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Battalion start off training camp amidst construction

A member of Team Green advances the puck out of his defensive zone during a scrimmage Friday afternoon. Photo by Mark Pare.

A member of Team Green advances the puck out of his defensive zone during a scrimmage Friday afternoon. Photo by Mark Pare.

The next step to the Ontario Hockey League season began this past week, as North Bay Battalion opened training camp on their home ice of Memorial Gardens.

Although renovations continue on the building, the players were able to use the ice surface and use the rooms in Pete Palangio to dress.

Director of hockey operations and head coach Stan Butler says it’s kind of overwhelming to finally reach the main camp.

”There’s times during the summer you didn’t know if you were really going to get here,” he said, “I think the guys building the rink deserve a lot of credit to get the ice surface ready and I know from a hockey perspective, obviously given that were basically like a homeless team right now, you just try to make due with not having dressing rooms and facilities and things like that and as long as it doesn’t effect the evaluation on the ice, then you can bare with yourself.”

Returning forward Blake Clarke admits that with the construction, it’s pretty hot in the rink and not everything’s working in their favour but they just got to get used to it.

The second-year Battalion forward has had a busy summer. He says he’s been traveling around a lot and had a chance to play with NHL stars among the likes of Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and former Battalion player Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche in Halifax recently.

Clarke says that it was a great experience, to see their work ethic and what makes them the best players in the world. A top prospect for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, he says he is excited that he’s thought of so highly, but that a stat like that can change quickly.

”If I have a bad year, if I have a bad time, that’ll go down,” he said, “The way to keep on people’s good sides is to really focus on playing a team game and that’s when I’m at my best and usually if the team’s playing well, I’m playing well and everyone will be happy.”

Coming to North Bay, he says it’s good to see the town a bit more.

“It seems like a real hockey town, everybody here seems nice, they’re good people, it’s a beautiful place, right on the lake,” he said, “It’s kind of more like where I’m from back home in St. Louis (Missouri), compared to Toronto. Toronto’s more of a city, I’m used to being around the country so I definitely feel comfortable here.”

On a personal level, he says his favourite part is living with his billets on Trout Lake, and getting a beautiful view from the dock.

Another player that will be watched a bit more this year will be projected number one goaltender Jake Smith. He says all the guys are battling and working hard to start off camp. He agreed on the temperature but also agreed that it’s something they’re working through.

“I know they were building behind me when I was in the net over there but everybody has to go through it so it’s not that big a deal,” he said of the construction, “We’re all battling through it.”

“You play in Kitchener or Windsor, it’s a construction zone every game so no, (it’s) not really (a distraction),” Butler added, “The players know what they gotta do to make the team and quite frankly, if there’s a distraction or two, that’s almost good for us to see how they deal with that type of situation.”

Butler says they’re looking especially at the younger players they think have a chance of making the team. He says coming in, there are no locks on roster spots for anyone.

“To me, the only locks are the ones you have on your door,” he said, “So at the end of the day, everybody’s gotta earn their spot. I told the returning players going into camp that if some young guys come in and play better than them in camp then my philosophy in coaching is you either get better or you leave.”

Butler says the process is to narrow the focus off of a couple guys every day, work their roster to 31 guys and then make some decisions. He says that right from the fitness testing that took place on Wednesday onward, they’re always doing some type of test.

“We find out which kids have really worked hard in the weight room and stuff like that, that’s important and every day, we’ll build up a little bit more on ice time, go from there and just see how they do it on the ice.”

The Troops were separated into Team Green and Team White and played two intrasquad games on Thursday and Friday. Team White won the first game 7-5. And 8-7 respectively.

Clarke of Team White notched five points, including four goals in the first scrimmage and added an assist in the second game.

Mathew Santos also had a productive couple days for Team White, putting a goal and an assist on the board to start and then a hat-trick the second time around.

Swiss import Vincent Praplan flashed some great stick handling for Team Green. He scored a goal in each of the two games, as did Dallas Stars prospect Nick Paul.

The teams will play one more scrimmage Saturday morning, before heading out to Kitchener for a pre-season game against the Rangers on Sunday afternoon. They will then play the Labour Day afternoon in Guelph.

The Troops will play two pre-season tilts in Temiscaming, Quebec. First, it is Kitchener coming north for a Saturday afternoon game on September 7th and then the following Saturday, September 14th, the Peterborough Petes provide the opposition.