Mississauga next test

NORTH BAY, Ont. — The surging North Bay Battalion plays host to the Mississauga Steelheads at 7 p.m. Thursday in a game that’s key to both teams’ prospects in the Ontario Hockey League’s Central Division.

North Bay has a won-lost-extended record of 19-18-3 for 41 points, third in the division, a point ahead of Mississauga, after posting an 8-0-1 record in its last nine games. The Steelheads are 18-17-4 on the season but 4-11-2 in their last 17 games.

The Battalion registered a season-high seventh straight win last Thursday night in a 4-2 verdict over the visiting Oshawa Generals before hitting the road for two games, losing 4-3 via shootout Saturday night to the Owen Sound Attack and downing the Guelph Storm 5-2 Sunday.

North Bay has 28 games left to play, numbering 17 at home, where the team is 9-6-2, and 11 on the road, where the Troops are 10-12-1.

It’s the third of six meetings between the Battalion and Steelheads, who split the first two, Mississauga winning 4-3 Oct. 18 at North Bay and the visiting Troops prevailing 5-2 Nov. 23.

The Steelheads have remade their roster since the last meeting, acquiring five players in defencemen Liam Ham and Duncan Penman, right winger C.J. Clarke, centre Aidan Prueter and left winger Nick McHugh and 11 OHL Priority Selection picks, one of them conditional, while trading away centre Ryan MacLeod, right winger Owen Tippett and seven picks.

The four most recent deals happened this month, with the OHL trade deadline approaching at noon Thursday. Overagers had to be dealt by noon Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the Battalion acquired import defenceman Zack Malik, 18, from the Sudbury Wolves for a fifth-round pick in 2021.

“I’m excited to get to know new guys, new teammates, a new city and to play good hockey here,” Malik said Wednesday before his first practice with the Troops.

“I would describe myself more as a two-way defenceman, so I like to join the rush. I’m getting things done in the D zone. I can move the puck and try to create some plays in the offensive zone and play good defence.”

Assistant coach Adam Dennis said Malik is a welcome addition after the team, with Payton Vescio sidelined, played its last three games one short on the blue line.

“He’s got some offensive ability,” Dennis noted of Malik, a dual Czech and United States citizen. “He plays with a mean streak. He comes highly touted. For us to acquire a guy like that for a fifth-round pick, it gives him an opportunity to show what he can do in a change of scenery, and we think it helps solidify our back end.”

Malik is expected to be in the lineup against Mississauga, as is left winger Kyle Jackson, recalled from the junior A Ottawa Jr. Senators after Cameron Peters experienced concussion-like symptoms from a head check by Zach Poirier in the Guelph game. Poirier, a onetime first-round pick by the Battalion, was suspended six games and will serve it with Owen Sound, where he was traded Wednesday.

The Battalion completed a deal Wednesday, sending the OHL rights to goaltender Cal Schell to Oshawa for a sixth-round pick in 2021. North Bay took Schell from the Burlington Cougars midgets in the second round of the 2018 OHL Under-18 Priority Selection. He has played this season with the Hamilton Kilty B’s of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.

The passing of the overage trade deadline means that right winger Justin Brazeau, second in league scoring with 37 goals and 31 assists for 68 points in 40 games, will finish his four-year OHL career with North Bay. Brazeau, a native of New Liskeard, Ont., was a 13th-round pick in 2014.

“The last couple of days leading up, you don’t know what’s going to happen, so it’s nice that it’s past and I can look forward to the rest of the season,” said Brazeau.

“I’m happy where I am. I love it here. I can’t ask for anything more, so I’m happy to be a North Bay Battalion for the rest of the year. I’m happy to be able to finish out my four years here. It’s been great. They’ve treated me really well, so I’m happy to be here.”

Brazeau is set to continue his assault on the franchise record book. In 240 games, he has 104 goals and 89 assists for 193 points, ninth on the career list. Brazeau’s 37 goals this season are 13 short of Mike Amadio’s record of 50, set in 2015-16.

To complete weekend play, the Battalion embarks on a two-game road trip, facing the Peterborough Petes on Saturday night and the Kingston Frontenacs on Sunday night.

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