The North Bay Battalion will face the Ottawa 67's tonight at North Bay Memorial Gardens.
It is a rematch of the opening round of the 2022 OHL playoffs where the Battalion swept the 67's in four straight. However, the Battalion realize they have their work cut out for them tonight facing a 67's squad that sports an impressive 18-2-0 record.
"We did mention it right after our Owen Sound game that we have a good challenge ahead of us here," admitted Ryan Oulahen.
"We know they are playing extremely good hockey. They are off to a fantastic start, but a star that does not really surprise us. We got to play them in the playoffs and we found out how good that team was. They have a very similar lineup with a lot of returning players so there is no surprise. They are structured, they are detailed. We have a lot of respect for that organization."
North Bay has a record of 14-6-0 for 28 points atop the Central Division. After two weeks at No. 10, the Battalion has landed at ninth this week in the Canadian Hockey League’s Top-10 rankings, in which Ottawa is third.
The Battalion visits the Hamilton Bulldogs on Friday night and the Niagara IceDogs on Saturday night, making for the fourth of five sets of three games in as many days this season. The last such run is scheduled Feb. 24-26.
Goaltender Dom DiVincentiis was injured in practice Tuesday and has experienced concussion-like symptoms which put him into the protocol and will keep him out of action for a week.
Rookie Charlie Robertson, who made 31 saves in a 6-3 road win last Saturday night over the Owen Sound Attack in North Bay’s most recent outing, is to start against Ottawa, with Michael McIvor the backup.
McIvor was called up from the North Bay Trappers under-18 team. A six-foot-one, 154-pound product of Warkworth, Ont., who turned 16 on March 22, he was a fourth-round pick in the OHL Priority Selection last April from the Quinte Red Devils under-16s.
Right winger Kyle McDonald and defencemen Tnias Mathurin and Avery Winslow remain sidelined, while left winger Matvey Petrov, who left the Owen Sound game with what was described as a sore wrist, is questionable.
All those injuries make the acquisitions of winger Josh Bloom and rearguard Brayden Hislop via a trade last week from Saginaw even more important.
“We love what he brings in terms of our lineup and what he can add,” Oulahen said of Bloom, who has one goal and two assists in three games with the Battalion. “He plays with speed, intensity. He’s an unbelievable leader, a character kid, a really, really smart hockey player.”
Hislop has also impressed registering one assist in three games.
“We really liked what we saw out of him last weekend. I think he’s just kind of scratching the surface in terms of getting used to the way we play and things that we’re going to do and I think he’s going to be a real valued addition to us back there.”
Ertel stepping up
With the injuries up front, Justin Ertel has emerged after the former Cornell Big Red forward has registered 8 points in his last five games.
"It is still early on in the season, and this is a transition for him," noted Oulahen.
"I think he has realized how he can hang onto the puck a little bit more, can shoot the puck more, just have a little bit more confidence.
"He is someone who always brings an intangible with his physicality, the way he can skate. We just love how is he always into the game as he seems to be a rah-rah bench guy. It is nice to see he is showing up more on the scoresheet and that is something we knew would happen over time."
Thursday is Special Olympics Night in partnership with the North Bay Police Service, with two athletes to take part in the ceremonial faceoff.