In a ceremony prior to Sunday's home game versus the Kingston Frontenacs, the North Bay Battalion team award for academic player of the year was renamed in honour of retiring Chippewa and Battalion academic advisor Judy Smith.
Surely Smith took some time to tutor her pupils on the simple equation before them on Sunday:
A North Bay win + a Niagara regulation loss = 8th place tiebreaker on Tuesday
It was not to be, as the Battalion fell to the Kingston Frontenacs 5-4 and the home team was eliminated from playoff contention. Mississauga did their part and defeated Niagara 6-1, but the Troops ran into a stronger team that was still playing for home-ice advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Head Coach Stan Butler rejoined the Troops after missing the Thursday and Friday engagements with the Sudbury Wolves. Butler scouted the OHL Cup for midget-aged players while assistants John Dean and Adam Dennis handled coaching duties.
Said Butler post-game, "We panicked a bit. We did score to make it 5-4 and pushed hard, but the reality is and the story all year is the push hasn't been where it needs to be in order to be successful.
"We shouldn't have put ourselves in that predicament. We lost five games to teams who had fewer points than us this year. We lost to Barrie twice in the last couple of weeks, we blew a lot of games early in the year that we needed to win."
After two straight starts by Julian Sime, the Battalion elected to go with overage goaltender Brent Moran in the must-win game at the Gardens on Sunday.
Early in the first, Cody Caron of the Frontenacs attempted to goad Zach Shankar into a fight, but Shankar turned the other cheek, leading his team by example by not leaving them shorthanded at the back end. Caron got four minutes for roughing, while Shankar served two.
Late in the period, Moran took a Jason Robertson shot to the mask but was not injured on the play. The Troops managed to keep the area around Moran's net clear, and kept Kingston to few shots, only six, while the home team had 10.
The scoreboard watching began near the end of the first period, as Mississauga took a 2-0 lead over the IceDogs, but it was still 0-0 in North Bay. The Niagara game was also a 2 p.m. start.
The Troops came out flying in the second period, Adam McMaster beat his man along the side boards, fed Kyle Potts in the slot, and Potts trickled the puck through the five-hole of Fronts starter Jeremy Helvig. Potts' 12th was also assisted by Justin Brazeau and gave North Bay a 1-0 lead.
Less than three minutes later, Kingston capitalized on a bad line change, as Sergey Popov tipped the puck over Moran from in close off a pass from Robertson and Ted Nichol. The 1-1 goal came at 4:16.
With Robertson in the box for slashing, Brazeau, stationed in front of Helvig, redirected the puck past the Kingston goaltender to give North Bay a 2-1 lead. Brazeau's 22nd was assisted by Brady Lyle and Brett McKenzie.
Just 41 seconds later, the Troops took a 3-1 advantage, this time Zach Poirier beating Helvig. Daniil Verity and Mark Shoemaker drew the assists on Poirier's 15th of the campaign.
Defenceman Jakob Brahaney scored his first OHL goal, one that Moran would have liked to have back. Brahaney's goal brought Kingston to within 3-2 and was assisted by Caron and Sam Harding.
With under two minutes to play in the second, McKenzie had a clean shot from the slot blocked by Helvig.
Shots after two periods favoured the Battalion 24-18.
After 40 minutes, North Bay led 3-2 and Mississauga was still beating Niagara 2-0.
Only 1:33 into the third, the Frontenacs tied the game 3-3. Brett Neumann was left all alone in front and took a pass from Nathan Dunkley. Fans felt as though Dunkley had interfered with the North Bay defender in the corner before making the dish to Neumann. Caron also assisted.
Twenty seconds later, Kingston leading-scorer Jason Robertson potted his 42nd to give the Fronts the lead for the first time. The quick goals in succession seemed to take the energy out of the crowd on Fan Appreciation Day.
At 5:44, Kingston extended the lead to 5-3, another soft goal that beat Moran, this time by Ryan Cranford. Assists went to Popov and Liam Murray.
"It's kind of been the story of our whole year. We have critical lapses at [inopportune] times and it hurts us. We told the kids that we needed a strong 20-minute [third] period there, we needed to come out hard," said Butler.
With 3:52 to play, Shankar made things interesting with a beautiful solo effort and goal past Helvig to cut the deficit to 5-4. Brazeau received the lone helper on the play.
The Troops pushed until the final buzzer, but could not get the tying goal. The fans stood and applauded the team as they first huddled together on the ice, and then saluted the faithful who stood by them through injuries and turmoil all season long.
"Sometimes in life, you get out of it what you put in. Pretty much this year, we just didn't get the job done," offered Butler in summation.