‘We’re . . . going to have to be ready for them’ – Oulahen

Eastern Conference championship opens Friday with Troops facing Bulldogs

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The Ontario Hockey League conference finals feature the teams with the top four records in the 2021-22 regular season. In the Eastern Conference, that means the Hamilton Bulldogs and the North Bay Battalion.

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Hamilton posted a won-lost-extended record of 51-12-5 for 107 points to lead the East Division, conference and league, while North Bay went 43-18-7 for 93 points, first in the Central Division.

The teams open what’s styled as the Eastern Conference Championship Series for the Bobby Orr Trophy at 7 p.m. Friday at FirstOntario Place. Game 2 is scheduled Sunday night, also at Hamilton, before the best-of-seven set moves to Memorial Gardens next Wednesday night.

“We have the utmost respect for that organization and what they can do, and we’re obviously going to have to be ready for them,” Battalion coach Ryan Oulahen said Wednesday.

“They have unbelievable high-end offensive talent up front, obviously led by their big boys, but then there’s the depth, and they’re a big, strong older group.”

Logan Morrison leads Hamilton in playoff points with nine goals and seven assists for 16 points in eight games, while Mason McTavish has nine goals, tied for the team lead, and five assists for 14 points in eight games after sweeps of the Peterborough Petes and Mississauga Steelheads. Ryan Winterton has two goals and a team-high nine assists for 11 points in eight games, and Avery Hayes has scored two goals and added seven assists for nine points in five games.

For North Bay, Mitchell Russell has 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points in nine games, and Brandon Coe has five goals and a team-leading 13 assists for 18 points in eight games. Kyle Jackson has nine goals and five assists for 14 points in eight games, while Ty Nelson has nine assists in as many games after a sweep of the Ottawa 67’s and a five-game ouster of the Kingston Frontenacs.

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Russell is second in OHL playoff scoring, one point behind Wyatt Johnston of the Windsor Spitfires, who has played two more games before facing the Flint Firebirds in the opener of the Western Conference Championship Series for the Wayne Gretzky Trophy at home Saturday night.

Russell leads the league in playoff goals, while Jackson, Morrison and McTavish are tied for second place. Coe is tied with Kingston’s Francesco Arcuri for second in postseason assists.

Jackson leads in power-play goals with five, one more than Russell, Morrison and McTavish. With six, Nelson and teammate Matvey Petrov are tied for first in power-play assists with Ryan O’Rourke of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, while Russell is second in game-winning goals with four.

Russell has been named to the Canadian Hockey League’s Team of the Week for the period ended Sunday. Hamilton goaltender Marco Costantini also was named to the six-man squad.

Both Hamilton and North Bay finished the regular season strong.

“Ever since the calendar flipped over to 2022, they’ve been lights out,” Oulahen noted of the Bulldogs, who went 35-3-1 from Jan. 11 through the end of the schedule. The Battalion was 24-3-1 from Jan. 30 to the end of the campaign April 17.

“We know that they’re good, but we also have a belief in our room that we’re a pretty good hockey team and we’ve been on a really good run the second half as well,” noted Oulahen.

The teams split four games. The Battalion won 4-2 at home Oct. 21 and 5-2 at Hamilton on Dec. 3. The Bulldogs, who acquired McTavish in a Jan. 9 trade with Peterborough, won 7-2 at home Feb. 25 and 6-3 at North Bay on March 24.

The games at Hamilton can be seen live in North Bay on YourTV Channels 12 and 700.

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