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Troops get playoff berth

NORTH BAY, Ont. — The North Bay Battalion will see Ontario Hockey League playoff action.

The Owen Sound Attack defeated the visiting Barrie Colts 5-1 Wednesday night, guaranteeing that the Battalion will finish no lower than eighth, the last playoff spot, in the Eastern Conference.

North Bay, with a won-lost-extended record of 28-32-5 for 61 points, is fourth in the Central Division and eighth in the conference after an all-important 6-2 home-ice victory Tuesday night over division rival Barrie, 26-36-4 for 56 points with only two games left to play.

The Battalion, which plays host to the Hamilton Bulldogs at 7 p.m. Thursday on Centennials Alumni Night, hopes to overhaul the visitors for seventh place in the conference and still could finish as high as sixth. Hamilton, 29-32-5 for 63 points and fourth place in the East Division, has only two games left in the season, which ends Sunday. The Bulldogs visit the Sudbury Wolves on Friday night, when the Troops pay a call on the Mississauga Steelheads.

“It was a good start, and I thought the first two periods we played really well,” Battalion coach Stan Butler said Wednesday of the win over Barrie, in which the Troops seized an early 3-0 lead and Justin Brazeau scored three goals to extend his single-season franchise record to 58.

“We’ve struggled with consistency this year, there’s no doubt about that, and there are a lot of reasons for that. A lot of them will be better addressed in the offseason.”

Butler acknowledged that the Battalion has been the victim of slow starts for much of the campaign, especially on the road.

“If everything was easy, everybody could do it, so what separates good teams from not-so-good teams is mental strength and being able to ride the bad times and figure it out. The easiest thing to do is to shut her down, and that’s something that we’ve worked on with the group, and hopefully going forward here the rest of the season we’ll see that in a better light.”

Butler looked for a solid performance to end the schedule.

“Obviously, you want to go into the playoffs on a winning note. We haven’t had a good second half here, so hopefully we can have a good last two or three games.”

North Bay, which led Barrie 3-1 after the first period and 6-1 after 40 minutes, got two goals from Mason Primeau and the other from Brad Chenier, who also contributed two assists.

Brazeau, who’s tied with Tye Felhaber of the Ottawa 67’s for the league goal-scoring lead, has 125 goals and 105 assists for 230 career points, one more than Barclay Goodrow and third in franchise history behind Wojtek Wolski and Cody Hodgson, who earned 328 and 243 points respectively while playing for the Brampton-based Troops.

Brazeau is third in Battalion goals, two behind Goodrow, and ninth in assists, two behind Howie Martin. Brazeau has 18 career game-winners, tied with Wolski for third place behind Goodrow and Hodgson. Brazeau has 40 power-play goals, fifth in Battalion annals, three behind Goodrow.

Brazeau will continue his attempted ascent on the franchise scoring lists in the colours of the North Bay Centennials, the previous OHL club in the Gateway of the North, as the Troops celebrate that history in the Hamilton game. A pregame ceremony will see the OHL championship banner for the 1993-94 season returned to a place in the rafters of Memorial Gardens in the year that marks the 25th anniversary of the title.

Brazeau, with 47 assists and 105 points in 65 games this season, is one of seven OHLers to have recorded 100 or more points, a number that includes Hamilton’s Arthur Kaliyev, who has 50 goals and as many assists in 65 games.

Matthew Struthers is second in Battalion scoring with 29 goals and 47 assists for 76 points, while Chenier has 27 goals and 32 assists for 59 points, both in 58 games.

The Battalion completes the schedule Sunday against the visiting Niagara IceDogs on Fan Appreciation Day.

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