Troops drop second on the road

ST. CATHARINES, Ont. — The Lost Weekend, starring Ray Milland and Jane Wyman, won the Oscar as best picture in 1945. The North Bay Battalion won’t get an Academy Award for its remake.

The injury-riddled Battalion, still scrambling for a playoff berth in the Ontario Hockey League’s Eastern Conference, suffered a 7-1 loss Sunday to the Niagara IceDogs, one of the teams the Troops have been chasing for the eighth and final playoff spot.

The defeat came on the heels of a 6-0 pasting Saturday night by the Barrie Colts in the opener of a two-game road trip.

The Battalion, which doubled the visiting Sudbury Wolves 4-2 last Thursday night, has a crucial home-and-home set looming with the Wolves starting Thursday night at North Bay.

The Troops have a won-lost-extended record of 23-36-6 for 52 points, fourth in the Central Division and ninth in the conference, three points behind Sudbury, which lost 5-2 to the visiting Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Niagara jumped a point ahead of the Wolves.

Akil Thomas scored one goal and earned four assists, Ben Jones had one goal and three assists, Johnny Corneil recorded two goals and one assist, Kirill Maksimov contributed two goals and Kyle Langdon also scored for Niagara, 23-32-10 for 56 points, second in the division and seventh in the conference. Goaltender Stephen Dhillon made 33 saves before a sellout crowd of 5,300 at the Meridian Centre.

Brett Hargrave scored the North Bay goal. Starting goaltender Brent Moran allowed six goals on 23 shots through two periods before giving way to Julian Sime, who gave up one goal on 13 shots.

Niagara grabbed a 3-1 lead in the first period, with Corneil opening the scoring at 1:43 when he drove deep on the right side to bury a cross-crease pass from Thomas.

Maksimov struck on the power play at 12:12. Moran stopped Thomas’s shot from the right-wing circle, but the puck landed in the crease, where Maksimov took two swipes to shove it into the net.

Hargrave responded with his 14th goal of the season at 12:58, moving into the slot and converting a feed from Rhys Forhan behind the goal line, but Corneil restored Niagara’s two-goal lead at 17:37. Ryan Mantha advanced from the blue line to the deep slot and sent a backhand pass to Corneil alone at the right post.

Penalty killer Langdon broke in alone on Moran and beat him with a backhand deke 21 seconds into the second period, and Maksimov struck on the power play at 12:42, tapping home a Jones feed. Thomas made it 6-1 with his 21st goal at 15:42, racing in off the right wing and lifting a backhander over Moran.

Jones finished the scoring at 13:44 of the third period, completing a rink-length odd-man rush by getting alone to the front of the net for a backhander and his 13th goal.

There were two fights in the final frame, with Brad Chenier taking the decision over Niagara’s Pavel Demin in the first bout, at 8:45.

A minute later, Justin Brack jumped the Battalion’s Zach Shankar for a perceived knee on Maksimov. In reality, Maksimov tripped over Shankar’s left foot and sprawled before limping off. In an after-the-fact call, Shankar received a kneeing minor as well as a fighting major, while Brack drew an instigating penalty, major and misconduct.

Referees Pat Myers and Sean Reid struggled throughout the game, with the tripping penalty to Brett McKenzie and the hooking infraction on Jesse Saban that preceded Niagara’s power-play goals among the cheapest calls of the season.

BATTALION BULLETS: The Battalion went 3-3-0 against Niagara this season …  McKenzie, who celebrated his 20th birthday, had four goals and four assists for eight points in five games against Niagara … Steve Harland had two goals and six assists for eight points in six games against the IceDogs … The Battalion went 0-for-3 on the power play. Niagara was 2-for-3 … Sime, who joined the Troops on Nov. 29 from the junior A Mississauga Chargers, turns 19 on Monday … The IceDogs played the fourth game of a six-game home stand … Opening lines featured McKenzie centring left winger Max Kislinger and right winger Harland, Kyle Potts pivoting Adam McMaster on left wing and right winger Justin Brazeau and Zach Poirier centring left winger Chenier and Daniil Vertiy on right wing. Hargrave centred left winger Daniel Walker and right winger Forhan … North Bay, which dressed 17 skaters, one below the limit, was without Eric Allair, Cam Dineen, Riley Bruce, Jacob Ball and Mat Woroniuk … Kislinger played his 100th OHL game … In six games against the Battalion, Mantha had two goals and five assists for seven points. He has a four-game points streak in which he has three goals and three assists for six points … Rookie Thomas has a four-game points streak during which he has one goal and eight assists for nine points … Jones has a four-game points streak in which he has two goals and six assists for eight points.

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