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Road warriors ready for action

NORTH BAY, Ont. — The North Bay Battalion hits the road again for three games this weekend seeking better results as it continues what may be the most difficult stretch of its Ontario Hockey League schedule.

“We had a couple of good efforts on our last road trip but, like I told the players, even though we had a decent effort, we didn’t get any results,” coach Stan Butler said Wednesday as the Battalion prepared to face the Flint Firebirds at 7 p.m. Friday after two road losses last weekend.

The Troops were close in a 2-1 setback Sunday to the Kitchener Rangers after the Owen Sound Attack won 3-2 Saturday night, rebounding from a 2-0 deficit.

North Bay, which has four more games to play in a stretch of six away from Memorial Gardens, the longest such run of the schedule and all against Western Conference teams, downed the visiting Windsor Spitfires, reigning Memorial Cup champions, 4-0 last Thursday night.

Right winger Justin Brazeau scored the first two goals in that game, one shorthanded, as well as both goals at Owen Sound, on the power play, and a shorthanded marker at Kitchener, thus accounting for five of North Bay’s last seven goals.

“I don’t think you can have one player score all your goals on a weekend,” noted Butler. “You’re usually not going to do well if that happens, so we need to get some scoring from some other guys.

“Obviously, (Brett) McKenzie, (Adam) McMaster, (Luke) Burghardt are guys that are key guys of our team, and I don’t think it’s any secret to anybody that those three guys need to score for us to be successful.”

Brazeau leads Battalion points producers with 11 goals and eight assists for 19 points, while defenceman Cam Dineen has six goals and nine assists for 15 points. Centre Burghardt has amassed six goals and seven assists for 13 points and right winger Andy Baker three goals and six assists for nine points. Rearguard Adam Thilander has one goal and eight assists for nine points, while McMaster, a centre who’s played left wing recently, has eight assists for as many points. All have played 15 games except Baker, at 12.

McKenzie, who paced the Troops in scoring last season with 29 goals and 38 assists for 67 points in as many games, has scored two goals and added two assists for four points in nine games, having missed four games before rejoining the team from the American Hockey League’s Utica Comets and losing two games to a lower-body injury suffered with Utica.

“I think the offence that we need’s got to come from within the room, and we’re hoping that there are some guys in that room that have the potential to be goal scorers that will find their niche and will start to score,” said Butler.

Right winger Brandon Coe, a first-round pick in the OHL Priority Selection last April, who has two goals and two assists for four points in 15 games, won’t help in the immediate term. He left Monday for the Under-17 Hockey Challenge at Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, B.C., to play for Canada Red, one of three Canadian entries in the eight-team tournament that starts Sunday.

“The first key thing for anybody to score goals is they’ve got to get shots on net, so I think guys have got to look at getting pucks to the net and setting small goals for themselves,” said Butler, who acknowledged that team defence has looked better of late.

“I think our defence is getting better. Our goaltending’s been pretty good, and our defence is settling in now and our forwards are doing their job too.”

Butler suggested that the Troops will soldier on despite the loss in his Battalion debut of goaltender Christian Propp, acquired Oct. 22 from Owen Sound and who left 5:31 into the Windsor game with a lower-body injury. North Bay was devastated last season by a slew of injuries, with overage goaltender Brent Moran and backup Mat Woroniuk, who cleared waivers last week, out of action at the same time and as many as four defencemen sidelined simultaneously.

“I think what last year taught us, if anything, is that we’ve just got to kind of try to deal with it and kind of roll with the punches and go from there,” allowed Butler, who said succinctly of Propp: “He will be unavailable for this weekend.”

The Battalion had Julian Sime and Christian Purboo staffing the crease last weekend.

North Bay, which has a won-lost-extended record of 5-8-2 for 12 points, was tied for third place in the Central Division with the Sudbury Wolves and holding one game in hand before Sudbury’s visit Wednesday night to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

The Battalion visits the Saginaw Spirit on Saturday night and Sault Ste. Marie on Sunday.

The game at Flint can be heard live on Country 600 CKAT.

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