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Top OHL teams to clash at Memorial Gardens

'Not to make it a huge deal but I do think the guys will get excited about this one'
Matvey Petrov celebrates a goal against the Hamilton Bulldogs last Thursday. File photo by Tom Martineau/BayToday

It's expected to be an OHL high-flying battle on the ice as two top teams in the league clash on Memorial Gardens ice as the Windsor Spitfires make their only appearance of the regular season Thursday night. 

“We’re going to have to rise to the challenge,” Oulahen said Wednesday of his club, which is at No. 9 in the Canadian Hockey League’s Top-10 ranking, while Windsor is No. 8.

“They’re a really good hockey team (which) obviously made some really big moves at the deadline and are trying to win a championship, along with what we’re trying to do here, so it should be a good night here in North Bay tomorrow.”

The Battalion boasts a won-lost-extended record of 30-11-2 for 62 points, first in the Central Division and second in the Eastern Conference, two points behind the Ottawa 67’s, who hold a game in hand. Windsor is 28-10-4 for 60 points atop the West Division and Western Conference.

The Spitfires went to the OHL Championship Series last spring, losing Game 7 to the host Hamilton Bulldogs, who had swept North Bay in four games in their conference final.

While the Battalion stood pat at the Jan. 10 trade deadline after adding elements in November, Windsor was busy, with no acquisition larger than centre Shane Wright, secured from the Kingston Frontenacs on Jan. 9 for two players and seven OHL Priority Selection picks, two of them conditional.

Wright, whom the Seattle Kraken chose fourth overall in the National Hockey League Draft last July and who captained Canada to gold in the World Junior Championship at Halifax, has five goals and six assists for 11 points in six games with Windsor. Wright also netted four goals in five American Hockey League games with the Coachella Valley Firebirds. 

North Bay and Windsor have met once this season, with the Spitfires winning 6-3 at home Oct. 27. After that game, the Battalion posted a season-high seven-game winning streak.

Right winger Kyle McDonald of the Troops will face his former Windsor teammates for the second time, while centre Pasquale Zito also is a one-time member of the Spitfires, via the IceDogs. Zito was part of the western conference champion Spitfires in 2022. 

Meantime Alex Christopoulos, the twin brother of Paul, will meet for the first at North Bay Memorial Gardens since he was traded last season to the western conference squad. 

Oulahen believes the Spitfires connections should help fire up the room for the meeting between two of the OHL's best teams.  

"Not to make it a huge deal but I do think the guys will get excited about this one," said Oulahen 

"Us as coaches, we approach things just as another game even though it is against an elite talented team so we will talk about that a lot, but I do think in the room dynamics there's probably some things they guys can rally around. We have seen it before with the Saginaw game." 

Top Prospects game for Charlie

It was a memorable Wednesday night for Battalion goalie Charlie Robertson. 

Four different OHL players found the back of the net, powering Team White to a 4-2 victory in the 2023 Kubota CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Wednesday at the Langley Events Centre.

A scoreless second saw strong goaltending on both sides as Charlie Robertson entered the game for Team Red, going on to make 11 saves on the 13 shots he’d face.

Team Red outshot Team White 47-31 in the game that was played before a crowd of 5,276 in Langley. The game was the 27th edition of the annual showcase that was aired across the country on TSN and in the United States on NHL Network. More than 150 personnel from NHL clubs were in attendance to see top draft-eligible talent from across the CHL.

"It is so cool to see a North Bay Battalion player participate in that," Oulahen stated about Robertson's Top Prospects Game opportunity. 

"I think the one cool thing we can say about Charlie is that in the role that he is in you really have to earn your teammates respect and you do that by work ethic, you do that by competing in practice. We have got some pretty good shooters on our team and for him to step in there and take one-timers from the likes of Petrov, Nelson and McDonald and do it without hesitation; that has kind of transformed into his game on the ice and he has become a very consistent component for us and somebody that is going to be relied upon for sure in this next little stretch and he's earned it."

Thursday's game is the lone home game this week as the Battalion visits Niagara on Saturday night and Oshawa on Sunday night to complete the weekend.