NORTH BAY, Ont. — The North Bay Battalion, fresh off a successful western swing, plays host to the Mississauga Steelheads at 7 p.m. Thursday in the annual Pink in the Rink game in support of the Canadian Cancer Society and breast cancer awareness.
It’s the first of three straight home games, including a meeting at 2 p.m. Sunday with the Kingston Frontenacs in the only other outing of the weekend.
The Troops won two of three road games last weekend, downing the Flint Firebirds 5-3 Friday night, suffering a 6-2 loss Saturday night to the Saginaw Spirit and defeating the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 3-2 in overtime Sunday on Justin Brazeau’s highlight goal that followed a flurry of saves, at least one without his catching glove, by goaltender Christian Purboo.
The Battalion, which has a won-lost-extended record of 4-6-0 for eight points, fifth in the Ontario Hockey League’s Central Division, is 2-2-0 in four games against West Division foes, all on the road.
Brazeau had two goals and three assists at Flint as the Battalion, which led 3-2 through two periods despite being outshot 26-14 in that time, allowed a tying goal before Adam McMaster and Brad Chenier scored on the power play. North Bay jumped to a 2-0 first-period lead at Saginaw before the hosts reeled off six unanswered goals, including four in the third period.
Purboo, who saw his first action of the weekend Sunday after Christian Propp staffed the crease in the first two games, produced 32 saves in the overtime win, which avenged a 6-0 loss Sept. 22 to the Greyhounds.
“Like a lot of our year, there were some points where we weren’t very good, and I thought there were some points where we were good,” assistant coach Adam Dennis said Wednesday of the road trip.
“The nice thing was that I thought our finishes to games were a little bit better, which hasn’t been something that we’ve done a great job at so far this season, so that was definitely promising. I thought Sunday was our best game and to do that when it’s your third game in two and a half nights is something that’s very promising. It says a lot about your team and its character.”
But, Dennis acknowledged, some issues remain to be addressed.
“I look to our first two periods in Flint and the third period in Saginaw, and there are still some things to work on.”
Brazeau, who leads the Battalion in points production with eight goals and as many assists in 10 games, said the Troops were in good spirits on the final leg back to North Bay.
“It’s one of the better feelings after a game and bus ride we’ve had in a long time here. Any time you can have that feeling after a game, it’s huge. We’re trying to keep having that feeling moving forward here and get some more wins.”
Brazeau had a different take from the standard reaction to playing three games in less than 48 hours.
“I’ve always found you’re not as tired as you think you are. When you get up in the morning you’re sluggish and stuff, and by the time the puck drops you seem to have some legs. It’s weird.
“I find the game in Saginaw the hardest one, actually, the second one. I might be different from every other guy, but I find the third game, the last game of the weekend, you just give it your all and you’re done for a day off the next day.”
The Battalion made the trip with a bare 18 skaters and two goaltenders, the maximum number dressed for a game. Centre Matthew Struthers, left wingers Daniel Walker and Cameron Peters, right winger Kurtis Evans and defenceman Travis Mailhot weren’t on the trip because of various ailments, an illness and, in Evans’s case, a suspension.
Dennis said that Struthers, who plays centre with Brazeau on right wing and several left wingers, including Chenier and McMaster, is day-to-day.
“He’s getting close,” Dennis said of Struthers, who has an upper-body injury. “He’s on the ice. He was a non-contact player yesterday, and we’ll continue to monitor it. We’re not writing off anything.”
The absence of Struthers and others gave some players additional responsibilities, said Dennis, including McMaster, who skated between Brazeau and Egor Postnov.
“I thought McMaster really benefited from the extra ice time,” noted Dennis. “He’s a guy that we’ve got to get going, so it was nice to see that. When one of your top guys is down, it’s never easy, but it is opportunity for some of the other players.”
Mississauga is 6-2-1 for 13 points, first in the division pending the result of the Niagara IceDogs’ visit Wednesday night to the Erie Otters. Right winger Cole Carter leads the Steelheads in points with 14 from 10 goals and four assists in nine games, while centre Ryan McLeod has one goal and 10 assists for 11 points in seven games.
Meanwhile, it was announced Tuesday that goaltender Joe Vrbetic, a Battalion prospect playing with the Powassan Voodoos of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, is one of 66 skaters and goaltenders named to play for one of three Canadian entries at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge scheduled Nov. 3-10 at Saint John and Quispamsis, N.B.
Vrbetic, a Dunvegan, Ont., resident who was a second-round pick by North Bay in the OHL Priority Selection last April, has seen action in relief in one game with the Battalion, a 7-2 home-ice loss Sept. 27 to the Oshawa Generals. He is one of four from the Canadian Junior Hockey League named to suit up for Canada Red, Canada White or Canada Black in the eight-team tournament that features entries from the United States, Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic.
Twenty-seven OHLers were chosen to take part.