Rivalry reaches new level

Rivalry reaches new level
Photo/article credit- North Bay Battalion

It’s been 10 years in the making, but the postseason showdown that Northern Ontario fans have wanted arrives at 7 p.m. Thursday when the North Bay Battalion plays host to the Sudbury Wolves in a second-round Ontario Hockey League playoff series.

The teams meet in the opener of a best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal that promises memorable moments.

North Bay, seeded second after finishing first in the Central Division with a won-lost-extended record of 39-20-9 for 87 points, eliminated the seventh-seeded Kingston Frontenacs four games to one in a quarterfinal. Sudbury, third in the division and seeded fifth in the conference at 38-23-7 for 83 points, ousted the fourth-seeded Mississauga Steelheads in five games.

The Battalion, which went 4-1-3 against Sudbury in the regular season, has battled without goaltender Dom DiVincentiis, who’s been relieved by rookie Mike McIvor. The Troops have scratched leading scorer Anthony Romani and, for three games in the first round, accomplished attacker Andrew LeBlanc. Captain Liam Arnsby served the first game of a six-game suspension in the series clincher.

“I don’t know if it’s, say, pressure on you but, when you know you don’t have certain players in the lineup as a coach, you have to move players around,” Ryan Oulahen said Wednesday.

“They’re all forwards, but you have to also maneuver a goalie in there that’s very young. So it makes your job different and perhaps more difficult at times because you’ve got to really, really coach up some players that you didn’t think you’d have to be coaching up at this time of the year. You don’t want to be in this situation, for sure.

“But with the coachability factor of our group, it’s fun to work with, because it’s easy to have conversations, to have guys buy into some roles, whether you’re a guy that’s going to play four or five minutes, but those four or five minutes are going to be crucial and going to be massive. Whether you’re a top guy that maybe is going to get a little extra here. If he’s on his game, that means I can get him out on the ice a little bit more.

“There are a lot of different things that I’m kind of going into the game with a plan, but also ad-libbing in terms of who’s bringing it on that particular night. So looking forward to the challenge.”

The Battalion has faced Sudbury in three playoff series, all conference quarterfinals when the Troops were based in Brampton, winning one and losing two. This marks the first time the clubs have met in the postseason since relocation to North Bay in 2013.

It’s only the second time that North Bay and Sudbury have clashed in the OHL playoffs, the first having come in 1992, when the North Bay Centennials, who defeated the Belleville Bulls in a first-round series, swept a four-game league quarterfinal against the Wolves on the way to a seven-game loss in the OHL final to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

The Sudbury team was coached by Ken MacKenzie, now in another stint on the bench, while Drake Berehowsky, a defence consultant with the Wolves, played for the Centennials.

Dalyn Wakely, who’s tied with Filip Mesar of the Kitchener Rangers for second place in OHL playoff scoring, leads the Battalion with six goals and four assists for 10 points in five games. The six goals are tied for first in the league with Dylan Edwards of the Erie Otters.

Owen Van Steensel has scored two goals and earned six assists for eight points, while Sandis Vilmanis has one goal and seven assists for eight points and Justin Ertel three goals and as many assists for six points, all in five games.

Again in five games each, David Goyette paces Sudbury with four goals and five assists for nine points, and Dalibor Dvorsky has two goals and six assists for eight points. Nick DeAngelis has scored two goals and added five assists for seven points, while Quentin Musty has one goal and six assists for seven points.

McIvor, who took over the crease after DiVincentiis left Game 2 of the Kingston series, has won three of four decisions, posting a goals-against average of 2.69 and a save percentage of .888. DiVincentiis, with one win, has a 2.46 GAA and .900 save percentage.

Sudbury goaltender Jakub Vondras has a won-lost record of 3-1 with a 2.73 GAA, a .906 save percentage and one shutout, while Marcus Vandenberg is 1-0 with a 2.00 GAA and .929 save percentage.

The second game is scheduled at Memorial Gardens on Saturday night before the series shifts to Sudbury for two games next week.

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