‘Hounds: ‘Better late than never’

SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. — For the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, the celebration came 24 hours late. For the North Bay Battalion, it didn’t come at all.

Alex Johnston scored two goals and goaltender Matthew Villalta made 33 saves for the shutout as the Greyhounds skated to a 6-0 victory Saturday night in their Ontario Hockey League home opener, which was delayed a day by inclement weather, after acknowledging their league-best record and Western Conference championship of last season.

Morgan Frost had one goal and one assist, and Zack Trott, Roman Pucek and Jordan Sambrook added a goal apiece for Sault Ste. Marie, which evened its won-lost-extended record at 1-1-0 after a season-opening 5-2 loss Wednesday night to the Saginaw Spirit. Villalta produced his fourth OHL shutout for the ’Hounds, coached by John Dean, a former Battalion assistant and a onetime member of the North Bay Centennials.

Goaltender Christian Propp faced 41 shots for the Battalion before 4,071 at GFL Memorial Gardens, formerly the Essar Centre. The Battalion, tasked with facing conference champions in its first two games, defeated the visiting Hamilton Bulldogs, reigning Eastern Conference and league champions, 7-5 Friday night in the season opener for both teams.

Trott opened the scoring at 1:52 of the first period off a turnover in the slot, breaking past the defence to connect on Sault Ste. Marie’s first shot of the game, before rookie Johnston collected his first OHL goal at 17:14, going to the goalmouth to deflect home a right-wing feed from the onrushing Rory Kerins. Brett Jacklin had the other assist.

Brad Chenier and Matthew Struthers got behind the ’Hounds defence in the fifth minute but couldn’t capitalize, and Chenier failed to connect on a counterclockwise wraparound attempt in the seventh minute.

North Bay was handed a two-man advantage for 58 seconds after Cole MacKay and Anthony DeMeo went off for slashing and tripping respectively late in the period, but the intermission interrupted the Troops’ attack. After play resumed, Brandon Coe set up an open Braden Henderson on the left side, but he failed to get off a shot on Villalta.

Johnston made it 3-0 at 3:43 of the second period off a tap pass in front from Kerins, and Frost struck unassisted at 5:31, breaking in alone to tuck the puck between Propp’s legs on a backhander.

Villalta foiled Cameron Peters on a one-timer at 4:46, and Chenier, Struthers and Justin Brazeau all threatened midway in the period. Propp denied Cullen McLean from close range in the 11th minute and robbed Ryan Roth in the 16th when he got to a loose puck at the right lip of the crease.

Pucek scored on a drive through traffic toward the net at 10:54 of the third period, and defenceman Sambrook hit the mark from the inner edge of the left circle at 18:59.

The Battalion returns to action at 7 p.m. Thursday when it plays host to the Oshawa Generals.

BATTALION BULLETS: The Greyhounds held their home opener a day late after the Sarnia Sting’s visit Friday night was postponed because of high winds that saw the Mackinac Bridge between Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula closed. Dating to 1957, the five-mile-long bridge is the world’s 20th-longest main span … Opening lines for the Battalion, which dressed 11 forwards and seven defencemen for a second straight game, saw Struthers centring left winger Chenier and right winger Brazeau, Adam McMaster skating between left winger Luke Moncada and right winger Coe and Kyle Potts centring left winger Daniel Walker and Egor Postnov on right wing. Centre Peters and Rhys Forhan, on right wing, had various linemates … Defence pairings had Henderson with Cole Cameron, Nick King with David Maier and Simon Rose with Payton Vescio. Pacey Schlueting was the seventh defenceman … The Troops were without Travis Mailhot, Kurtis Evans, Patrick Brown, Andy Baker and Harrison Caines, the victim of a dirty check by Hamilton’s Isaac Nurse … Russian import Postnov made his OHL debut … Walker hit the left post early in the third period … Captain Brazeau had Struthers, Cameron and Chenier, who’ll wear an ‘A’ on the road, as alternates … The Battalion went 0-for-3 on the power play. The Greyhounds were 0-for-4 … Scott Ferguson and Drew Jackson were the referees.

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