NORTH BAY, Ont. — Brett McKenzie of the North Bay Battalion is among 25 players named Tuesday to play for the Ontario Hockey League in the CIBC Canada Russia Series next month.
Centre McKenzie is to play in both games of the OHL segment, which opens at North Bay on Thursday, Nov. 10, and concludes at Hamilton on Nov. 14. Some players will participate in only one of the games, which serve as a key part of the selection process for the Canadian national team for the 2017 World Junior Championship at Montreal and Toronto from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.
Battalion coach Stan Butler is to assist head coach Kris Knoblauch of the Erie Otters in the game at Memorial Gardens, while James Borrelli, Battalion athletic therapist and equipment manager, and assistant equipment manager Daryl Ashenden will fill those roles with the OHL team.
McKenzie, a seventh-round choice of the Vancouver Canucks in the National Hockey League Draft last June, leads the Troops in scoring with eight goals and five assists for 13 points in 11 games.
“It’s a huge honour to be recognized in that way,” McKenzie said of his selection. “I want to make the best of it and have a good time.”
He said he’s happy to play the first game at North Bay, sleeping “at home.”
“It’s going to be nuts. I hope there’s going to be a good crowd here that night supporting the OHL team.”
As to Butler serving as an assistant, McKenzie noted: “We were talking about that in the room. It’s going to be a little weird not seeing him right in the middle, but I think he’ll do a good job.”
Butler suggested he’s happy with his role and up to the task.
“I think Kris is one of the top up-and-coming coaches in the game, and it’s going to be fun for me to have to change the defence and not worry about much else.”
Butler, who by his recollection is involved in the series for the 16th time, eight as a coach and eight as the general manager of Team OHL, said the game is a good thing for the Gateway of the North.
“This is great for the city of North Bay. It gives them the chance to see world-class hockey, and it will be great for the city to showcase itself and the arena on a national level.”
Butler said that former Battalion centre Nick Paul, who played for Canada in the 2015 world juniors, is an example of those players who have jumped to the forefront in the series.
“Nick started at the bottom of the mountain to even be remotely considered for that team. He had a strong Canada Russia Series and from there got an invite to the camp and found a way to make the team, then went from there to win a gold medal.”
Apart from McKenzie, forwards named to play for Team OHL at North Bay are Will Bitten of the Hamilton Bulldogs, Anthony Cirelli of the Oshawa Generals, Jordan Kyrou of the Sarnia Sting, Adam Mascherin of the Kitchener Rangers, Michael McLeod of the Mississauga Steelheads, Zachary Senyshyn and Blake Speers of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Givani Smith of the Guelph Storm, Mitchell Stephens of the Saginaw Spirit and Gabriel Vilardi of the Windsor Spitfires.
The defencemen are Kyle Capobianco of the Sudbury Wolves, Mississauga’s Nicolas Hague, Matt Spencer of the Peterborough Petes, Windsor’s Logan Stanley and Oshawa’s Mitchell Vande Sompel.
Saginaw’s Evan Cormier, a former member of the Battalion, and Peterborough’s Dylan Wells are the goaltenders.
The six-game series involving the constituent leagues of the Canadian Hockey League opens with the Russian national junior team facing a Western Hockey League squad for two games and concludes with Quebec Major Junior Hockey League representatives playing two games.
“I want to continue to try and make the world junior team, so I’m going to continue to push myself,” said McKenzie. “I really have to show myself off in these games to try and make that team.”
Team OHL was assembled by a committee including Dale DeGray, general manager of the Owen Sound Attack and a member of Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence management group, and Guelph GM Mike Kelly. They worked with Ryan Jankowski, Hockey Canada’s director of player personnel.
At Hamilton, Dominique Ducharme of the QMJHL’s Drummondville Voltigeurs, head coach of the Canadian national team, will serve as bench boss, aided by Knoblauch, an assistant with Canada. Butler was Canada’s head coach at the world juniors in 2001 and 2002.
Tickets to the game at Memorial Gardens, to be televised nationally by Sportsnet and TVA Sports, are available at the box office on Battalion game days and nights, at Battalion Headquarters from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and online at battalionhockey.com. Tickets are $22 for season ticketholders and $25 for others.