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Battalion returns home

NORTH BAY, Ont. — Just when the North Bay Battalion got rolling on the road, the team is set for a heavy diet of home games in its final nine dates on the Ontario Hockey League schedule — which likely will be seen as fine.

After a weekend road trip that combined a 5-2 win Sunday over the Niagara IceDogs with a 5-4 decision Saturday night against the Erie Otters, the Battalion has won three consecutive away dates for the first time this season, including a 4-0 blanking of the Barrie Colts on Feb. 15.

North Bay, with a won-lost-extended record of 16-39-4 for 36 points, fifth in the Central Division and last in the league, now is only six points behind the Kingston Frontenacs and Niagara, who are tied for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth. The Battalion has six home games and three road dates left.

Kingston, which invades Memorial Gardens at 7 p.m. Thursday, is 19-36-4, fifth in the East Division with nine games to play, while Niagara, 18-36-6, is fourth in the Central with eight games left.

Given that the Mississauga Steelheads have 57 points and the Hamilton Bulldogs 56, with 10 and eight games to play respectively, it’s all but certain that Kingston, Niagara and North Bay are battling for one playoff spot. Because the Sarnia Sting is last in the Western Conference with 48 points from 60 games, it’s also virtually assured that the last-place team in the Eastern Conference will exercise the No. 1 pick in the OHL Priority Selection next month.

But the April 4 proceedings are far from the minds of the Troops, who are 5-1-1 in their last seven games and, with a 5-4 overtime loss at home to Sarnia just before that run, have garnered at least a point in seven of their last eight games.

“I think as a team we’re just trying to get as many wins as possible and push for playoffs,” Brandon Coe said Wednesday, three days after recording his first OHL three-goal game at St. Catharines, increasing his season total to 23. Assistant coach Scott Wray has told Coe he could reach 30.

“It’s still a bit of a challenge, but I’ll try my best,” said Coe, North Bay’s first-round selection, third overall, in 2017.

The Troops have received secondary offence in recent games. Chad Denault and Kyle Jackson scored at Niagara, while David Campbell connected at Erie. Josh Currie, who contributed two assists in a 4-3 overtime loss to the visiting Sudbury Wolves last Wednesday night, had another in Pennsylvania. Christian Stevens provided an assist against both Sudbury and Erie, while James Mayotte and Ryan Thompson each had a helper at Niagara.

“We got some production from guys from different spots of our lineup, which is massive,” said interim coach Ryan Oulahen. “When you get guys like that to produce, that’s a huge bump to your lineup.

“It really helped getting Mason Primeau back in our lineup. I thought that adds a lot of depth to our forward group.”

Primeau, who missed the previous 12 games because of injury, played at Erie and assisted on Denault’s goal against the IceDogs.

Oulahen noted that, with Primeau centring Harrison Caines and Denault, Shane Bulitka could be moved up to left wing with Luke Moncada and Coe. With Mitchell Russell in the concussion protocol and a number of defencemen sidelined, anyone coming off the injury list is decidedly welcome. Rearguards Paul Christopoulos and Braden Henderson weren’t on the bus.

Oulahen also gave a nod to goaltenders Joe Vrbetic and Cameron Lamour, who had a win apiece on the trip. Vrbetic made 32 saves at Niagara after Lamour turned in 36 at Erie, where the Battalion, by the official count, was outshot 40-15 and had two power plays to the Otters’ eight.

Shane Wright, who was granted exceptional player status to start play at 15, leads OHL rookies and Kingston in scoring with 39 goals and 27 assists for 66 points in 55 games, while Zayde Wisdom has 28 goals and 30 assists for 58 points in 59 games. Jordan Frasca has scored 15 goals and earned 27 assists for 42 points in 55 games.

Moncada paces the Battalion with 58 points, from a team-leading 33 goals and 25 assists, in 59 games, and Coe has a team-high 32 assists for 55 points in 57 games. Russell has 21 goals and as many assists for 42 points in 51 games.

The Battalion, 9-15-4 at home and 7-24-0 on the road, visits Mississauga at 7 p.m. Friday and entertains the Ottawa 67’s at 2 p.m. Sunday to complete weekend play.

The Kingston game features Community Appreciation Night presented by Canadore College. One prospective student at the game will win a tuition credit for two semesters. Canadore is considered a leader in regional development for such sectors as aviation, film, and health and wellness.

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