NORTH BAY, Ont. — Coach Stan Butler of the North Bay Battalion is looking for players to step up when the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds pay an Ontario Hockey League visit at 7 p.m. Thursday.
North Bay, fifth in the Central Division with a won-lost-extended record of 6-12-2 for 14 points, faces the Greyhounds, 15-3-2 for 32 points and second place in the West Division, in the third of four season meetings.
The Troops, who lost 4-3 Sunday to the visiting Niagara IceDogs after six consecutive road games, all in the Western Conference, are 1-6-0 in their last seven games after winning two previous home dates. Through 20 games evenly split between home and road, the Battalion is 4-4-2 at Memorial Gardens and 2-8-0 off the bus.
“When you’re having a season like we’re having now, the responsibility’s with everybody,” Butler said Wednesday. “It’s responsibilities with the coaching staff, it’s responsibilities with the players, and I think we’ve all got to work hard at trying to find ways to get our team winning hockey games.”
Said Butler: “If you’re asking me, am I growing frustrated with certain players, a hundred percent.”
Butler said the Battalion finished outside the playoffs last season largely for different reasons from those influencing outcomes now.
“Last year was a little different in the sense that, the injuries that we got, I don’t think anybody could have overcome them, and even with those injuries we missed the playoffs by two points.”
Butler suggested that the sum production of Battalion goaltenders, who’ve numbered four this season, has been underwhelming. Julian Sime, who’s played in 14 games, has a 2-8-2 record, a 3.42 goals-against average and an .891 save percentage. In five games, Mat Woroniuk is 2-1-0 with a 4.22 GAA and an .843 save percentage, while Christian Purboo, in four games, is 1-3-0 with a 4.53 GAA and an .862 save percentage.
Christian Propp, acquired Oct. 22 from the Owen Sound Attack, left his Battalion debut Oct. 26 against the visiting Windsor Spitfires at the 5:31 mark of the first period with a lower-body injury, ultimately getting the win and a shared shutout with Sime in a 4-0 decision. Butler said Propp is two weeks from returning.
“I think statistics will show their numbers will dictate that it’s probably not where they would like it to be or we would like it to be, and we haven’t generated the offence five-on-five that we need to generate to be successful.
“We have guys that really should have much better numbers, you would think, for their age or for their abilities, than they have right now. As a coach, all you can do is give players opportunities, and we’ve tried to do that, and then I think it comes down to them a little bit that, when they get those opportunities, they’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Said Butler: “When things aren’t going well, I think, guys press a little bit too hard, and sometimes when you press hard the things that happen aren’t the things you want to happen. I think sometimes it’s as simple as just lack of dedication, paying the price, doing the things you’ve got to do to be successful.”
Right winger Brandon Coe, North Bay’s first-round pick in the OHL Priority Selection last April, figures to play against Sault Ste. Marie after returning from the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, where he earned a silver medal with Canada Red last Saturday night in a 6-4 loss to the United States in the eight-team tournament’s championship game at Dawson Creek, B.C.
Butler, while not singling out Coe, who’s enjoyed quality deployment that has seen him produce two goals and two assists for four points in 15 games with the Troops, said many of the younger players “haven’t given me a reason to give them more ice time.”
“A lot of our younger guys seem to be somewhat comfortable just to be along for the ride, and I’m hoping that as we move forward here some of them will start to figure out that they’re playing in this league because they’re good players and there’s no rule that you can’t be a good player at 16 or 17.”
Sault Ste. Marie won the previous meetings this season, 2-1 in overtime Sept. 29 at North Bay and 3-1, with an empty-netter, at home Nov. 5.
“Both games were tight games, and our guys played well,” noted Butler.
Right winger Boris Katchouk paces the Greyhounds in scoring with a team-leading 18 goals and 11 assists for 29 points in 20 games. Centre Morgan Frost has scored 10 goals and added a team-high 17 assists for 27 points in 20 games, while defenceman Mac Hollowell has five goals and 16 assists for 21 points in 15 games. Left winger Tim Gettinger has generated nine goals and 10 assists for 19 points in 20 games.
Right winger Justin Brazeau leads the Battalion with a team-high 12 goals and nine assists for 21 points, and defenceman Cam Dineen has six goals and a team-leading 13 assists for 19 points. Luke Burghardt, who has played left wing in recent games, has seven goals and 10 assists for 17 points, while rearguard Adam Thilander has scored one goal and earned 12 assists for 13 points. All have played 20 games.
The Battalion visits Niagara on Friday night and the Sudbury Wolves on Sunday to complete its weekend schedule.