Troops return to national rankings

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The two hottest teams in the Ontario Hockey League clash when the North Bay Battalion plays host to the Hamilton Bulldogs at 7 p.m. Thursday.

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They’re also the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, as Hamilton sits atop the East Division and league with a won-lost-extended record of 40-12-4 for 84 points. North Bay, first in the Central Division, is second in the conference at 35-17-6 for 76 points.

The Bulldogs are 15-1-0 in their last 16 games, while the Battalion is 16-2-0 in its last 18. Hamilton, a fixture in the Canadian Hockey League Top 10, is No. 3 this week, while North Bay returned to the rankings at No. 8.

The Troops’ last loss was a 7-2 setback Feb. 25 at Hamilton.

“I think we all remember kind of what the feeling was,” Battalion coach Ryan Oulahen said Wednesday. “That was a good tell of a lot of things that Hamilton’s trying to do, which is fantastic to be able to see that, and when things don’t go our way, or we don’t play the way we need to, it can turn in a heartbeat, so those things will all be reminded to our group.”

Oulahen acknowledged his charges will have their hands full with the Bulldogs but said they’ll put the priority on their own performance.

“We always like to focus on ourselves first. Certainly, there are some things that Hamilton does that are interesting and that we’ve got to be aware of. They’re a team that just doesn’t have any holes. They made a significant push at the deadline there to improve their hockey team. They’re a good team.

“I’ve always said again, since Day 1, that the good teams kind of bring out the best in us, and we’re looking forward to seeing what we have here tomorrow night.”

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Tnias Mathurin is expected to be back in the Battalion lineup after missing 15 games with an upper-body injury suffered in a 5-4 overtime win Feb. 4 over the visiting Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

“If he gets through practice okay today, he’ll be playing tomorrow night,” noted Oulahen.

Fellow rookie defenceman Ty Nelson, meanwhile, was at Kitchener for the CHL-National Hockey League Top Prospects Game on Wednesday night, where he was to serve as an alternate captain for Team Red, which included Hamilton rearguard Jorian Donovan. The game showcased the top 40 CHL skaters and goaltenders eligible for the 2022 NHL Draft from the OHL, Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Logan Morrison heads Hamilton points producers with 30 goals and a team-high 55 assists for 85 points in 50 games, while Avery Hayes has a team-leading 34 goals and 29 assists for 63 points in 54 games. George Diaco has scored 21 goals and added 36 assists for 57 points in 56 games.

In 13 games since a Jan. 9 trade from the Peterborough Petes, Mason McTavish has seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points. He had two goals and one assist Feb. 25 and, in his only other game against North Bay this season, scored three goals, including a shorthanded empty-netter, in a 5-3 win at Peterborough in his return to the OHL from the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 25.

Brandon Coe paces the Battalion with 86 points from 32 goals and a team-leading 54 assists in 54 games, and Mitchell Russell has a team-high 35 goals and 43 assists for 78 points in 55 games. Matvey Petrov has scored 32 goals and earned 46 assists for 78 points in 53 games, while Kyle Jackson has 24 goals and 28 assists for 52 points in 37 games.

The Battalion embarks on a two-game road trip to complete play this week, visiting the Niagara IceDogs on Saturday night and the Mississauga Steelheads on Sunday.

The Hamilton game features Canadore Community Appreciation Night. Students from Canadore, a corporate sponsor of the Battalion, assist with video board presentations and game-night cameras. One high school student will win tuition for a year in an intermission contest, and prizes will be available at a table in the concourse.

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