NORTH BAY, Ont. — The injury-ravaged North Bay Battalion served notice Wednesday night that it won’t go down without a fight in its hunt for an Ontario Hockey League playoff berth.
Steve Harland scored two goals as the Battalion snapped a four-game losing skid with a 4-2 victory over the Sudbury Wolves. Rhys Forhan and Daniil Vertiy also scored, while Brad Chenier earned two assists and goaltender Brent Moran provided 32 saves before a crowd of 2,784.
North Bay moved its won-lost-extended record to 23-34-6 for 52 points, tied with the Niagara IceDogs for third place in the Central Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference. The Battalion, which dressed 17 skaters, one below the limit, was 0-2-2 in its previous four games since a 3-2 road win over the Saginaw Spirit on Feb. 25.
Drake Pilon and Zach Wilkie scored for Sudbury, which suffered a fifth straight loss as it too battles for a postseason berth. Goaltender Jake McGrath faced 32 shots for the Wolves, 23-32-7 for 53 points, second in the division and seventh in the conference, in which the top eight teams qualify for the playoffs.
“We played a pretty strong game,” said Battalion coach Stan Butler. “It was one of our better games for 60 minutes. They’re a highly skilled team, and we had to play well. We were a little thin on defence, and the five guys back there, plus Moran, had a great game. Moran was solid. We need Brent to play the way he played tonight. If he gives us goaltending like that, he gives us a chance to win every night.”
Harland tied it 2-2 with his 27th goal of the season at 11:31 of the second period when a falling Chenier slid the puck out to the right-wing circle from behind the goal line and Harland beat McGrath to the far side.
Forhan struck for the winner at 16:45 when his shot from the right wing deflected off the stick of defender Aiden Jamieson and under the crossbar. Rookie Forhan’s second goal was assisted by Zach Shankar and Brett Hargrave, who drove to the net and obscured McGrath’s view.
Vertiy, fresh back from injury, connected at 1:32 of the third period. McGrath stopped Chenier’s drive from the left circle, but Vertiy was on the doorstep to shovel the puck home on the backhand. Mark Shoemaker also assisted on Vertiy’s 13th goal.
Moran faced 15 shots in the period, producing stops on Chandler Yakimowicz, Macauley Carson and Shane Bulitka with Brett McKenzie serving a double minor for high-sticking.
“With their offence, that was a big kill for us,” said Butler. “We’re up two goals on a double minor, and they get two cracks at it.”
McGrath went to the bench for a sixth skater with 1:45 left, and the Troops had a chance at the empty net, but Max Kislinger opted to pass instead of shooting, with Harland missing the net. McKenzie had an attempt blocked, and at the other end Moran made two stops on Wilkie after Jesse Saban went off for hooking at 19:15.
Pilon opened the scoring at 2:46 of a wide-open first period. Ryan Valentini caused Shankar to turn over the puck, and the disc made its way to Pilon, who fired it over Moran’s left shoulder.
The Battalion tied it at 7:39 off a turnover. McKenzie stripped Reagan O’Grady of the puck behind the net and passed to Harland, who cruised across the goalmouth and waited for McGrath to go down before slipping home a backhander from the left side.
Defenceman Wilkie put Sudbury back in front at 10:33, taking a feed from Alan Lyszczarczyk and drilling a low shot from the blue line.
The Troops, who had three power plays, including a two-man advantage for 1:26, recorded 17 shots in the frame. Kislinger, Saban, Adam McMaster, Brady Lyle and Zach Poirier were among those who tested McGrath. Harland hit the right post in the fourth minute.
Moran faced 15 shots, including tough chances for Valentini, Dmitry Sokolov, Yakimowicz and Carson.
The Battalion visits the Barrie Colts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The game can be seen live on CogecoTV Channel 12 and heard on Country 600 CKAT.
BATTALION BULLETS: The Battalion is 4-1-1 against the Wolves with two games left in the season series, a home-and-home set opening at North Bay next Thursday night and continuing Friday night … In six games against Sudbury, Harland has four goals and five assists for nine points … Chenier enjoyed the first multi-point game of his OHL career … McKenzie has one goal and three assists for four points in the last four games … Forhan was a second-round pick in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection from the York Simcoe Express minor midgets … Vertiy returned after losing six games to an elbow injury suffered Feb. 18 in a 6-1 loss at Barrie … The Battalion went 0-for-4 on the power play. Sudbury was 0-for-3 … Opening lines featured McKenzie centring left winger Kislinger and right winger Harland, Kyle Potts centring McMaster on left wing and right winger Justin Brazeau and Poirier pivoting left winger Chenier and Vertiy on right wing. Hargrave centred left winger Daniel Walker and right winger Forhan … The Battalion was without Eric Allair, Cam Dineen, Riley Bruce, Jacob Ball and Mat Woroniuk … Sokolov is tied for second in OHL scoring with 42 goals, behind the 60 of the Erie Otters’ Alex DeBrincat. Sokolov is tied with DeBrincat for the league lead with 14 power-play goals. In six games against North Bay, Sokolov has three goals and five assists for eight points … The referees were Ben Moser and Scott Oakman.