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Battalion confident while prepping for high-flying Bulldogs

Eastern Conference final begins Friday night in Hamilton
20211021 battalion bulldogs Coe
Brandon Coe protects the puck in a game against the Bulldogs at the Gardens.

It does not happen all the time, but this year the top two teams in the east are the two teams fighting it out for supremacy and the chance to hoist the Bobby Orr Trophy as the beasts of the east.  

Hamilton posted a won-lost-extended record of 51-12-5 for 107 points to lead the East Division, conference and league, while North Bay went 43-18-7 for 93 points, first in the Central Division.

The teams open the series at 7 p.m. Friday at FirstOntario Place. Game 2 is scheduled Sunday night, also at Hamilton, before the best-of-seven set moves to Memorial Gardens next Wednesday night.

“We have the utmost respect for that organization and what they can do, and we’re obviously going to have to be ready for them,” Battalion coach Ryan Oulahen said Wednesday.

“They have unbelievable high-end offensive talent up front, obviously led by their big boys, but then there’s the depth, and they’re a big, strong older group.”

Jay McKee, the Bulldogs head coach, says the Bulldogs are getting prepared for the Battalion by looking at a lot of video, and doing a lot of on-ice prep getting ready for their toughest opponent during their current unbeaten playoff run. 

"They are a very good hockey club, very deep, a lot of goal scoring, solid goaltending, depth on defence so we are going to have to work for every win we want to achieve. They are very well-coached led by Ryan Oulahen so we have our hands full," said McKee during the Eastern Conference media zoom call Wednesday afternoon. 

Logan Morrison leads Hamilton in playoff points with nine goals and seven assists for 16 points in eight games, while Mason McTavish has nine goals, tied for the team lead, and five assists for 14 points in eight games after sweeps of the Peterborough Petes and Mississauga Steelheads. 

McTavish, the Anaheim Ducks 2021 first-round pick (third overall), has played for six teams this season including the Ducks, the San Diego Gulls (AHL), Team Canada's World Junior team, Canada's Olympic team, the Petes, and the Bulldogs.

In his three games against the Troops with both Peterborough and the Bulldogs, he has netted five goals and six assists for 11 points. 

"He is an elite player, there is no question about it," admitted Oulahen. 

Oulahen hopes the experience of playing against offensive stars Lucas Edmonds and Shane Wright in the last round, should help the Troops be ready for McTavish. 

"I think it is good we had that with Kingston with multiple guys you had to watch and that was not, let's shut them down, it was let's limit and let's be on the right side of pucks and let's make sure we don't give anything up for free and manage the puck when we have it. All those types of things are things that you can control and hopefully limit those opportunities," noted Oulahen. 

For North Bay, Mitchell Russell has 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points in nine games, and Brandon Coe has five goals and a team-leading 13 assists for 18 points in eight games. Kyle Jackson has nine goals and five assists for 14 points in eight games, while Ty Nelson has nine assists in as many games after a sweep of the Ottawa 67’s and a five-game ouster of the Kingston Frontenacs.

While Oulahen and his club realize they are playing against the top-ranked team in the CHL, he says that has not changed their focus.  

"We know that they are good but we also have a belief in our room that we are a pretty good hockey team and we have been on a really good run in the second half as well," said Oulahen. 

The teams split four games. The Battalion won 4-2 at home Oct. 21 and 5-2 at Hamilton on Dec. 3. The Bulldogs, who acquired McTavish in a Jan. 9 trade with Peterborough, won 7-2 at home Feb. 25 and 6-3 at North Bay on March 24.

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