Battalion faces road test

NORTH BAY, Ont. — The North Bay Battalion plays three road games in as many days on a western swing this weekend as the Ontario Hockey League club continues to battle for a playoff berth and positioning in the Eastern Conference.

The Battalion visits the Sarnia Sting at 7:05 p.m. Friday before meeting the Windsor Spitfires on Saturday night and completing the trip Sunday against the London Knights.

“Anyone who takes a look at our standings understands the importance of this weekend for our squad,” Battalion assistant coach Adam Dennis said Wednesday. “We need points, and at this point of the year it doesn’t matter who you’re playing. You’re going to have to go out and put in a good effort and try to come out with some points.”

North Bay has a won-lost-extended record of 25-26-5 for 55 points, fourth in the Central Division and seventh in the conference, in which the top eight teams qualify for the playoffs. The East Division’s Peterborough Petes, 25-28-3 for 53 points, are eighth, while the Barrie Colts, fifth in the Central, are ninth at 23-29-4 for 50 points. All three teams have 12 games left to play.

“It’s a big test for us, three games on the road here against some good teams, so we’ve just got to get off to good starts and try to put complete games together,” said Justin Brazeau, the Battalion’s leading scorer.

North Bay has lost its last two games, 4-3 in overtime at home Sunday to the Mississauga Steelheads and 6-3 Monday to the host Ottawa 67’s in a Family Day matinee. Ottawa’s Sasha Chmelevski scored a record five goals against the Troops, all in the first two periods with Christian Propp manning the crease.

Three players shared the previous record of four goals in a regular-season game against the Battalion, which was set by Wes Goldie of what were then the Owen Sound Platers in a 9-4 home-ice victory Feb. 27, 1999, against Brampton. Vincent Trocheck of the Plymouth Whalers, now the Flint Firebirds, equaled the mark in a 5-2 decision Feb. 10, 2013, at Brampton, and Steven Lorentz matched it in a 5-3 win Jan. 21, 2017, at Peterborough. Trocheck and Lorentz both had empty-netters to pad their totals.

The Battalion lost Brad Chenier to a head check by Ottawa’s Noel Hoefenmayer that went unpenalized, and Brandon Coe faces a possible suspension after gesturing to fans, albeit from a tunnel leading to the dressing room, after drawing a roughing minor and a fighting major for a scrap with Merrick Rippon subsequent to scoring in the second period.

“We’ve got a few bumps and bruises,” said Dennis. “I mean, Chenier took a pretty good hit in the last game, and then we’ve got some of the other guys that I’m not sure if we’ll have any updated statuses on them. We’re going to wait and see after today going into tomorrow.

“But it’s that time of year everyone’s dealing with some bumps and bruises, so it’s an opportunity for some of our young guys and some of our young prospects to step up and take the reins.”

Mitchell Russell was scratched for the last two games with a hip injury, with Mat Hardwick summoned from the affiliated junior A Powassan Voodoos as a replacement.

Daniel Walker has missed five games with a sore shoulder, while Kurtis Evans, with 21 games played, and Travis Mailhot, with three, haven’t seen action since Dec. 15 and Oct. 3 respectively.

Stan Butler, director of hockey operations and head coach, said Tuesday that Kyle Jackson will join the club for the weekend from the junior A Ottawa Jr. Senators. Jackson has played nine games with the Battalion, scoring two goals and earning one assist.

Brazeau has 48 goals and 42 assists for 90 points in 56 games. Matthew Struthers is second on the team with 25 goals and 38 assists for 63 points in 49 games, while Chenier has 24 goals and 29 assists for 53 points in 52 games and Nick King eight goals and 26 assists for 34 points in 55 games. Coe, who has scored in each of the last four games, has 15 goals and 17 assists for 32 points in 55 games.

Hugo Leufvenius paces Sarnia’s offence with 32 goals and 35 assists for 67 points in 58 games, while Ryan McGregor has 22 goals and 42 assists for 64 points in 53 games.

“They’re a good team with a lot of firepower,” Dennis noted of the Sting, which defeated the Battalion 5-4 in overtime Feb. 3 at North Bay. “Their penalty kill has got 20 shorthanded goals this year, so they’re really going to pressure us. That’s something that we’re really going to have to look at.”

Sarnia, which lost 6-2 Tuesday night to the host Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, is 24-28-7 for 55 points, third in the West Division and seventh in the Western Conference.

The game can be seen live in North Bay on YourTV Channels 12 and 700 and heard on Country 600 CKAT.

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