Kitchener poses stiff test

NORTH BAY, Ont. — The North Bay Battalion, fresh from ending a six-game losing streak Sunday, plays host to the red-hot Kitchener Rangers at 7 p.m. Thursday to start a short two-game week for the Ontario Hockey League team.

Kitchener, which defeated the visiting Peterborough Petes 4-1 Sunday night, has won its last four games and eight of its last nine, the other being a 6-5 overtime loss Nov. 11 to the host Windsor Spitfires.

“They’ve got an older team, an experienced team, and we’ve had a steady diet of the Western Conference lately, and this is just another example of that,” Battalion coach Stan Butler said Tuesday of Kitchener, which boasts a won-lost-extended record of 15-6-2 for 32 points, the third-best showing in the league, atop the Midwest Division.

“We need to get off to a good start. We’ve dug holes for ourselves, and then, after a good start, we need to play a full 60 minutes.”

North Bay, which downed the host Sudbury Wolves 6-5 in its last outing, is 7-13-3 for 17 points, fifth in the Central Division. The Kitchener game is the Battalion’s ninth against the opposite conference in 12 outings. The Troops, who entertain the Barrie Colts on Sunday, were 0-5-1 in their previous six games before beating Sudbury as left winger Brad Chenier scored three goals.

“Brad had 70 points in junior A before he came here,” noted Butler. “He was sitting at three goals, and we think he’s probably a 20-goal scorer, and maybe this game’s the breakout he needs in order for him to be successful.”

Chenier, a Kitchener native and Hanmer, Ont., resident, scored 29 goals and earned 43 assists for 72 points in 52 games with the Rayside-Balfour Canadians of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League in 2015-16 after being a fourth-round Battalion pick in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection.

While Butler was happy to see Chenier register his first multi-goal OHL game, he said the likes of forwards Brett McKenzie, Luke Burghardt and Adam McMaster “are three guys that we need probably to be three of the top four scorers on our team.”

“All you can do is reaffirm to them the things that they need to do to be successful, provide them with opportunity, and then hopefully they come around.”

In the teams’ first meeting, on Oct. 29, the host Rangers edged North Bay 2-1 as Adam Mascherin and Riley Damiani scored goals nine seconds apart before Justin Brazeau replied shorthanded, all in the first period. Battalion goaltender Julian Sime made 35 saves, while his Kitchener counterpart, Luke Richardson, made 30.

Sime figures to get the start Thursday night, as former Barrie goaltender Christian Propp remains sidelined with a lower-body injury suffered early in his Battalion debut, a 4-0 home-ice win Oct. 26 over Windsor in which Sime shared the shutout.

“I would say now it’s seven to 14 days, so we’re getting closer,” Butler said of the prospects for Propp’s return. “I’ll be happier when it’s single digits, but we’ve just got to wait and see.”

Rangers coach Jay McKee told the Waterloo Region Record: “I think right now there is not one guy that I can say I’m disappointed with regarding their work ethic on both sides of the puck. You don’t see that a lot as a coach. Usually there are some guys you are trying to light a fire under.”

Left winger Mascherin leads the offence with 11 goals and 12 assists for 23 points in as many games, while centre Connor Bunnaman has a team-high 14 goals and six assists for 20 points in 21 games. Each of defenceman Logan Stanley and right winger Joseph Garreffa has five goals and 13 assists for 18 points, Stanley in 21 games and Garreffa in 23.

Right winger Brazeau, who’s scored in the last three games, paces the Troops with a team-leading 15 goals and nine assists for 24 points. Left winger Burghardt, on a seven-game points streak, has nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points and defenceman Cam Dineen six goals and a team-high 15 assists for 21 points. Rearguard Adam Thilander follows with one goal and 14 assists for 15 points. All have played 23 games.

The game is North Bay’s OHL Big Ticket Night, featuring a bucket-pass fundraiser during the second intermission, with all proceeds going to Special Olympics Ontario.

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