NORTH BAY, Ont. — The North Bay Battalion gets a two-game stint at home this weekend before heading back on the Ontario Hockey League road.
The Battalion, with a won-lost-extended record of 3-11-0 after losing all five of as many straight away games, plays host to the Sudbury Wolves at 7 p.m. Friday before entertaining the Peterborough Petes on Sunday. Sudbury is 9-7-0 atop the Central Division, in which the Troops are fifth, and Peterborough is 10-4-0, second in the East Division.
“Obviously, the two teams we’re playing this weekend are top of the heap in our league and we understand that,” coach Stan Butler said Wednesday before the Battalion took to the Memorial Gardens ice for practice, after days at the undersized Pete Palangio Arena while the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling was conducted.
“We’re well aware of our schedule and how it’s been to start the year and how it pertains to teams that we’re playing, but we still have to find a way to win hockey games.”
The Battalion lost both ends of a two-game road trip last weekend, 9-3 Friday night to the Guelph Storm and 6-3 Saturday night to the Owen Sound Attack, but Butler found some positives.
“I liked our third period at Owen Sound. We’ve just got to get back to doing some of the things we did earlier that give us a chance to win.”
As for the blowout at Guelph, the score didn’t reflect most of the play.
“Even in the Guelph game, it was 3-2 with three seconds left in the second period. They win a faceoff and score.”
Analysis of the standings shows that North Bay has played the OHL’s most difficult schedule, in terms of strength of opponents, to this point of the season. The Troops are 2-3-0 at home and 1-8-0 on the road, where next week they face the London Knights, Windsor Spitfires and Sarnia Sting. After that, the only Western Conference away games left are with the Kitchener Rangers and Erie Otters.
Despite the arduous start, Butler said, he remains committed to giving plenty of ice time to the newcomers in the lineup, the OHL’s youngest.
“Obviously, we dug ourselves into a hole and we’ve got to try to get out of it. We’ve got a plan this year with our young guys, and we’re trying to stick to that and play them.
“It’s the old adage, development versus winning, and we’re trying to balance the two right now.”
Rookie Liam Arnsby, who has played both right wing and centre, is unavailable for the next five games as he has joined Canada White for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge starting Saturday at the Western Hockey League centres of Medicine Hat and Swift Current. Canada White, one of three Canadian entries in the eight-team tournament, plays Russia in exhibition action at Swift Current on Thursday night.
Sudbury is to play its sixth straight road game, having gone 2-3-0 in the previous five, all in the Western Conference.
Centre Quinton Byfield powers the offence with team-leading totals of 11 goals, 20 assists and 31 points in 16 games, while left winger David Levin is second with four goals and 16 assists for 20 points in 11 games. Both Levin and Byfield, who’s tied with Arthur Kaliyev of the Hamilton Bulldogs atop the league scoring race, are onetime first overall picks in the OHL Priority Selection.
Sudbury’s goaltenders are Christian Purboo, a former member of the Battalion, and Mitchell Weeks. North Bay traded Purboo to Sudbury on Sept. 4, receiving as many as four picks, in a fourth-rounder in 2020, a third-rounder in 2021, a fourth-rounder in 2022 and a conditional fifth-rounder in 2021.
Purboo made 27 saves in an 11-3 victory Sept. 27 at Sudbury, the teams’ only previous meeting. Battalion goaltender Christian Cicigoi, who started the game and returned for the third period, allowed seven goals on 27 shots, while Joe Vrbetic, who played part of the second period, gave up four goals on 10 shots.
Right winger Mitchell Russell leads Battalion points producers with 14, on five goals and a team-high nine assists, in 14 games. Centre Matthew Struthers has a team-leading eight goals and five assists for 13 points in 12 games, and left winger Brad Chenier has scored three goals and earned eight assists for 11 points in 14 games. Centre Luke Moncada has seven goals and three assists for 10 points in 14 games.
The Sudbury game is sponsored by Redpath Mining Contractors and Engineers, which will contribute $2,500 to the 50-50 draw in support of KidSport North Bay, boosting the payout by $1,250. Redpath, which is to give safety lights to everybody in attendance, will conduct draws for prizes and have miners on hand to talk to fans.
The Peterborough game marks the Battalion’s last home game until after Remembrance Day. More than 200 fans from the Military Family Resource Centre are to attend as the Troops wear camouflage-themed sweaters to show support for the Canadian Forces. Military personnel will take part in the ceremonial faceoff.