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Inside the North Bay Battalion's quest for sustained success

'From scouting conversations to prospect conversations to conversations about the roster in North Bay, those are the reasons why you’re involved and why you do what you do'
Members of the North Bay Battalion scouting staff watch a game during Orientation weekend.

Pursuit is a sports feature series highlighting athletes, coaches, and staff and significant sporting events from North Bay and the surrounding area.                     


In his post-game press conference after game seven of the Eastern Conference Championship Series, North Bay Battalion Head Coach Ryan Oulahen talked about the work that goes on behind the scenes to make the Battalion organization have sustained success over the last three seasons. 

“You can look at the standings, you can see that we’ve won three straight division championships in the last three years, you can see we’ve done well in the playoffs, but what people don’t see is the work behind the scenes, from everybody in our organization,” he says. “I’m blessed to come to the rink every single day with unbelievable coaches to help me, we have a world-class management team. Our mental performance coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, we have an unbelievable program we have built here in North Bay.” 

Despite the loss in the conference finals for a third straight year, Oulahen says the staff and players are focused on their goals and they have come a long way in just three short years.  

“We expect a lot out of our players day in and day out, but to see the evolution year after year and the development of our players, and I can’t take all the credit for that, it is everything we’ve done it is everybody working towards the same goal.” 

One of the hardest parts of getting that sustained success is finding the players who not only have the talent level to thrive in your system but also the personalities to buy into what you’re selling. What General Manager Adam Dennis has managed to do to get that trust is build himself a dynamic scouting staff that has yielded a terrific blend of experience and knowledge of the game at various levels. It mixes well together to bring a team culture where players want to play, and parents can trust their kids to be in the best situation possible.  

That scouting team includes, but is not limited to; Director of Scouting Charles Abbott, Director of Player Personnel Jeff Bateman, Assistant General Manager & Director of Player Development John Winstanley, and long-time scout Terry Uniac, who all took time out of their busy days during the team's Orientation Camp a few weeks ago to chat with BayToday about the ins and outs of scouting players at the Major Junior Level, and the culture they have built around the North Bay Battalion brand.  

Bateman was a member of the original Brampton Battalion roster when the team first hit the ice in 1998-99. As Director of Player Personnel, it’s his job to see where the players are physically during training camp and track their progress throughout the year.  

“We touch base with them during the season, watch them live, watch some video, and see how they have progressed from one year to the next,” says the former fourth-round draft pick by the Dallas Stars.  

“We draft the kids for a certain reason and so we want to make sure they are still playing the type of game that we want to play and developing in all the right areas. It’s a slow progression but we want to make sure that they are getting better in all areas of their game.” 

Bateman says they take into consideration that when these players are drafted at the ages of 16 and 17, there is still room for a lot of growth.  

“There’s going to be some progression when it comes to physically maturing and that is one piece of the puzzle, along with the on-ice development.” 

Bateman, who played with the team for three seasons, has now been working with the team for the past nine years. He says talking about hockey philosophies with Dennis and the rest of the crew is one of the best parts of the game.  

“Those conversations that we have from scouting conversations to prospect conversations to conversations about the roster in North Bay, those are the reasons why you’re involved and why you do what you do,” he says.  

“Our staff is full of very smart hockey guys and the conversations are always progressive and informative and the group we have formed here in the last couple of years, you can see what we have done. It’s a great group to be a part of.” 

Bateman says he and the other scouts are “boots on the ground” type guys, meaning they watch a lot of hockey from September onwards, as they gear up for the deadline, the draft, and search for the right players to bring into the organization.  

Scout Terry Uniac has seen his fair share of rinks, joining the Battalion’s scouting staff in 2016. His focus is on players in the Southwestern Ontario region, specifically the area around London, Ontario. Uniac has scouted for several OHL clubs, including Sudbury, Belleville, Sault Ste. Marie and Kitchener. He later joined Mark Hunter with Sarnia before moving with him to the London Knights, winning a Memorial Cup in 2005 and was part of the group that scouted Dennis when he was playing as a goaltender.  

“We’ve got a group here in North Bay, there’s good leadership and good ownership,” he says. “I was with Hunter and the London Knights for ten years, before he went to the Maple Leafs and I came here with Bobby Wittick, who went to the Boston Bruins.” 

He says the key to having a good group is the fact that the scouts all get along and he commends Charles Abbott for keeping that unity at the forefront.  

“He’s pretty even-keeled about players. He encourages everyone's input and doesn’t try to force any particular players onto anyone when it comes time to make decisions,” says Uniac.  

Uniac coached at the Jr. B ranks for many years and has had prominent players come under his tutelage such as Chris Pronger, Rob Blake, and Nelson Emerson. He says what hasn’t changed over all those years is the task of projecting how the players will develop at the next level.  

“We’re watching players right now who are only 15 years old and you have to envision what you like in them as a player at that stage, how will they be able to continue that at 16, 17, and 18? Hopefully, you get some kids that will develop for you and contribute,” he says,  

“The thing with the Battalion is that they are intent on helping you develop in every aspect. On ice, off ice. When I played, I never worked out. Now, physical fitness is a big part and they also give them what they need to get their education as well. Only a small number of kids make it to the big time, and you need to have something to fall back on.”  

The education piece is important information not only for the players but for the parents to know as well. Assistant GM John Winstanley says it’s one of the things he feels makes the club stand apart from other OHL teams.  

“The hockey world can unfortunately be a little misleading at times and for these families, they are looking for someone to give them honest feedback and honest direction, and one of the best attributes Adam Dennis has, is that he’s very honest with everybody, and that trickles down to the rest of us,” he says. “Our only goal is to see these kids succeed and enjoy their time while they're here.” 

Winstanley’s first draft with the club took place just after the league shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and he says that turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it allowed them to really focus on what it meant to change the culture and present new ideas on what playing for the North Bay Battalion would mean.  

He says, “Character was a big thing when we went into our first draft (in 2020). Hockey players are hockey players. Most teams can see a good hockey player, but when you have someone who is equally a good player and a good person, it's pretty easy to decide who you want.”  

“Drafting Ty Nelson with one of our first picks when I joined, then you get Dalyn Wakely, then you get Owen Van Steensel, then Tnias Mathurin, then Dom DiVincentiis, these are not just good hockey players, these are good people. This is where we saw the fruits of our labour in doing those background checks where we spoke to over 90 kids for over an hour going into that 2020 draft.” 

The 2020 draft, plus the drafts and the trades made in the ensuing years has brought the Battalion three central division titles.  

Charles Abbott has had a hand in that success as the Director of Scouting. His role has taken him across the province over the last few years, scouring the rinks for those players that could fit into the Battalion mould.  

“You’re trying to see good players, you’re trying to see good matchups and be efficient as well. Sometimes you’re watching two or three games per week, maybe more, maybe less. It’s a lot of kilometres and snowstorms and hotels, but we put in the work, talking to the area guys, getting opinions. We all get along, we’re all good buddies and it’s just fun watching and talking about hockey.” 

Abbott says he’s very proud of the work they have put in over the last three years but they still have bigger goals to achieve. He says the great thing about the team having continual success on the ice makes the sell job to that next wave of players a little bit easier.  

“Guys are seeing it when they come up for orientation week. They are driving into town or walking over to the track and seeing all the ‘Go Troops Go’ signs everywhere and it’s awesome for them to see it. It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up and it reminds you of why you're doing this, and it gives the new players a glimpse of where they could be in a few years.” 

If you have a story idea for "Pursuit" send Matt an email at [email protected] 

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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