When was the last time you saw the home team getting a standing ovation after a loss? It doesn’t happen often, at any level of sports and yet the community of North Bay, affectionately known as the seventh man, were compelled to loudly cheer the Battalion off the ice despite a 5-4 regulation loss to the Oshawa Generals.
They were acknowledging the effort and the fact that they are impressed with this group, despite the 1-6-0-0 start to the season. It’s the first time since this team has moved to North Bay, that they have acknowledged some type of youth movement and a commitment to “let the kids play,” and that’s exactly what they did against a team that was undefeated coming into the game.
“I thought our guys played hard,” says Battalion Head Coach Stan Butler. “They didn’t give up right to the end. It was a good effort and what we told them was that we want to see them get better every day and we feel that we are going in the right direction.”
The Battalion got things started in the right direction in front of 2002 fans at Memorial Gardens when Brandon Coe opened the scoring with his second of the season at 3:56 into the first. This followed a touching moment in which his father Lance was part of the ceremonial puck drop, on Pink in the Rink night. With Coe’s father at centre ice, Brandon was then asked to join him for the opening game ceremonial moment.
After beating the Battalion 5-1 just last Friday, Oshawa (8-0-0-0) looked to put themselves back in the drivers seat and rookie Dawson McKinney scored his first of the night at 13:19, off a turnover in the North Bay zone by fellow rookie Niki Korpihalo.
But Korpihalo made up for his miscue right away by scoring the first goal of his career less than a minute later by pouncing on a rebound shot from Cameron Peters at 14:03, to get the Troops ahead 2-1.
The Generals came storming out of the gates in the second period. Kyle MacLean scored his first of the season at 2:44 on the power play. That was followed up by goals from Oliver Suni (3) at 9:10 and Brett Neumann (4) at 9:28 to give Oshawa three in a row before the half-way point of the second and turned their 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead.
Mitchell Russell (2) got one back for the Troops as he took a pass from James Mayotte through the neutral zone and was able to skate by Danil Antropov, who was the last guy back for Oshawa. With a little bit of clearance, Russell broke in towards the Oshawa goal and deked past goaltender Andrew MacLean at 13:22.
McKinney regained the two-goal advantage for Oshawa in the 3rd at 4:58 giving him two on the night, the first two of his OHL career.
But the Battalion made things interesting as Braden Henderson fired a shot at MacLean that turned into a huge rebound right onto the tape of Peters near the left side circle. Peters sent the puck into the back of the net for his first of the season at 15:26 and it became a nail biter towards the end as the Troops were never able to pull back even with the Generals, who also missed a few chances to score on an empty net.
As Butler says they want to see improvement every day, and from the last game to this game, that improvement was noticeable.
He says, “We want to give icetime to our younger guys to get better, but we want our middle group to get better too. We want them to keep playing well and it was nice to see Russell get a goal tonight and I thought Primeau had a really good game and I thought Coe was great tonight.”
“Those guys are our middle group and they need to take that next step up,” says Butler.
It was also the debut of Nick Grima, whom the Battalion acquired earlier in the week from the Sarnia Sting. Grima, an overage player, was in the lineup in place of Nick King and he finished his Battalion debut with two assists and a +2 rating.
“We just thought that there was a lot of pressure on our defensemen playing on their offsides,” says Butler. “This allows guys to get back on their proper sides.”
Christian Cicigoi was in net for the first time in his OHL career on home ice. He had previously started games in Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury. Cicigoi made some impressive saves against a very highly skilled offensive club in Oshawa.
Butler says, “I thought he had a good game tonight, but he didn’t get any breaks.”
“A couple of bad bounces and on the fifth shot it’s like a pool shot that bounces a few times and goes in,” he continues. “But he bounced back and we need him to do that in order to do well.”
The Battalion will head off to St. Catharines for a Saturday night tilt against the Niagara IceDogs who knocked the Troops out of the playoffs in the first round last year.