Simon Rose scored at 4:32 of overtime to lift the North Bay Battalion to a 3-2 victory over the Mississauga Steelheads in Ontario Hockey League action Sunday.
It is the second straight win for North Bay, their first at home since December 31 and it gives them at least a single point earned in all three games this weekend; something they hadn’t done since December 29 to January 2 in which they beat Oshawa in overtime, Sudbury in regulation and lost to Niagara in overtime.
It was also a second straight night in which Joe Vrbetic made some outstanding saves in net to keep the Battalion in the game. One night after securing his first career OHL shutout he made 38 saves on Sunday against Mississauga for a 79 save weekend and two more wins under his belt in his rookie season.
“This weekend was huge for him,” says Rose. “Tonight he stood on his head for us, it was just unbelievable.”
Vrbetic received similar praise from Battalion Head Coach Ryan Oulahen who said after the game, “That was going to be a good test for him because he got a lot of work the previous night with all the penalties we had to kill. But it’s good for his confidence to go back to back and he’s feeling good about himself.”
The Battalion ran into a lot of penalty trouble this weekend but they had no trouble making the plays necessary when down by a man as they stopped 3 of 4 chances against Mississauga and 13 of 14 overall in the three games played. However, in two of the games this week, including Sunday afternoons winner, the Troops only got one power play opportunity, which is something Oulahen says they need to start working on. He says, “A little bit lopsided with the penalty troubles but we have to find a way to sort that out because that’s on us. I don’t like the stick penalties, the kneeing calls, that’s back to back nights where we make it tough on ourselves in terms of finding momentum and turning the tide.”
But that doesn’t sum up the whole story he says.
“What we have seen here this weekend, especially after Thursday, is a more competitive team. We won a lot of battles along the walls, blocked a lot of shots. The way we played in front of our net was so much better. Really happy to see the improvement in our group that way.”
It was a team that was playing shorthanded with Paul Christopoulos sitting out over the next few games because of a slew foot call that gave him a match penalty early in the Barrie game. And with Avery Winslow and Braden Henderson still dealing with lower body injuries, that meant Ty Hollett was called up from Pembroke of the CCHL to fill in for the Troops.
Oulahen says it was a gutsy win because everyone, including the new guy, was buying into the game plan. He says, “When a kid like Hollett comes up and sees Simon Rose blocking shots it makes him want to go do that and when we get that it just snowballs into an overall great effort.”
Just like the previous game, it was North Bay getting on the board to open the scoring.
Mitchell Russell picked up his third goal and fifth point of the weekend when at 12:47 of the first. He followed the puck deep into the zone and Harrison Caines picked it up behind the net and pushed it onto Russell’s stick, who then came around to the glove side post and just shovelled it under goaltender Edmonds pads for his 21st goal of the season.
The Steelheads then got a late equalizer at 18:30 as Calvin Martin got a partial break into the zone and slid the puck to his backhand lifting it over the glove side of Vrbetic for his 17th of the season, making the game 1-1.
It was a shutdown period in the second as Vrbetic stopped 12 shots and Edmonds made seven saves to keep the game 1-1 going into the final 20 minutes of regulation.
In the third period North Bay were again outshot by a margin of 12-5 but Harrison Caines (6) gave North Bay their second lead of the night by following Russell into the zone who passed across to the left wing to Moncada who then dropped it back to Caines for the finishing touch by wiring it past Edmonds for a 2-1 advantage at 5:57. The secondary assists went to Russell to give him a six point weekend (3+3) and Moncada with the assists finishes with a four-point weekend (1+3).
Liam Arnsby was called for hooking at 9:55 and while he served his two minutes the Steelheads took advantage of the extra man by cycling the puck well in the offensive zone and with time winding down James Hardie found Harley on the left side point and he teed up a shot that flew past everyone to tie the game 2-2.
North Bay was outshot 40-22 overall and the Steelheads held a 33-31 advantage in the face-off circle as 1935 fans went home happy from Memorial Gardens for the first time in 2020.
A big test awaits the Battalion next weekend as the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Ottawa 67’s, pay a visit on Thursday and then the West Division-leading Saginaw Spirit come to town on Sunday afternoon.