This is what good teams should do to teams that gave up on the season about four months and twenty trades ago.
The North Bay Battalion clearly have championship aspirations and the Niagara IceDogs have had no clarity in the direction of their franchise since they finished second in the Eastern Conference in 2018-19.
The Battalion picked up an 8-2 victory on the road in St. Catherines against the IceDogs who are heading toward a second straight last place finish and could set a franchise record for least number of wins in a season as they fall to 9-26-6-1 after the loss. They would need to win 44 per cent of their remaining 27 games (a 12-15-0 record minimum) to tie their current franchise low of 21 wins in a season (not counting the COVID-19 shortened year in which they won 18 games in 63 contests).
The Battalion actually finished lower than the IceDogs in the 2019-20 season, but the difference between the two clubs is; the Battalion made a much-needed and long-overdue personnel change in the front office and behind the bench, they went on to select Ty Nelson first overall in the Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection and have revamped what it means to be a member of the Battalion and how to play “Battalion style” hockey. Making shrewd moves along the way and tying together the right pieces of the puzzle, the win over Niagara was an eye-opening reminder in how quickly things can turnaround for an OHL club when you have the right people in place to make it happen.
The Battalion dominated throughout much of the game, including a four-goal scoring outburst in the second period that really put the W in sights for the Troops.
Kyle McDonald had two goals in that second period, his 20th and 21st of the season and finished with three points on the night. Since his return to the lineup on January 5th he has 12 goals and 16 points.
The overage forward says “I have to give a lot of credit to the guys around me for that success. Playing with Jackson and Josh Bloom lately, we’ve really started to figure each other out and we’re making it work.”
That’s one way to put it, as that line earned all three stars of the game with Bloom leading the way with a four-point night (1G-3A) McDonald getting second star honours fand Jackson rounding out the group with two goals and an assist as well.
“This was a really good chance for us to take everything we’ve been working on in practice and put it into game situations,” says McDonald. “When you’re playing well you just have that motivation to show you can do that for a full 60 minutes.”
10 different players recorded points in the victory while six Troops scored throughout the evening.
“It’s really nice to see that production from everyone and honestly, that is what it takes to be a championship team,” says McDonald. “When you have four lines that can contribute and go out there and compete on every shift, and right now we have that. It’s huge that we can play that way and it makes everyone's job easier, knowing you can count on that teammate beside you.”
Seattle Kraken prospect Jackson opened the scoring at 4:48 with his 26th of the season on the Power Play, coming down the right wing and throwing the puck on net getting it over the glove side of Niagara netminder Josh Rosenzwig (4-14-2-0) to make in 1-0 North Bay.
Jackson also added his 27th of the year on the last goal of the game when he finished off a beautiful play (watch it here) started by McDonald who passed behind his back from the right circle to a wide-open Josh Bloom on the left circle who knocked it right back to Jackson in the slot. Jackson went down on one knee to snipe in the one-timer and make it 8-2 at 4:53.
“There was a lot of yelling going on at the time because they were doing a giveaway and the school day crowd was making a ton of noise so I actually couldn’t hear anything, but I saw the one defender come over to me and I figured that had to me one of our guys was open,” says McDonald. “So I passed the puck and then just started laughing as soon as I saw the play happen because it was just a super fun play to pull off.”
After Jackson opened the scoring Niagara tied the game at 9:40 on a goal that Daniel Michaud (16) got past Battalion goalie Dom DiVincentiis (25-6-1-0) and the scored remained tied 1-1 until McDonald’s first of the game at 12:58.
Then the flood gates opened in the second period.
At 3:34 Nelson (16) scored a power play goal and five minutes later he helped set up McDonald (21) with his second of the night.
The Battalion pulled ahead 5-1 when first-year forward Ethan Procyszyn (5) deflected in a Jacob Therrien shot at 10:30.
Then with two assists already under his belt, Bloom (23) got his second goal of the weekend, scoring on a short-handed chance at 19:25.
Michaud (17) picked up his second goal of the game at 19:49 of the second period to reduce the deficit to 6-2.
North Bay would tally two more in the third with Nikita Tarasevich (12) getting onto the scoresheet while his linemate Matvey Petrov finished with three assists and former IceDog Pasquale Zito got the secondary helper to give him nine assists and 13 points in 14 games with the Battalion. Tarasevich’s goal was recorded at 8:33 before Jackson finished off the scoring.
With an overtime loss to Hamilton earlier in the day, the Ottawa 67’s (who haven’t won in regulation in their last four games), remained just two points ahead of the Battalion for the top spot in the Eastern Conference as the Troops entered play. The victory over the IceDogs gives the Battalion a 32-11-1-1 record and an equal 66 points with Ottawa for the Eastern Conference’s top spot.
It’s a battle that will be worth watching as the regular season winds down as the Battalion franchise has never taken the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
They have finished as the second seeded team six times; four in Brampton and twice in North Bay. The closest finish to first in the Eastern Conference came in 2008-2009 when they were just two points back of Belleville, and set the franchise record with 96 points in a season, although they tied Belleville with 47 regulation wins that year.
Since the team moved to North Bay, they have finished 8 and 14 points back of the number one seed in 2013-14 and 2021-22 respectively.
The Battalion will finish the weekend with a Sunday evening affair in Oshawa as they drop the puck against the Generals at 6 p.m.