After more than 18 months of pandemic-inspired uncertainty, there are clearly signs things are returning to normal for those positive enough to see the forest through the trees – or the ice through the arena glass.
Take the throngs of hockey-loving fans heading out to see the North Bay Battalion, for example. With provincial attendance restrictions loosening across the Ontario Hockey League, the stands at North Bay Memorial Gardens are once again playing host to Battalion supporters happy to be out of the house and cheering on their team. And while there may still be a hesitancy for some who don’t want to wear a mask or go through entry protocols to watch a game, the people embracing the opportunity are being treated to some exceptional and long-overdue entertainment.
“If you look at the on-ice product, we’re very optimistic about where we are today and going forward,” said Mike Griffin, President of the Battalion. “Our general manager Adam Dennis and his group on the scouting side have done a terrific job throughout the pandemic identifying good young talent. We’re very excited where that’s headed.”
Playing in the OHL’s Central Division, the Battalion have remained at-or-near the top of the division thanks to a solid 5-3 start to the season.
“Our team’s off to a good start,” said Griffin. “It’s a young team but it looks like every week we get better and better so we’re happy with that. All the credit goes to the group that scouts the players and coach Ryan Oulahen and his group that puts the players on the ice.”
One of the great joys of watching OHL hockey is the chance to see budding prospects in action during their development years for a fraction of the price it would cost once they hit the National Hockey League. The Battalion have their own contingent of rising stars according to Griffin, including 6’5”, 203 pound right-winger Brandon Coe and 5’10”, sturdy 197 pound defenseman Ty Nelson.
“Coe is an NHL drafted player by the San Jose Sharks and he’s historically shown to be a game-breaker,” said Griffin. “As an over-age player he’s someone, whether in our building or another building, people are coming out to watch. Nelson is a very unique and special talent as well. Anytime there’s a rush up the ice he’s right in the middle of it. He's fun to watch, he’s got an engaging personality, he’s 17 years of age, and he’s got a very bright future ahead of him.”
Besides increasing the capacity of fans allowed to attend games, the easing of restrictions has also allowed the Battalion to once again start planning in-house fan engagements designed to enhance game day experiences at Memorial Gardens. Many of those activities are available through the support of sponsors, who Griffin says have been instrumental in helping the team survive the COVID-19 era.
“We’re very grateful that we’ve been fortunate to have a significant percentage of sponsors coming back to support the team,” he said. “We’ve finally been given the chance to offer more fan engagement, on-ice activity, shoot-outs, and more of what we used to be doing. That means lots more atmosphere, more noise, more activities once we hit November. This is a great opportunity to start back towards what we hope is a different normal.”
To get your tickets to see the Battalion in action, visit the team website at https://battalionhockey.com/.