Hockey has become a 12-month occupation, even at the minor levels. While it has been close to two full months since the Troops took to the ice for the final game of the 2018-19 campaign, the work to build toward 2019-20 has been ongoing, even prior to that 4-0 loss which ended their season in Niagara, in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarter Finals.
All winter long the North Bay Battalion front office and scouting staff had been compiling together reports about the forthcoming prospects for the 2019 OHL priority selection. That took place on April 4, and this past weekend those who were selected were brought together for the first time in one spot as members of the North Bay Battalion, at their annual orientation camp at Memorial Gardens.
But it wasn’t just the players drafted in April that were on the ice as part of either Team Green or Team White in the exhibition matchups. There were some free agent invites, a couple of players selected from the OHL U18 draft as well as prospects that were taken in the 2018 Priority Selection who are hoping that this second time will be the one that impresses the right people.
Battalion Assistant Coach Adam Dennis says it’s why orientation camps are so important, it gives the coaching staff their first look at everyone, in one place.
“We meet a lot of these kids for the first time and they are getting to see what we do for the first time, so it is a feeling-out process,” said Dennis.
“I think what’s most important is going to be the difference between what we see now and what we see in September (at Training Camp) but for these free agents, they are trying to earn a spot at that September camp where ultimately the team decisions are really made.”
Dennis was asked about how in-depth they get when talking about hockey strategy over the course of the past weekend. He says, “There is a little bit, especially from some of the guys that you’ve seen a lot of throughout the season or at the OHL Gold Cup, and then seeing them here, there are little things. But having said that, these guys are playing together for the first time and there’s not a lot of systems. It’s a feeling out process, guys are trying to get to know each other and any advice or help we can give, we’ll try.”
Coming into this year, goaltending could be a question mark as Christian Propp will be an overage player and there’s always speculation of teams moving their older guys, especially if they have several younger goalie prospects that are knocking on the door.
One of those is Joe Vrbetic who was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2018 OHL Priority Selection and played this past season with the Battalion affiliate club, the Powassan Voodoos. Vrbetic was not only in camp last year but got into one game with the Battalion last season.
Dennis says they expect Vrbetic to show that experience in this second trip through the ringer.
“I expect a guy who knows what the tests are so there should be some improvement in his scores and I expect a guy that doesn’t have the jitters that all the guys who are here for the first time do," said Dennis.
"But Joe is the type of kid who seems to be pretty even-keeled most times and I don’t think he has an issue with nerves. For a guy like him, it’s coming in and taking a little bit more of a leadership role. There’s a few guys here from the Don Mills Flyers who he used to play for as well so I know he’s having fun with that.”
In fact the Troops first three picks in April were taken from the Don Mills Flyers club, who were OHL Cup Champions. Their first-round pick, Lima Arnsby, as well as twin brothers; defenceman Paul Christopoulos and right winger Alex Christopoulos, chosen in the second and third rounds respectively.
Dennis says the Battalion were lucky to end up with both brothers.
“Going into the draft they knew there was a chance that they could’ve been separated," he said.
"Obviously they prefer to play together, but each one of them earns it, every second they are out on the ice and I think the people in North Bay are going to get really excited about this draft class.”
Following the camp, Arnsby and the Christopoulos twins were signed to standard players agreements with the Battalion.
BayToday will have feature articles on those three players in the coming days, as well as features on Vrbetic and his goaltending tandem teammate Christian Cicigoi.
As for the on-ice action at the Gardens over the weekend, Alex Christopoulos led the way with five goals scored. Local products Jesse Kirkby (drafted 9th round in 2018) and Matt Hardwick (drafted 12th round in 2017) found the back of the net multiple times with Kirkby scoring three goals over the three games and Hardwick netting two.
Team White won all three games by scores of 6-1 on Saturday morning and 5-0 on Saturday afternoon. They finished the sweep with a 6-2 win on Sunday. Several players and goaltenders switched sides before the final game and the teams ended up with these rosters.
Goalies: Joe Vrbetic, William Nguyen, Owen Wray
Defencemen: Jordan Broome, Jacob Peterson-Galema, Alex Marschel, Ryan Hall, Jackson Hay, Paul Christopoulos, Erik MacNiel
Forwards: Tanner Bibby, David Campbell, Jesse Kirkby, Alex Christopoulos, Jordan Grella, Kevin Perrott, Joshua Ziliotto, Devon Savignac, Noah Lagrandeur, Mat Hardwick.
Goalies: Christian Cicigoi, Reece Proulx,
Defencemen: Nathan Porter, Robert Brisson, Thomas Gangl, Ryan Thompson, Cameron Gauvreau, Ty Hollett, Aidan Shepard
Forwards: Bill Gourgon, Gabbi Kioki, Joshua Currie, Thomas Lenart, Liam Arnsby, Will Donato, Steven LaForme, Clint Levens, Justin Ertel.