NORTH BAY, Ont. — The North Bay Battalion, on a four-game losing skid, looks to reverse its fortunes at 7 p.m. Wednesday against the visiting Ottawa 67’s without Stan Butler, director of hockey operations and head coach.
“For the foreseeable future, Stan’s going to take a medical leave, and as of now I’m going to assume the managerial duties,” Adam Dennis, an assistant coach and assistant general manager, said Tuesday.
“Scott Wray’s going to do a lot of what Stan did on the bench, and outside of that it’s going to be business as usual, so I think at this point we’ve all got to respect his privacy and hope for a full recovery.”
Assistants Wray and Dennis ran the Battalion bench Sunday night in a 7-5 road loss to the Oshawa Generals in the first game without Butler.
“I think the one thing that Stan did a great job (with) is including Razor and (me) in everything that he’s done from the day that we both got here,” noted Dennis.
“We’ve done everything as a group. Our captain’s not going to be here, so that’s going to be tough, but he’s also one call away, and he’s someone that we’re both going to lean on. At the same time, we want him to get better so he can be here himself.”
The Battalion, which downed the visiting Hamilton Bulldogs 7-5 on Sept. 21 in the season opener for both teams, has a won-lost-extended record of 1-4-0, last in the Central Division and Eastern Conference.
The Troops, historically a stingy defensive squad, have given up 31 goals, without an empty-netter, in five games while breaking in three first-year defencemen, in Payton Vescio, who played one game last season, Austrian import David Maier and Pacey Schlueting, a first-round pick in the OHL Priority Selection last April.
“We have two D that took a defensive-zone draw all of last season, outside of Cole Cameron whom we brought in after the fact,” said Dennis. “We knew that there were going to be growing pains. We need them to turn that into development, so that’s part of this. They’ve got to play. They’ve got to go through these mistakes, and now we’ve got video to correct it.
“We’ve seen some areas that there’s been improvement. I think what we haven’t seen is a full 60 minutes yet. Even in the Oshawa game, I thought our first 40 minutes we really competed hard, and there were a couple of young mistakes in the third period that ended up costing us.”
Goaltender Christian Purboo manned the crease at Oshawa, facing 36 shots, after Christian Propp gave up six goals on 41 shots in a 6-1 road loss Saturday night to the Niagara IceDogs.
Propp has a 6.37 goals-against average, an .833 save percentage and a 1-3-0 record, while Purboo is 0-1-0 with a 7.15 GAA and .806 save percentage. Joe Vrbetic, who was recalled from the junior A Powassan Voodoos and relieved Propp in a 7-2 home-ice setback to Oshawa on Thursday night, has a 3.67 GAA and .857 save percentage.
“We want him to just focus on being one of 25 and, in saying that, we just want him to do his job, just like everybody else,” Dennis said of Propp, who was acquired via trade with the Owen Sound Attack last Oct. 22.
“I think for the first couple of games he’s tried to be the first star every night, which is tough to do. He just needs to build on his structure, and those big saves come. He’s a competitive kid. We have a lot of confidence in Christian Propp and we fully expect him to turn it around.”
Propp said the team has to look past Butler’s absence and correct early shortcomings.
“Regardless of the distraction, whatever happens, I think our group right now just needs to focus on what we can do every day to make ourselves better, so I think if we can do that we can turn this around fairly quick.
“Obviously, we’ve got a lot different D corps than last year, but at the end of the day my job doesn’t change. I was brought here to stop pucks, so whether we’ve got bruisers in the back end or puck-moving D, my job stays the same. My responsibility is to make saves and give my team a chance to win every night.”
Right winger Justin Brazeau, who scored three first-period goals at Oshawa, paces the Battalion offence with a team-high five goals and two assists for seven points in five games, while centre Matthew Struthers has three goals and four assists for seven points in five games.
Struthers is the only member of the Battalion among 44 OHLers on a ‘Players to Watch’ list issued Monday by the National Hockey League’s central scouting department in advance of the NHL Draft to be held June 21-22 at Vancouver. The department will compile rankings of draft-eligible players in midseason and at the conclusion of the schedule.
Centre Austen Keating leads Ottawa with two goals and five assists for seven points in five games, and right winger Tye Felhaber has four goals and two assists for six points in five games.
The Battalion completes a light week of only two games when it plays host to the Peterborough Petes at 2 p.m. Monday in the annual Thanksgiving Day game.