Troops settle for shootout point

NORTH BAY, Ont. — The injury-plagued North Bay Battalion, fighting for its Ontario Hockey League playoff life Sunday, battled from behind three times before ceding a 5-4 victory via shootout to the Hamilton Bulldogs.

North Bay, now two points behind the Niagara IceDogs and three behind the Sudbury Wolves, may have to adjust its sights in trying to secure an Eastern Conference playoff berth. The Battalion hosts Sudbury at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Michael Cramarossa scored the only goal in the shootout as the Bulldogs snapped a four-game losing skid. Benjamin Gleason scored two goals and Will Bitten and Zachary Jackson each had one for Hamilton, which has a won-lost-extended record of 30-25-7 for 67 points, tied with the idle Kingston Frontenacs for third place in the East Division and fourth place in the conference.

The Bulldogs got 28 saves through overtime from goaltender Kaden Fulcher before 2,737 at Memorial Gardens.

Steve Harland scored one goal and added two assists for the Battalion, which also got goals from Brett Hahkala, Brad Chenier and Max Kislinger. The Troops, 22-34-6 for 50 points after losing their last four games, are fourth in the Central Division and ninth in the conference, in which the top eight teams qualify for the postseason. Goaltender Brent Moran faced 33 shots through overtime.

The Ottawa 67’s defeated the visiting Barrie Colts 3-1 and jumped to sixth in the conference with 54 points, followed by Sudbury, which fell 7-1 to the host Windsor Spitfires and has 53 points. Niagara outlasted the visiting Erie Otters 9-7 and has 52 points for eighth place.

“I’d like to see us push a little harder in games,” said Battalion coach Stan Butler. “One of the things we really wanted to do today was start well, and they scored less than two minutes into the game. Hamilton was playing three games in two and a half days, and we didn’t really take advantage of that. In overtime, they played harder than we did and had the better chances.

“We’re down to six games now, and there’s a good chance we aren’t going to make the playoffs if we don’t figure it out.”

Jackson broke a 3-3 deadlock at 5:53 of the third period. The Battalion’s Jesse Saban blocked a Connor Walters shot in the right-wing circle, but the puck slid through the slot to Jackson, who ripped it past Moran.

Harland precipitated overtime with his 25th goal of the season at 10:58. Brett McKenzie fed the puck to Harland, who slipped across the slot and waited for both Gleason and Fulcher to commit before roofing a backhander. Daniel Walker also drew an assist.

Chenier and Adam McMaster tested Fulcher before the end of the period, but the Bulldogs had the best chances in overtime, in which they held a 4-2 edge in shots. Gleason rolled the puck wide of the left post, Moran kicked away a close-in chance for Brandon Saigeon and Niki Petti just missed converting at the right post.

In the shootout, Fulcher denied McKenzie, Justin Brazeau and Brett Hargrave. Cramarossa beat Moran with a forehand deke before Matthew Strome failed to score, but the Bulldogs didn’t need a third shooter.

Bitten opened the scoring with his 20th goal at 1:44 of the first period, shoveling the rebound of Jack Hanley’s left-point shot under the crossbar from the goalmouth.

Hahkala, called up from the junior A Powassan Voodoos, responded with his first OHL goal at 10:03. He parked himself in front of Fulcher, outmuscled Hanley and tipped Brady Lyle’s shot from the blue line off the right post into the net. Harland also earned an assist.

The Battalion took the lead at 19:35, nine seconds after killing a checking-from-behind minor to Zach Shankar. Lyle forwarded the puck to Shankar, who slid it to a charging Chenier. Fulcher stopped Chenier’s initial drive, but the rebound bounced around the goalmouth until the outstretched Chenier chipped it home for his seventh goal.

Defenceman Gleason struck for his goals in a span of 1:56 early in the second period. He tied it 2-2 at 2:12, beating a screened Moran from the mid slot with a low drive to the glove side before hammering the puck over the goaltender’s glove from above the right circle.

Kislinger scored late, at 19:53, to pull the Troops even again, taking a pass from Harland and outracing Gleason to loft a backhander over a sprawling Fulcher.

BATTALION BULLETS: Children from Nipissing First Nation delivered a bilingual rendition of O Canada in English and Ojibway … The Battalion went 2-1-1 against Hamilton this season … Harland had four goals and two assists for six points in four games against the Bulldogs. His second assist was his 100th career OHL point … In four games against Hamilton, McKenzie had one goal and five assists for six points … Lyle has one goal and four assists for five points in the last three games … Saban played against his former Bulldogs teammates for the first time since a Jan. 9 trade in which fellow defenceman Stephen Templeton, who skated at left wing, went the other way without having played for North Bay after being acquired from the Oshawa Generals … The Battalion was 0-for-1 on the power play. Hamilton went 0-for-2 … Opening line combinations included McKenzie centring left winger Kislinger and right winger Harland, Kyle Potts centring McMaster on left wing and right winger Brazeau and Hargrave pivoting left winger Chenier and right winger Zach Poirier. Rhys Forhan centred left winger Hahkala and Walker on right wing … The Battalion was without Eric Allair, Cam Dineen, Riley Bruce, Jacob Ball, Daniil Vertiy and Mat Woroniuk … Hahkala and defenceman Bo Peltier again were up from the affiliated Voodoos of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, each playing a fifth OHL game.

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