NORTH BAY, Ont. — It’s an unprecedented in-season week for the North Bay Battalion.
Two games, at home Thursday night against the Mississauga Steelheads and on the road Saturday night against the Barrie Colts, have been postponed because of covid, with the Battalion short of players at practice.
In addition, the last two games and all others through at least Jan. 26 were and are to be played in empty arenas, in line with provincial government efforts to blunt infections by the omicron variant. As of Wednesday, the Troops were to take to the ice next at 2 p.m. Sunday in playing host to Barrie.
“I wouldn’t say that we’ve been unaffected by covid so far,” noted general manager Adam Dennis, whose Ontario Hockey League roster has nine players in pandemic protocols.
“We’ve had a couple of cases here and there, but not enough to stop us. We had a couple of cases early this week that left us with not enough bodies to play the game on Thursday. We should hopefully be getting most of the guys back by Friday or Saturday so they can take part in a practice before we play on Sunday.”
The postponed game at Barrie has been rescheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22.
The Battalion, which ended a six-game losing streak with a 4-3 home-ice victory via shootout last Thursday night over Mississauga, defeated host Barrie 3-2 two nights later on Brandon Coe’s overtime goal.
“I’m happy with last weekend in terms of the results,” said coach Ryan Oulahen. “There’s still a ways to go here for this team to kind of rev itself up again like we were late Novemberish, but I think we’re trending in the right direction now.”
Oulahen suggested that playing in front of empty stands may not be as jarring as expected.
“There’s no question it’s different. It’s something that we’ve got to get used to, but at the same time it’s funny that I thought it was going to be more of an adjustment.
“Once that puck drops and the competitive spirits take over, you kind of forget that there might not be anybody in the stands. I think at the end of the day the game doesn’t change, the game of hockey doesn’t change.”
Oulahen said the coaching staff has embraced the unusual situation.
“This week we’ve done a lot of more individual things. We’ve had time with the players who are here each and every day, so we figure why not get the most that we can out of them in terms of the development aspect, so lots of extra lifts in the gym, lots of one-on-one, whether it be video or on-ice skill development.
“I think the staff has done a really, really good job utilizing this time to get better each and every day in any which way we can.”
Three players arrived in two trades last week before the deadline Monday, with right wingers Kyle McDonald and Nikita Tarasevich and defenceman Grayson Ladd acquired from the Windsor Spitfires and Sarnia Sting.
“What ends up happening is we’re kind of resetting in terms of our style of play, the things that are really, really important to us in terms of our habits, our non-negotiables, so we’ve been able to review that because we have new players coming in, and I think even our veteran players benefit from going back to those basic, fundamental things,” noted Oulahen.
With the additions coming from clubs with similar styles and systems, Oulahen said, “I think their transition’s going to be pretty quick and I really like how those guys are picking up on things.”