‘Taking care of business’

NORTH BAY, Ont. — The North Bay Battalion, celebrating another Ontario Hockey League division title, has two games left in its regular season to address further franchise records, but getting ready for the playoffs is a priority.

The Battalion, backed by the 15-save shutout performance of goaltender Dom DiVincentiis, defeated the Hamilton Bulldogs 4-0 Thursday night to capture a second consecutive Central Division championship and Emms Trophy.

The Troops, who have five shutouts in a nine-game winning streak, visit the Niagara IceDogs at 7 p.m. Saturday and play host to the Mississauga Steelheads at 2 p.m. Sunday on Fan Appreciation Day, the final date on the schedule.

North Bay, with a won-lost-extended record of 46-17-3 for 95 points, is four points ahead of the Barrie Colts, who also have two games to play. The best Barrie can do is tie the Battalion in points and lose the first tiebreaker, regulation and overtime wins, 44-42.

The Battalion, which topped the division in 2013-14, its first season in North Bay, has won three such titles since relocation from Brampton, where it won four, in 2002-03, 2005-06, 2007-08 and 2008-09. The predecessor North Bay Centennials finished first in the Emms Division in 1985-86 and 1986-87.

DiVincentiis registered his fifth shutout, tied with Michael Simpson of the Peterborough Petes for the league lead, and with partner Charlie Robertson has eight shutouts, tying the franchise record set in 2008-09 by Brandon Foote with two, Patrick Killeen with two and Thomas McCollum with four.

The only Battalion goaltenders other than DiVincentiis with five shutouts in a season are Killeen in 2009-10 and Matej Machovsky in 2011-12.

Ty Nelson scored in the third period for a 3-0 lead, setting a single-season franchise record for a defenceman with 73 points, surpassing the 72 by Michael Vernace in 2005-06. Nelson, the first overall pick in the 2020 OHL Priority Selection after the team finished last in the pandemic-shortened and ultimately abandoned 2019-20 season, has 23 goals and 50 assists in 66 games.

“It’s just so fitting that he’s the one, when you look back at where we were just a few years ago and you have a No. 1 overall choice and we take a kid by the name of Ty Nelson and we knew what he was going to do here and turn this franchise around,” said coach Ryan Oulahen.

“He’s done just that, and I think it’s just kind of proof in the pudding when he’s done it in only two years, what he’s done and to have a season that he’s had. The sky’s the limit for this kid. He does everything for us, plays in all different situations, and how fitting it is to do it with a power-play marker as well.”

North Bay, which downed the visiting Sudbury Wolves 6-5 in overtime last Sunday, blew a 4-1 third-period lead before Josh Bloom scored his third goal of the game in the extra session.

“We talked about it,” acknowledged Oulahen. “What did I do right before the third period? Remind them of our last third period and challenge them a little bit. ‘Let’s just play in their end,’ and that’s what we did in the third and had really good control.”

The Battalion, which had nursed a 2-0 lead from the first period, outshot the Bulldogs, reigning OHL champions, 21-3 in the final frame, getting an empty-net goal from Anthony Romani, who opened the scoring in the first period with what proved to be the winner.

“I remember last year it was a big celebration winning it,” said Oulahen. “This year it’s kind of taking care of business, which is a nice little feeling there. But it’s nice to be able to put another banner up here.”

With second place in the Eastern Conference secured, the Battalion, which will face the seventh-place team in the first round of playoffs, has the luxury of preparing for the postseason. Potential opponents are Sudbury, Mississauga and Hamilton.

“Now we have a situation where we can rest some guys here,” said Oulahen.

The game at Niagara can be seen live in North Bay on YourTV Channels 12 and 700.

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