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Defensive prowess Battalion priority

BRAMPTON, Ont. – The North Bay Battalion boasts a heritage of strong defensive play earned in the Ontario Hockey League franchises 15 seasons in Brampton.

In advance of its relocation to North Bay for the 2013-14 season, the Battalion invested in defensive strength, choosing five defencemen and two goaltenders among 15 picks in the 15-round OHL Priority Selection conducted over the Internet last Saturday.

“We went into this process looking to improve our offence,” Bob Wetick, director of scouting, said via telephone. “There was an elite group of forwards who went very early, but there were a large number of defencemen available, and I think they overshadowed the forwards.”

Riley Bruce of the Ottawa Valley Titans minor midgets was the Battalions first pick for the blue line, in the third round. A six-foot-four, 189-pound resident of Carp, Ont., Bruce had one goal and four assists for five points in 29 games. The right shot turns 16 on July 16.

“His team wasn’t as successful as it had been, but he was one of the defencemen available whom you really noticed,” said Wetick. “Hes a towering guy with a big, long skating stride. Hell probably have to work on his strength. I saw him in an all-star game in Ottawa, and he played very well. He seemed to realize he could play a physical game out there and threw a couple of devastating bodychecks. He showed the type of player he can be. Hell need that one year of development to get stronger. He has the size and the skills to be a good shutdown defenceman in our league.”

The Battalion took left-shot rearguard Zachary Shankar of the Upper Canada Cyclones minor midgets in the fourth round. A six-foot-one, 200-pound resident of Prescott, Ont., Shankar produced 18 points, including five goals, in 29 games. He turned 16 on Jan. 28.

“He alternated between forward and defence and actually scored a highlight-reel goal as a forward in an all-star game I saw,” noted Wetick. “He plays a physical game and has good hands. He skates pretty well. Hes an all-round player, and Id like to see him play a season of junior A and step up his game.”

North Bay, with a pair of selections in the 11th round, took two more defencemen. The Battalion used the first pick, acquired from the Niagara IceDogs in the Oct. 7, 2011, trade in which centre Jamie Lewis joined the Troops, on Joshua Chiarot and four choices later chose Mark Shoemaker.

Chiarot, a left shot, hopes to follow his brother Ben, a defenceman who played 225 OHL games with three clubs, to the major junior ranks. The younger Chiarot, six-foot-two and 205 pounds, had two goals and seven assists for nine points in 28 games with the Hamilton Huskies minor midgets. He turns 16 on July 28.

“Josh is as big as or bigger than Ben,” said Wetick. “The Huskies didn’t have a lot of success, but hes a better skater than his brother and has good puck skills. You notice him for his size and the fact that he consistently makes plays coming out of his own end and doesn’t panic with the puck. He isn’t going to rush end-to-end, but he knows what to do to get it out. His size and skating ability make him tough to play against. We think he has the potential, with a year’s development, to come to camp and show us what he can do playing with better players.”

A six-foot-one, 175-pound Mississauga resident, Shoemaker, a right shot, produced one goal and eight assists for nine points in 33 games for the Mississauga Reps minor midgets. He turns 16 on Sept. 28.

“His team wasn’t very successful, and he logged a large number of minutes for them. When he was on the ice and under pressure, he made few mistakes. Hes a composed player whos solid in his own end. He keeps things on an even keel when hes out there.”

The Battalion chose right-shot rearguard Darian Skeoch of the North Bay Trappers minor midgets in the 14th round. A resident of New Liskeard, Ont., the six-foot-two, 160-pound Skeoch had two assists in 14 games.

“He has to develop, and we feel he can get bigger and stronger,” said Wetick. “We can be patient with him and see him develop at the midget level. We’re hoping hell be the first of many players we get out of the North Bay area.”

The Battalion first took a goaltender in the fifth round, in Evan Cormier of the Clarington Toros minor midgets. He played 25 games, posting a won-lost-tied record of 7-12-3 with a 2.40 goals-against average and an .899 save percentage. Cormier also had one win and one loss in four playoff appearances with the junior A Cobourg Cougars. A six-foot-two, 176-pound resident of Bowmanville, Ont., he turns 16 on Nov. 6.

“His team wasn’t that successful, but he had to face a lot of shots. He played some junior A and improved his game. Hes a tall, rangy kid who fills the net and moves fairly well. We’d like to see him play a season of junior A so he can face bigger, stronger shooters. He played well at the OHL’s goaltender combine.”

The club went to the United States for a second goaltender, tabbing Garrett Forrest of the Potomac Patriots of the Eastern Junior Hockey League in the 10th round. Forrest, a five-foot-10, 160-pound resident of Ashburn, Va., played 12 games with a record of 2-7-1, a 5.64 GAA and an .869 save percentage. He turns 16 on July 1.

“We saw him in the OHL Cup, and he played well,” said Wetick. “He isn’t the biggest goalie in the world, but hes quick and athletic. He commands his crease. He increased our interest when he came up for the OHL goaltender combine and played very well. Hes a player whos interested in the OHL, and we hope to see him at camp. Hes played against older players, and we believe Forrest and Cormier give us some good goaltending depth.”

The Battalion is to hold its orientation camp, including prospects and holdovers, May 25-26 at North Bays Pete Palangio Arena. On-ice sessions from 3-5 p.m. the first day and 9-11 a.m. the second are free and open to the public.

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