Troops fail to weather Storm
GUELPH, Ont. — Isaac Ratcliffe scored two goals to pace the Guelph Storm to a 6-2 victory over the North Bay Battalion in Ontario Hockey League action Friday night.
Matt Hotchkiss contributed one goal and two assists, Nate Schnarr and Ryan Merkley each had one goal and one assist and James McEwan also scored for the Storm, which got 33 saves from goaltender Anthony Popovich.
Guelph, which wore special black-based Veterans Week sweaters, putting the Troops in white, has a won-lost-extended record of 9-7-2 for 20 points, tied for second place in the Midwest Division with the Owen Sound Attack, which holds two games in hand.
Riley Bruce and Brett McKenzie scored for the Battalion, 6-11-2 for 14 points, fifth in the Central Division. Goaltender Julian Sime gave up five goals on 38 shots, with Merkley hitting an empty net.
The Troops completed a stretch of six road games, all against Western Conference teams, in which they went 1-5-0. North Bay’s last home game was a 4-0 win Oct. 26 over the Windsor Spitfires, reigning Memorial Cup champions.
The Battalion returns home to play host to the Niagara IceDogs at 2 p.m. Sunday on Military Appreciation Day. The Troops will wear special ‘Canada 150’ sweaters, featuring the CF-18 demonstration jet. The sweaters are to be sold in a silent auction in the north concourse of Memorial Gardens, with all proceeds going to the Military Family Resource Centre at Canadian Forces Base North Bay.
The Storm emerged from the first period with a 3-0 lead, sparked by Hotchkiss’s goal 56 seconds after the opening faceoff. Hotchkiss drove to the net and put a Merkley feed past Sime. Schnarr scored at 12:15, slipping home a Liam Hawel pass from the left-wing circle, and McEwan beat Sime high to the stick side off the left wing at 17:15.
The Troops, outshot 15-13, tested Popovich on several occasions, but the goaltender foiled a close-in chance for Justin Brazeau, managed a high shot from Jesse Saban and was strong in the crease as McKenzie just missed converting a wraparound. McKenzie and Luke Moncada both had chances in the final minute.
The Storm took a 4-0 lead at 12:41 of the second period. Sime made an initial stop on Owen Lalonde and a second save on Alexey Toropchenko, who had two assists, before Ratcliffe swept the rebound home from the deep slot.
Defenceman Bruce got the Troops on the board at 15:01 when his rising wrister from the blue line eluded Popovich, who was screened by North Bay’s Rhys Forhan and Brad Chenier. Cam Dineen and Kyle Potts assisted on Bruce’s second goal of the season.
McKenzie pulled the Battalion within two goals at 19:07. Popovich stopped a Saban shot from the left point, but McKenzie was at the lip of the crease to convert the rebound for his fourth goal. Luke Burghardt had the other assist. In 277 career games, McKenzie has 83 goals and 99 assists for 182 points, tied with Jay McClement for ninth place on the franchise scoring list.
Ratcliffe struck again at 6:26 of the third period for a team-leading seventh goal, finishing off a three-way passing play with Toropchenko and Cam Hillis at the right post.
McKenzie and Dineen had chances before Sime went to the bench for a sixth skater with 2:22 to play. But the Storm had the best chances with the net empty, and Hotchkiss and Hawel both missed the vacant cage before defenceman Merkley finished the scoring at 18:58.
Guelph’s Garrett McFadden saw the end of a six-game points streak in which he had three goals and five assists for eight points.
BATTALION BULLETS: For the first time, the Battalion wore shoulder patches marking the 100th competition for the Memorial Cup. The Canadian Hockey League’s title tournament is to be hosted May 17-27 by the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League … Forwards Burghardt and Moncada joined the Troops from Guelph in a June 27 trade for defenceman Mark Shoemaker and right winger Zach Poirier, who’s serving a 10-game suspension for a head-checking major and game misconduct in a 7-4 loss Oct. 22 to the host Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. The other three players faced their former teammates for the first time … Mat Woroniuk, who was released Oct. 25, was recalled to back up Sime. Woroniuk has played five games this season … Each team went 0-for-1 on the power play … The Battalion was without Eric Allair, Travis Mailhot, Daniel Walker, Brandon Coe and Christian Propp … Among the missing for Guelph, which dressed 19, one below the limit, were Tag Bertuzzi, with Canada Black at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge at Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, B.C., and Givani Smith … Merkley, the first overall pick in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection, has a seven-game points streak in which he has recorded four goals and seven assists for 11 points … The Storm sweaters, which featured a depiction of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, are to be auctioned.