Troops prepare for another busy weekend

No firm update on DiVincentii, injured Tuesday in game against Niagara

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The North Bay Battalion got an early start to its week, but the Ontario Hockey League schedule continues apace with an important home-and-home set opening with a visit by the Mississauga Steelheads at 7 p.m. Thursday.

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The second-place Battalion, which trails the Steelheads by eight points in the Central Division, plays at Mississauga on Friday night before entertaining the Ottawa 67’s on Sunday.

The depleted Troops opened the week with a 3-2 road loss via shootout Tuesday night to the Niagara IceDogs in a game rescheduled from Dec. 18 because of the covid pandemic, which will see Memorial Gardens empty again.

Starting goaltender Dom DiVincentiis was forced from the game at 19:12 of the second period after being struck in the head by Niagara’s Danil Gushchin. Battalion coach Ryan Oulahen, who called it an “ugly play,” said Wednesday that it was too soon to give a firm update on rookie DiVincentiis’s status.

“He’s kind of just getting evaluated, so unfortunately with the quick turnaround I don’t have a ton of information to give you, other than it looks like it’s not very severe, which is really good.”

Russian import Gushchin, who earlier was credited with his team-leading 23rd goal of the season, received a major penalty and game misconduct.

Owen Van Steensel, scoring for a second straight game, and Mitchell Russell had the North Bay goals. Joe Vrbetic took the loss in relief of DiVincentiis, who gave up two goals on 20 shots before leaving. Vrbetic faced 10 shots through overtime, in which the Troops outshot Niagara 5-2.

“I thought last night we probably deserved a little bit better than what we got, especially with the chances we had late in the third and into overtime,” said Oulahen.

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Prominent among those chances was Paul Christopoulos’s solo showdown with sprawling Niagara goaltender Josh Rosenzweig in the third minute of the extra session.

“We’ve had some guys really really step up and play their best hockey to date in a Battalion uniform, which is very, very encouraging,” noted Oulahen, who praised Van Steensel in particular but who saw the likes of Michael Podolioukh, Nic Sima and Owen Outwater also do good work.

The Battalion will get Kyle McDonald back for the Mississauga visit after he completed a four-game suspension, but fellow forwards Kyle Jackson, Liam Arnsby and Matvey Petrov all figure to remain sidelined with injuries.

“He looks fresh, he looks ready to go, he’s certainly excited, and we’re excited to have him back tomorrow night,” Oulahen said of McDonald.

Mississauga, which has two games in hand on North Bay, has a won-lost-extended record of 24-8-4 for 52 points, while the Battalion, 3-6-4 in its last 13 games, is 19-13-6 for 44 points.

“Wins and losses are always going to swing here and there, but the big focus that we’ve been saying is we can’t stray away from our game even if we’re going to go through some adversity,” said Oulahen, who vowed that the Troops will “continue to scrape and claw.”

The Battalion’s Brandon Coe, who had an assist, emerged from the Niagara game as the OHL’s scoring leader with 25 goals and 39 assists for 64 points, one more than Wyatt Johnston of the Windsor Spitfires. Petrov ranks fifth with 56 points from 22 goals and 34 assists, and Russell has 21 goals and 27 assists for 48 points.

Luca DelBelBelluz leads Mississauga with 20 goals and 27 assists for 47 points, while James Hardie has a team-high 26 goals and 20 assists for 46 points, but the team’s main strength lies in its defence, which has been charged with 87 goals against in 36 games for a league-best average of 2.42.

Mississauga goaltenders rank first and second in the OHL in goals-against average, with Joe Ranger, who’s 11-2-1, posting a 2.11 GAA, a .922 save percentage and two shutouts in 16 games. Roman Basran, 13-6-3, has a 2.35 GAA, a .903 save percentage and two shutouts in 24 games.

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