Battalion gears for Fish
NORTH BAY, Ont. — The North Bay Battalion, contemplating the absence of Ty Nelson but a possible return by Ethan Procyszyn, hosts the Mississauga Steelheads in another key Ontario Hockey League contest at 7 p.m. Thursday.
The Battalion has a won-lost-extended record of 23-15-8 for 54 points, second in the Central Division, one point behind the Sudbury Wolves. Third-place Mississauga is 23-18-4 for 50 points.
The game, the first in a season-high 12 in February, is the last of six in a row in which North Bay has faced divisional opponents, all four of them at least once. A 4-3 overtime win Jan. 19 at Mississauga started the run, in which the Troops are 2-1-2.
“Luckily, he is doing, I would say, better than expected in terms of the incident that we all saw, so hopefully he’s not out an extended amount of time, but certainly he’s going to take a little bit of time,” coach Ryan Oulahen said Wednesday of Nelson, in concussion protocol after his head hit the ice when he was punched by Andre Anania last Friday night at Sudbury.
“When he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go. This type of injury, you’re not going to rush it regardless, and just the way our games line up here, you’re not going to see him this weekend. Let’s just be honest there, but maybe there’s a chance after that, if we do things properly. There’s a lot of practice time from here out, and we’ve got a good month for him to get back and feeling comfortable and all that.”
Oulahen, who often has deployed 11 forwards and seven defencemen, was buoyed by the number of blueliners available to cover for Nelson.
“We’ve got multiple guys that can play upwards of 25-plus minutes a night back there, so we’ll be able to pull the rope by committee no problem. Also, knock on wood, Ethan is feeling better too, so maybe it’s a case where we can go six and 12. There’s lots of options, because we’ve got a lot of depth here, and that’s something that we pride ourselves on for sure in terms of our strength.”
Procyszyn, who scored the overtime goal at Mississauga, suffered a lower-body injury in the CHL-NHL Top Prospects Game at Moncton on Jan. 24.
While the defence deals with Nelson’s absence, the offence is paced by Anthony Romani, who leads the OHL scoring race with a league-high 38 goals and 35 assists for 73 points in 46 games.
Oulahen pointed to Romani’s play away from the puck as being among his greatest strides in his third season.
“Everybody sees the goals. Everybody sees the highlights and the numbers that he’s putting up.”
But the coach pointed to late-game work in his own zone and a chip to deliver the puck to linemate Dalyn Wakely for an empty-net goal in a 6-3 road win Jan. 13 over the Soo Greyhounds as exemplifying Romani’s growth.
“He’s so good defensively, and that allows not just him but his whole line to play in the offensive zone a lot. What I see with him going down the stretch run, it’s okay to have a little adversity, one or two games without something, because they’re trying to shut that line down, for sure. It’s something he’s going to fight through, and obviously that talent, that weapon, his brain, is going to be hard to keep off the scoresheet.”
Noted Oulahen: “It’s his pedigree. He’s done it his entire life.”
Wakely has 23 goals and a team-leading 41 assists for 64 points in 45 games, while Owen Van Steensel, the other member of the trio, has 23 goals and 28 assists for 51 points in 44 games.
“We’ve played with each other three years now, so we know where we’re going to be,” said Romani. “We have great chemistry. A lot of it has to do with off the ice too. We’re with each other all the time. I feel we have a good friendship, so I think that really connects with us.”
The Battalion completes weekend play with a two-game road trip, Saturday against the Brantford Bulldogs, first in the East Division and Eastern Conference with 56 points, and Sunday against the Niagara IceDogs.
The Mississauga game features Bruce Power Night, with a special appearance by Bonhomme Carnaval.