ll just leave it at that,” Butler said Wednesday of the controversy at Kitchener.
But, in a media scrum, questions generally keep coming, and Butler was asked whether he talks to league officials after such an incident.
“Yes. And they acknowledged what we already knew. There’s nothing they can do. You can’t file a protest on that. There’s no grounds. It’s not a rule interpretation.
“It’s Battalion 2016-17.”
Butler, the OHL’s longest-tenured coach, having served with the Battalion since before its 1998-99 expansion season in Brampton and who marks his 61st birthday Thursday, refused to criticize the players unduly for a four-game losing skid.
“It’s unfortunate. The kids played a great game (Friday night), and we did deserve to win the game, and technically we did win the game, but it doesn’t show it on the scoreboard when you’re battling. And then our game here Sunday, the rule states that, if you close your hand on the puck and you gain territorial advantage by doing that, then it’s a two-minute penalty.”
The Battalion has a won-lost-extended record of 18-25-4 for 40 points, 11 behind first-place Mississauga and tied with the Niagara IceDogs for third spot in the Central Division. Sarnia is 24-18-6 for 54 points, third in the West Division.
“We’re not playing that bad; I’ve got to be honest,” said Butler. “Given the players we’re missing, I can’t really fault the group in that room. They’re playing pretty hard. Some teams know how to win; some teams don’t, and sometimes this team struggles with that.”
The Troops are missing four defencemen, in captain Riley Bruce, who has a shoulder ailment, Cam Dineen, who underwent knee surgery in December, Brady Lyle, recovering from a gash to his right leg, and Eric Allair, afflicted by a sore back.
“Nothing to report,” Butler said of the foursome. “Nothing’s changed. None of them are practising with the team and, like I said before, I think Lyle will be the first one back, but I don’t know when he’ll be back.”
In addition, goaltender Mat Woroniuk is sidelined with a knee injury while Moran and Julian Sime share crease duties.
“Sarnia’s on fire,” noted Butler. “Mississauga’s the top team in our division, and then we’ve got to play the Sault, who’s maybe one of the top teams in the league.”
But he held out hope that perhaps the worm is about to turn.
“Maybe we’ll catch a break here or there. I think it’s about our turn to get one.”
Right winger Jordan Kyrou leads Sarnia scoring with 20 goals and 42 assists for 62 points in 46 games, while centre Anthony Salinitri has 19 goals and 22 assists for 41 points in 46 games. Defenceman Jeff King has scored seven goals and added 28 assists for 35 points from 47 games, and centre Troy Lajeunesse has 17 goals and as many assists for 34 points in 46 games.
Centre Brett McKenzie paces North Bay’s points production with 49, from 22 goals and 27 assists in 46 games, while right winger Steve Harland has 21 goals and 25 assists for 46 points in 47 games.