NORTH BAY, Ont. — Coach Stan Butler has declared the North Bay Battalion’s exhibition excursion to Buffalo, N.Y., a success, and not simply because the Ontario Hockey League club won two of three games.
The Battalion defeated the Flint Firebirds 6-1 Sunday to wrap up its schedule in the inaugural OHL Pre-Season Showcase at HarborCenter. The Troops downed the Kitchener Rangers 4-3 via shootout Friday before dropping a 4-3 decision via shootout to the Windsor Spitfires, reigning Memorial Cup champions, Saturday.
“I was happy with our guys,” Butler said Wednesday of the Battalion’s performance at the six-team event. “It was a good way to start the year off.
“I actually thought it was a good concept and for the most part was pretty happy with the guys. We were playing all teams from the Western Conference, and it’s nice to play teams you don’t play (often) in the regular season, but I thought the boys did pretty well.”
The Battalion has 25 skaters and two goaltenders on the preseason roster, with five players having left Tuesday and Wednesday for National Hockey League rookie tournaments.
Centre Brett McKenzie is with the Vancouver Canucks at Penticton, B.C., while defencemen Cam Dineen and Brady Lyle are with the Arizona Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks respectively at San Jose, Calif. Right winger Justin Brazeau is with the Columbus Blue Jackets at Traverse City, Mich., where Swedish rearguard Adam Thilander has joined the Carolina Hurricanes. McKenzie and Dineen were drafted, while the others received free-agent invitations.
Czech centre Filip Chytil, whom the Battalion selected sixth overall in the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft on June 28, was a first-round pick by the New York Rangers days earlier and is with their rookie prospects.
“We have, I call it, five-plus-one in camp,” noted Butler. “We have our five guys and then obviously Chytil’s gone to the Rangers in Traverse City, and he’s signed with them, and we’ll wait. We’re having constant dialogue with them on that, and we’ll wait and see where that one goes as well.”
Butler said he hopes that McKenzie, who led Battalion scorers last season with 29 goals and 38 assists for 67 points in as many games, signs with Vancouver.
“He came to camp in good shape and worked hard in those games and wanted to play in all those games to get ready. With all due respect to Brett, we’re hoping never to see him again other than at charity functions and things like that.
“The other four guys, hopefully they’re going to learn what it’s like to be a pro hockey player and see just how tough rookie camps are and just realize that’s a long way from even going to main camps.”
The Troops have three exhibition games left before opening the regular season at home on Friday, Sept. 22, against the Barrie Colts. The Battalion visits the Sudbury Wolves next Wednesday night and the Owen Sound Attack on the following Saturday before hosting Owen Sound the next day.
Twenty skaters remain in North Bay during the NHL’s rookie camps, but defenceman Riley Bruce and left winger Jacob Ball still are recovering from injuries suffered last season, when the Battalion incurred a slew of injuries that played a large role in the club missing the playoffs for the third time in its 19-year history.
“We need to stay healthy, that’s the key thing,” said Butler. “We’ve still got a couple of guys that are getting closer to being able to play, but they’re not quite there yet, Bruce and Ball. But we just want to make sure that we have a healthy group and starting off we’re probably going to go with a few more players than we normally do. If we do run into some injuries, we want to make sure that we have enough depth to start anyway.”
Butler said he’s in no hurry to trim the numbers.
“There’s no rush. We’ll pare the roster down when I’m comfortable with where I see our players and where we’re at. I’m not going to maybe make the mistakes that we made last year and rush into something and then you’re kind of boxed in.
“It’s really, really important for us to get a good evaluation of these guys, and there probably will be a few more guys who were on the team last year who won’t make it this year. It’s unfortunate, but I’ve had an adage in hockey that you either move up or you move out, so it’s pretty clear, I think.”