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Tired Troops head home after loss

SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. — The undermanned and exhausted North Bay Battalion was happy to head home after completing a stretch of five consecutive road games with a 5-2 Ontario Hockey League loss Sunday to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

Boris Katchouk scored two goals for Sault Ste. Marie, while Jack Kopacka and Zachary Senyshyn each had one goal and one assist. Alex Gritz also scored for the Greyhounds, who boast a won-lost-extended record of 41-15-3 for 85 points atop the West Division. Goaltender Matthew Villalta made 26 saves before 4,047 at the Essar Centre.

Brett Hargrave and Kyle Potts scored and goaltender Julian Sime faced 50 shots for North Bay, 22-33-4 for 48 points. The Battalion is fourth in the Central Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference, two points behind the Niagara IceDogs and Ottawa 67’s, who are tied for seventh place in the conference after Niagara won 5-4 at Ottawa. The top eight finishers qualify for the playoffs.

The Troops, who defeated the Saginaw Spirit 3-2 Saturday night before busing to Sault Ste. Marie immediately after the game, completed a road trip of three games in as many days. The Battalion, which lost 6-3 Friday night to the Flint Firebirds in the first of two Michigan assignments, was 2-3-0 over the five straight away games.

Katchouk opened the scoring on the power play at 4:52 of the first period, driving to the net and steering Senyshyn’s low shot between Sime’s pads, and Kopacka connected at 11:07, tipping Conor Timmins’s shot past the glove of Sime, who was screened by Katchouk and others.

North Bay replied at 12:21 as the onrushing Hargrave beat Villalta with a low drive from between the circles. Brad Chenier earned the only assist on Hargrave’s 13th goal of the season, his first in 13 games since he netted the winner in a 2-1 decision Jan. 8 at Ottawa.

Gritz restored Sault Ste. Marie’s two-goal lead at 3:34 of the second period, shoveling home the rebound of a Timmins shot from the right side of the crease, before Katchouk made it 4-1 at 9:17 as he took a Kopacka pass while cruising across the goalmouth and tucked the puck around Sime’s left pad.

A checking-from-behind penalty to Jesse Saban ended three seconds before Senyshyn put his team-leading 37th goal behind Sime at the left post at 16:08. Battalion coach Stan Butler was adamant that the Greyhounds’ Morgan Frost should have been penalized for sliding Brett McKenzie’s dropped stick along the ice on the sequence leading to the goal.

Potts responded 21 seconds later, stationing himself alone in front of Villalta and burying an Adam Thilander feed. Adam McMaster also assisted on Potts’s 11th goal.

The Greyhounds outshot the Troops 19-9 in the period. Sime turned away chances for Katchouk, Kopacka, Hayden Verbeek, Frost and Blake Speers. McMaster, McKenzie and Brady Lyle were among those who had opportunities against Villalta.

The scoreless third period saw the hosts forge an 18-8 edge in shots against the fading Troops. Sime faced two tough chances by Bobby MacIntyre and dealt with drives from Timmins, Senyshen and Verbeek. A Tim Gettinger shot from deep in the left-wing circle trickled between Sime’s legs in the 15th minute but was cleared away by Daniel Walker, who moved back on defence for several shifts to relieve the beleaguered blueliners.

The Battalion plays host to the Barrie Colts at 7 p.m. Thursday.

BATTALION BULLETS: The Battalion, 1-3-0 against the Greyhounds this season, was 5-6-1 against the West Division and 6-14-2 against the Western Conference … McKenzie played a 255th game, eclipsing Sam Carrick for sole possession of ninth place on the franchise list. McKenzie saw the end of a five-game points streak in which he had three goals and three assists for six points … The Battalion went 4-8-0 in February … North Bay was 0-for-2 on the power play. Sault Ste. Marie went 1-for-5 … Opening lines featured McKenzie centring left winger Max Kislinger and right winger Steve Harland, Potts pivoting McMaster on left wing and right winger Justin Brazeau and Hargrave centring left winger Chenier and right winger Zach Poirier. Walker centred left winger Brett Hahkala and right winger Rhys Forhan … The Battalion, which dressed 17 skaters, one below the limit, was without Eric Allair, Cam Dineen, Riley Bruce, Andy Baker, Jacob Ball, Daniil Vertiy and Brent Moran … Mat Woroniuk backed up Sime as Moran was rested … Baker played a 10th game, the most permitted as an affiliate player up from the junior A Powassan Voodoos, at Saginaw … The ’Hounds ended a home stand with a 6-2-0 record … Senyshyn has two goals and six assists for eight points in the last three games … In four games against North Bay, Katchouk had five goals and two assists for seven points … The referees were Andrew Thompson and Ben Wilson.

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