NORTH BAY, Ont. — The North Bay Battalion may be in line for an offensive infusion with a return by Luke Burghardt, who quit hockey last summer on medical advice.
“I can tell you that he is cleared to play, so from our standpoint he’s a player that’s missed all season so far,” Adam Dennis, assistant coach of the Ontario Hockey League club, said Wednesday.
“He’s a player that was told that he needed to retire from hockey, so we need to get him in. We need to see where he’s at physically; we need to see where he’s at game-shape-wise, and we need to see where he’s at mentally. So, until we know where he’s at, we can’t really put a timeline on when he’s going to play. We’ve got to do our homework first.”
Left winger Burghardt, who announced his retirement after a spinal condition was discovered through an MRI exam at the summer development camp of the National Hockey League’s Vegas Golden Knights in July, acted on medical advice he received then. He now has consulted other doctors.
Burghardt, who joined the Troops in a June 27, 2017, trade with the Guelph Storm, scored 28 goals and earned a team-leading 43 assists for 71 points in 68 games last season playing with right winger Justin Brazeau and, from early January, centre Matthew Struthers, obtained in a trade with the Owen Sound Attack.
“Hockey’s a big part of his life, and to have this second chance, I think, is really big for Luke, big for his mental state,” noted Dennis. “And we’re excited for him, and it’s just about doing what’s right for the player and making sure that he’s in the right frame of mind and the right shape physically to get back to play.”
A Bowmanville, Ont., resident, Burghardt turned 20 on May 12, meaning this would be his overage season. The Battalion complement of three overagers is full, numbering Brazeau and defencemen Cole Cameron and Theo Calvas.
“We’ll obviously see what happens here with Burghardt, and that might force us to do something,” said Dennis. “But one step at a time. We’ve got to make sure that he’s in town and he’s healthy and he’s in shape, so we’re not going to jump to any rash decisions. We’re going to stick to the process here.”
The Battalion opens a three-game road trip against the Peterborough Petes at 7:05 p.m. Thursday before facing the Kingston Frontenacs on Friday night and the Ottawa 67’s on Sunday, so Burghardt’s return to North Bay is at least several days away.
“If and when he comes back, you get a guy who could have been a hundred-point guy if he started the year, so obviously it would force us to make some tough decisions, but tough decisions are good decisions, so that’s where you want to be, in that spot, so we’ll take them as they come,” said Dennis, who has run the Battalion bench with fellow assistant Scott Wray in the absence of Stan Butler, who’s been on medical leave since Sept. 30 but is nearing a return.
“I’ve obviously kept in touch with him a little bit,” Brazeau said of Burghardt. “He was my teammate last year. We had a pretty good year together last year, me and him, so it’s obviously a big thing. The first thing is his health. Hopefully, he’s able to come back and be healthy.”
Brazeau, who’s played alongside Struthers and various left wingers, led the OHL scoring race by a point over Owen Sound’s Kevin Hancock and Morgan Frost of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds before the Attack’s visit Wednesday night to the Erie Otters. Brazeau has 23 goals and 24 assists for 47 points in 25 games.
“There’s rumours going around, and we’ll see what happens, but obviously a guy like that, if he is healthy and he does end up on our team, you can’t complain,” Struthers said of Burghardt. “The guy was a 70-point guy last year, and we had some good chemistry with him, so whatever happens happens.”
Struthers is set to return at Peterborough from a four-game suspension, while left winger Daniel Walker is due back from a five-game suspension at Kingston.
“They’re two big parts of our lineup that we’re excited to get back,” said Dennis. “We do have a couple of bumps and bruises, so we’ll be without Harrison Caines and (Cameron) Peters for the weekend. We’ll be nursing some lower-body injuries, so we’re going to call Kyle Jackson up, so he’s going to play with us this weekend as well.”
Left winger Jackson, who’s seen action in three games with the Troops, has eight goals and eight assists for 16 points in 20 games with the junior A Ottawa Jr. Senators.
The Battalion, which will play its next six games on the road, has a won-lost-extended record of 11-12-2 for 24 points, fifth in the Central Division. The Petes are 15-11-0 for 30 points, third in the East Division.
The game at Peterborough can be seen live in North Bay on YourTV Channels 12 and 700 and heard on Country 600 CKAT.