Troops on the road again

NORTH BAY, Ont. — The North Bay Battalion undertakes a three-game road trip this week to complete an arduous 16-game stretch of its Ontario Hockey League schedule.

“We’re basically an Eastern Conference team that’s played in the Western Conference,” coach Stan Butler said Wednesday before the Battalion boarded the bus to head to a meeting with the Windsor Spitfires at 7:05 p.m. Thursday. The Troops visit the Sarnia Sting on Friday night and the London Knights on Saturday night.

“You’re playing three games in three days against some pretty good teams, so I’d be lying if I’d say it was going to be easy,” noted Butler.

By the end of the London game, North Bay, which has a won-lost-extended record of 8-14-3 for 19 points, fifth in the Central Division, will have played 14 of its 22 games against teams from the opposite conference, having gone 3-6-2 in such games to this point.

Of the eight games that will be left, six are at home, the exceptions being a second visit to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and one to the Erie Otters. The Sault Ste. Marie game is Dec. 8 and the Erie trip Dec. 16, making them the first two to be played.

The London game is the last of 16 straight that will have featured 11 road dates and 12 games against the opposite conference.

The Battalion has won two of its last three outings, defeating the host Sudbury Wolves 6-5 on Nov. 19 and the visiting Kitchener Rangers 5-4 last Thursday night before losing 3-2 on home ice Sunday to the Barrie Colts.

“I thought for a couple of games there we had turned the corner,” said Butler. “I don’t think we were bad in the game against Barrie, but we weren’t as good as we’d been in the games just before that, so we’ll see.

“This road trip’s a pretty difficult road trip if you’re in first place, let alone where we are, so we’ve just got to go this weekend and find ways to win games. Once we get through this weekend, I think, our schedule becomes a little bit more friendly, is probably the best way to put it.”

Butler got support from Kitchener centre Riley Damiani, who told the Waterloo Region Record: “Their record doesn’t show the way that they play. They’re a really good hockey team, and I guess we just came out a little slow.”

Windsor, which was blanked 4-0 at Memorial Gardens on Oct. 26 to start the current 16-game run, is 13-10-1 for 27 points, tied with the Saginaw Spirit for third place in the West Division. Sarnia won 8-2 at North Bay on Oct. 19 and boasts the best record in the league at 21-4-1 for 43 points atop the division, while London is 12-11-2 for 26 points, fourth in the Midwest Division.

Butler said that rookie defenceman Travis Mailhot, who’s yet to make his OHL debut because of a pair of injuries in preseason and practice, probably will play during the road trip, while forwards Daniel Walker, out indefinitely, and Rhys Forhan, four to six weeks from returning, won’t be back, as is the case with rearguard Eric Allair, who has missed the last eight games.

“I don’t know where we are with Allair. It’s kind of a mystery what’s wrong with his back, and I know our trainers and everybody’s trying to deal with that as well.”

Goaltender Christian Propp, who was acquired in an Oct. 22 trade with the Owen Sound Attack and has seen the crease for just the first 5:31 of the Windsor game, could play at some point in the next three games.

“He’s getting close,” said Butler. “We probably will get him in a game this week. We’ll just see. It’s a day-by-day thing right now. Every day he gets a little better, but he is practising right now without a red jersey on, which is promising, and if he needed to play in a game he is capable of doing that.”

The game at Windsor can be seen live in North Bay on YourTV Channels 12 and 700 and heard on Country 600 CKAT.

Meanwhile, the OHL has changed the official scoring on the Battalion’s third goal in a 5-1 road win Nov. 3 over the Flint Firebirds, correctly crediting the goal to right winger Andy Baker rather than defenceman Riley Bruce, with the primary and secondary assists going to Bruce and Forhan instead of Forhan and Walker.

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