NORTH BAY, Ont. — Except for age limitations, the embattled North Bay Battalion just might be ready to put several honourees in uniform when the Sudbury Wolves invade Memorial Gardens at 7 p.m. Thursday for the annual Centennials Alumni Night.
The Battalion, beset by injuries, faces its nearest rival for the second time in seven days, after a 3-2 loss Friday night at Sudbury.
North Bay, with a won-lost-extended record of 17-22-3 for 37 points, is tied with the Niagara IceDogs for third place in the Ontario Hockey League’s Central Division while holding a game in hand. Sudbury is 19-19-5 for 43 points, tied atop the division with the Mississauga Steelheads, who also hold a game in hand.
Riley Bruce suffered a shoulder injury in a fight with Curtis Douglas in a 3-2 overtime victory Sunday over the visiting Barrie Colts, putting four defencemen on the shelf. Cam Dineen had knee surgery in December and is sidelined until March, while Brady Lyle suffered a cut leg in a 2-1 home-ice loss to Mississauga last Thursday night and Eric Allair is battling a sore back.
“Riley hurt his shoulder, so he’s going to be out for a while now,” Battalion coach Stan Butler said Wednesday.
The healthy regulars on defence are Adam Thilander, Zach Shankar, Mark Shoemaker and the recently arrived Jesse Saban. Left winger Daniel Walker figures to take more shifts on the blue line, as he’s done in recent games, and Butler has had a look at rearguards Dayton Murray and Eric Nagy of the affiliated Powassan Voodoos of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.
“We have a couple of kids from the Voodoos skating with us today, Murray and Nagy. I think the Murray kid’s going to play tomorrow, and the Nagy kid’s got to make a decision on whether he wants to play or not.”
Lyle, who said he’s noticed progress with his laceration, declined to put a time frame on his return.
“I feel pretty good. My leg’s still a bit sore. I think every day it gets a little bit better. I feel it’s healing up quick, and hopefully I’ll be out there sooner rather than later.”
Injuries have plagued the Troops all season, afflicting more than the defence corps, with regular goaltenders Brent Moran and Mat Woroniuk succumbing to shoulder and knee ailments respectively in November. Moran has returned to duty in tandem with Julian Sime, acquired Nov. 29 from the Mississauga Chargers of the Ontario Junior A Hockey League, while Woroniuk continues to recover.
“Not too many teams lose two goalies in two games and have four of their eight defencemen out of the lineup with significant injuries, but the reality of hockey is, like life in general, it goes on,” noted Butler. “Our schedule’s set, and we’ve got to play those games irrespective of whether we have those players or not.
“You can look at it from a positive frame of mind. It’s going to give other guys opportunities. Walker’s been a team guy. He never played defence in his life. He’s the type of kid, we said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to try to play defence.’ He said, ‘I’ll give it my best.’ To his credit, I don’t think he’s the worst defenceman in the Ontario Hockey League.”
More than 10 onetime members of the North Bay Centennials, who represented the Gateway of the North for 20 seasons ending in 2001-02, are expected to attend the Sudbury game. They include Bill Lang, captain of the OHL championship team of 1993-94, longtime National Hockey League defenceman Bill Houlder and Robin Boucher, the last captain of the Centennials.
“I think that’s probably where that game should be all the time,” Butler said of the scheduling of the event for a visit by the Wolves. “It makes sense to me as when you play Sudbury to do it. There’s a great tradition to the North Bay Centennials here in North Bay, and it’s something that we as an organization respect and want to continue to honour for the fans.”
Dmitry Sokolov leads the Wolves in scoring with 33 goals and 13 assists for 46 points in 39 games, while fellow centre Ryan Valentini has 14 goals and 22 assists for 36 points in 43 games. Left winger David Levin has produced 12 goals and 21 assists for 33 points in 43 games.
Centre Brett McKenzie leads the Battalion in points with 43, from 18 goals and 25 assists in 41 games. Right winger Steve Harland has a team-high 20 goals and 19 assists for 39 points in 42 games.
The Battalion completes a stretch of 10 games within the Eastern Conference when it visits the Peterborough Petes on Saturday night before playing host to the Saginaw Spirit, the former Centennials franchise, on Sunday.