NORTH BAY, Ont. — The North Bay Battalion gets some reinforcements for its Ontario Hockey League game Friday night against the visiting Kitchener Rangers, but coach Stan Butler is looking for more than that.
Butler, who expressed his disdain for the effort put forth in the team’s season-opening 3-1 home-ice loss to the Niagara IceDogs last Friday night, wants better from everybody, particularly the veterans.
“I reminded them yesterday before practice that they’ve got to have an OHL-level work ethic,” Butler said Wednesday. “You’ve got to give Niagara credit; they came in here and just outworked us and really wanted to win a lot more than us. If our guys think they can play the way they did Friday night and be a good team, I think they’re in for a big shock.”
Centre Brett McKenzie and right winger Justin Brazeau, both of whom were among four regulars who missed the opener, have returned from National Hockey League camps with the Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings respectively. Defencemen Cam Dineen and Riley Bruce have been with the Arizona Coyotes and Calgary Flames respectively.
“Two are back, physically, now,” noted Butler. “I think from a call earlier today from Arizona that Dineen should be back. I haven’t heard anything about Bruce.”
Butler said the Troops face a difficult mission in the early going, including against the Rangers, who defeated the visiting Flint Firebirds 4-2 last Friday night in their only game to this point.
“They’re a really good team, and we knew, looking at our schedule to start the season, that it wasn’t really favourable. The first 10 or 12 games are not kind of how you’d like to start the season, but you can’t control that. We’re in tough in the first few games, and our guys have got to realize that because, if not, we’re going to dig ourselves a big hole that we’re not going to get out of.”
Said Butler: “As a coach at this level, I can’t go into games hoping my team’s going to work hard; I’ve got to know they’re going to work hard.”
Butler suggested a better effort from some forwards could be the difference in their immediate futures.
“There are guys in that room that are fighting for their lives. Twenty-four players is not where we’re going to stand for the year. Fifteen forwards is not where we’re going to be. Our ideal number is 13. Thirteen from 15 is two, so there are guys in that room who aren’t going to be here much longer.”
Butler said he talked with McKenzie, North Bay’s first-round pick in the 2013 OHL Priority Selection, about expectations for him in his 19-year-old season after the Canucks selected him in the seventh round of the NHL Draft last June.
“I had a good talk with him yesterday after he got back from Vancouver. Their player development guy, Scott Walker, whom I know pretty well, and I had a pretty honest talk, and Scott told me about what his concerns were, and I said, ‘Scott, that’s what I’ve seen in the four years he’s been here.’
“I talked to him yesterday and just said, ‘Hey, Brett, you’re trying to get a contract from an NHL team, and they’re only going to give you what they see you do; they’re not going to give you what they think you might be able to do.’”
For his part, McKenzie called the Vancouver camp experience “eye-opening.”
“It was the first time I went to main camp, so I saw all the older guys, the pros. I just want to be faster out there, be stronger, win all the one-on-one battles. Vancouver said that’s what they want to see from me: winning battles, winning faceoffs.”
Despite more players being available, centre Jacob Ball’s status for the Kitchener game was unknown after he blocked a shot against Niagara and hobbled off the ice. X-rays proved negative.
The game against the Rangers is at 7 p.m. before the Battalion visits the Mississauga Steelheads at 2 p.m. Sunday.