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Battalion downs Bulldogs

NORTH BAY, Ont. — Justin Brazeau scored two goals, the second his franchise-record 60th of the season, to power the North Bay Battalion to a 3-1 victory Thursday night over the Hamilton Bulldogs, pulling the Troops into a tie with Hamilton for seventh place in the Ontario Hockey League’s Eastern Conference.

Patrick Brown also scored for North Bay, fourth in the Central Division with a won-lost-extended record of 29-32-5 for 63 points. The Battalion, which clinched a playoff berth when the Barrie Colts lost Wednesday night to the host Owen Sound Attack, has two games left on the schedule to Hamilton’s one.

Goaltender Christian Propp faced 34 shots before 2,569 on Centennials Alumni Night, which saw the Battalion wear the colours of the North Bay Centennials, the previous OHL franchise in the Gateway of the North that became the Saginaw Spirit in 2002.

Tim Fleischer scored for Hamilton, 29-33-5 and fourth in the East Division. Goaltender Nick Donofrio made 25 saves.

With the Peterborough Petes garnering a point in a 3-2 overtime loss to the visiting Ottawa 67’s, North Bay no longer can finish sixth but would win on a tiebreaker against Hamilton for seventh. The Battalion visits the Mississauga Steelheads on Friday night, when the Bulldogs face the host Sudbury Wolves.

“It’s a big two points for us,” said Battalion assistant coach Scott Wray, a onetime member of the Centennials. “It’s nice to get out of eighth place and into seventh. It’s always a good thing when you can go into the playoffs winning games. Christian was good for us. He did what he needed to do for us to win the game. We got a consistent effort out of our defence.”

Donofrio misplayed the puck behind his net, sending it straight to Brazeau, who slid the disc into the vacant cage to open the scoring at 11:41 of the first period.

The Bulldogs, outshot 13-7 in the period, had their best chance in the third minute when Liam Van Loon drove to the net and chipped a feed from Arthur Kaliyev off the right post. Propp reacted quickly to block a close-range effort by Isaac Nurse in the ninth minute.

Brazeau capitalized on another Hamilton turnover at 11:00 of the middle period. Liam Stevens fumbled the puck in the neutral zone, and Brazeau raced down the right wing, drove to the net with defender Connor Ali in his wake and lifted a backhander high over Donofrio’s blocker.

Brazeau is the first OHL player to record at least 60 goals in a season since Alex DeBrincat, who had 65 for the Erie Otters in 2016-17. Brazeau is one of five players to score at least 60 goals since 2002-03, when three players reached the mark.

Propp, who faced 13 shots, was especially busy early in the frame after Theo Calvas was sent off for interference. Propp lost his stick but managed to deny quality chances while wielding Brad Chenier’s stick. Kaliyev, Jake Gravelle and Eric Henderson, who seized a Braden Henderson turnover, tested the goaltender. Jan Jenik’s shot from deep in the left-wing circle in the 16th minute got past Propp, but Calvas swept the puck off the goal line to safety with his right hand.

The Battalion put eight shots on Donofrio, who made solid saves against Brazeau, Matthew Struthers and Harrison Caines.

Fleischer scored his eighth goal at 5:43 of the third period, rushing to the net to bury a Kaliyev feed from the end boards.

Brown answered 10 seconds later with his third goal. Calvas’s pass from his own zone bounced off the end boards into the slot, and Brown drilled the puck between Donofrio’s legs.

The visitors failed to generate a scoring chance after Daniel Walker drew a tripping call at 12:13. The Battalion forced Donofrio to make two good saves on Mitchell Russell and one on Luke Moncada. Donofrio went to the bench for a sixth skater with 36 seconds to play, but a Navrin Mutter penalty for a head check on Chenier ended Hamilton hopes for a comeback.

The game at Mississauga at 7 p.m. Friday can be heard live in North Bay on Country 600 CKAT.

BATTALION BULLETS: The Battalion has an all-time record of 5-1-0 in Centennials garb … The teams completed their season series, with North Bay posting a record of 3-1-0. Hamilton provided the opposition in the season opener, a 7-5 Battalion win at home Sept. 21 … North Bay went 8-12-0 against East Division teams … Brazeau has 127 career goals, tied with Barclay Goodrow for second place in franchise history, three behind Wojtek Wolski. Brazeau scored his 19th game-winning goal, surpassing Wolski for sole possession of third place in Battalion annals … Struthers saw the end of a six-game points streak in which he had three goals and eight assists for 11 points … Each team went 0-for-3 on the power play … North Bay was without Zack Malik, Travis Mailhot and Kurtis Evans … Walker returned to play after serving a two-game suspension for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of a 7-1 road loss last Friday night to the Oshawa Generals … Among the missing for Hamilton were Michael Renwick, Cameron Supryka and Tag Bertuzzi … Payton Vescio, whom the Battalion traded to the Bulldogs on Jan. 10 for a fourth-round pick in the 2022 OHL Priority Selection, played against his former team for the first time … In four games against the Troops, Kaliyev had five goals and four assists for nine points … The game was delayed six minutes in the first period after a pane of glass became dislodged.

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