More challenges ahead

NORTH BAY, Ont. — The North Bay Battalion, beset by injuries and covid concerns recently, faces more adversity in three Ontario Hockey League games this week.

Right winger Kyle McDonald has been suspended four games after taking major and game misconduct penalties for a check from behind in an 8-2 home-ice loss last Sunday to the Barrie Colts, while centre Liam Arnsby, who didn’t play in the final frame after a second-period kneeing penalty, is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury.

In addition, centre Kyle Jackson, who has missed 10 games since suffering a knee injury Dec. 3, continues to recover from that but also has been placed under covid protocols.

Despite all that, the Battalion plays host to the Sudbury Wolves at 7 p.m. Thursday in an empty Memorial Gardens before visiting Barrie on Saturday in a game rescheduled from last Saturday night and entertaining Sudbury again Sunday.

Forward Christian Stevens has been called up from the junior A Haliburton County Huskies, and defenceman Cam Gauvreau, who was a scratch against Barrie, will draw into the lineup.

“Certainly, we’ve had some time to talk about it, get over it and move on,” coach Ryan Oulahen, who has declared adversity to be opportunity, said Wednesday of the lopsided loss to Barrie, in which the Colts went 5-for-6 on the power play.

“First and foremost, the easiest way to kill penalties is to stay out of the penalty box. When you take so many and you have to kill so many penalties off, the percentages just don’t work in your favour.”

North Bay, at the halfway point of its 68-game schedule, has a won-lost-extended record of 18-12-4 for 40 points, second in the Central Division. Sudbury is 10-19-4 for 24 points, fourth in the division.

The Battalion is 2-5-2 in its last nine games, while the Wolves are 2-1-1 in their last four, including a 4-1 loss Tuesday night at Barrie in which rookie Evan Konyen opened the scoring for the visitors.

“Sudbury is a team right now that’s been probably playing their best hockey of the season as of late here,” said Oulahen. “A lot of their players are playing with lots of energy. It looks like they have confidence, so they’re going to be a good test for us.”

Right winger Brandon Coe leads the Troops in scoring with 22 goals and 35 assists for 57 points, ranking third in the league behind Wyatt Johnston of the Windsor Spitfires with 60 points, on 20 goals and 40 assists, and Rory Kerins of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, with 22 goals and 36 assists for 58 points.

Ranking fourth is Coe’s linemate Matvey Petrov, who has 22 goals, tied with the overager for the team lead, and 33 assists for 55 points in 34 games.

Kerins, Coe and Petrov are in a five-way tie for fifth place in goals in the league, a category led by the Greyhounds’ Tye Kartye with 27, and Coe and Petrov rank fourth and fifth respectively in assists. Johnston’s 40 lead the OHL.

Coe has six game-winning goals, tied with Luca DelBelBelluz of the Mississauga Steelheads for third in the league behind Kartye and Kerins, who have seven apiece.

Mitchell Russell, who has skated at centre between left winger Petrov and Coe in Jackson’s absence, leads the OHL with six first goals in a game.

In 24 games, goaltender Joe Vrbetic has a won-lost-extended record of 15-5-4, a goals-against average of 3.05, a save percentage of .897 and two shutouts, tied with five others for the league lead. Vrbetic’s wins are second in the OHL to the 18 posted by Brett Brochu of the London Knights.

Dom DiVincentiis has seen action in 12 games, with a record of 3-7-0, a GAA of 3.13 and a save percentage of .895.

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