For the second time this season, the North Bay Battalion overcame a three-goal deficit against the top team in the Eastern Conference. But also for the second time this season, the Troops were never able to take the lead against said Ottawa 67’s club, and North Bay was on the losing side again in a 6-3 defeat in the nation's capital on Sunday afternoon.
Its four straight losses for the Gateway City team, including all three on this weekend road trip. Although after a 4-1 loss to Peterborough on Thursday, and the 7-6 loss to Kingston on Friday, the Battalion had what looked like their best effort of the weekend against a dangerous 67’s squad.
“I think we’re a fragile group right now,” says Assistant Coach Scott Wray, “we saved our best performance of the weekend for Ottawa, and we said in the room that if we play like that every game, we’re going to be in every game.”
Outside of the opening 10 minutes of the first, North Bay had every chance to hand Ottawa their first regulation loss since October 3rd (coincidentally it was against North Bay in which the 67’s fell 4-3 after 60 minutes of play).
“We got down really early and fought our way back. We clawed and I thought we did a lot of good things [on Sunday afternoon]” says Wray.
“We got a lot of pucks to the net, we outshot them and we were right there.”
North Bay (11-15-1-1) led the shooting gallery with 43-33 shots against the home side Ottawa (22-3-3-1) who is now unbeaten in regulation in their last 23 games.
At the end of the first period, Brad Chenier (12) scored to get North Bay on the board. Brandon Coe found Chenier in the neutral zone behind the 67’s defence, and after Chenier took the pass perfectly over the blue line, he beat Andree through the five-hole on the breakaway at 18:47.
The Troops carried that momentum into the second period when Adam McMaster scored just 1:15 into the frame, getting his 12th of the year to put North Bay to within a goal 3-2.
Luke Moncada (2) finished off the comeback at 9:13 when he received a pass from Kurtis Evans right on the doorstep of the Ottawa crease. Moncada redirected the puck from the right side into the back of the net, and the Troops, who trailed 3-0 after the opening 9:12 found themselves back to even footing with the 67’s.
Despite the valiant come back effort from the visiting Troops, it was once again a game in which they had to fight from behind. Over the last 12 games, the Troops have scored the first goal of the game just once.
Wray says consistently playing from behind can wear on the team and the record reflects that as North Bay is just 3-8-1-0 over that 12 game stretch.
“Especially against a team like that,” Wray says of getting behind early against Ottawa. “You can’t get down 3-0 early and that’s what happened.”
Mitchell Hoelscher (4) at 5:25, Shasha Chmelevski (11) at 5:50 and Hudson Wilson (2) at 9:12 were the three goals the 67’s used to build up what looked to be a comfortable cushion.
But Wray credits the Troops for their spirited effort over the next period and a half, “the guys showed resiliency and they came back. They showed that they wanted it and they got back in the game, tying it 3-3. But [Ottawa] got a goal with 12 minutes left in the game and that’s all she wrote.”
That game winner was courtesy of Tye Felhaber (27) who was set up in front of the net, and received a pass from the corner from Hoelscher and put it past Christian Propp to regain the lead for Ottawa, 4-3.
The period truly belonged to Felhaber as he would go on to score a natural hat-trick. His second of the game, 28th of the year, was popped in at 8:51 and he added an empty-netter at 18:16 to sit atop the league leaders in goals scored with 29 this season.
Felhaber is now just two goals shy of his career high of 31 in 68 games played last season. He is currently not signed by an NHL team, and it’s not a stretch to think the overager could get to 50 this season.
On the North Bay side of the story, this was a weekend that saw six different players score goals over the course of the three games. Three weeks ago, the North Bay offence was almost non-existent, as they scored just five goals combined in three games. They have responded with back to back weekends of 10 goals or more the last two weekends.
Wray says that work in the attacking zone has not gone unnoticed,
“They did a really good job and we’re starting to get some goals scored from some different areas which is great,” he said.
“But we have to clean up the little things in our own end where we are not playing from behind every game.”
If the Battalion proved one thing to themselves this weekend it’s that they are never out of a game. While they finish with three losses, the second two were always within reach, more evidently so in the last one on Sunday.
“I don’t know why we waited to the last game of the weekend to play like that, but we have to play with urgency in every game. You have to play like it’s your last game in the OHL,” says Wray.