Vilmanis Hat Trick Leads Battalion to Victory

Vilmanis Hat Trick Leads Battalion to Victory
Photo/Article Credit-North Bay Battalion

Sandis Vilmanis scored three goals and goaltender Dom DiVincentiis made 34 saves as the North Bay Battalion defeated the Saginaw Spirit 6-3 Friday night in the opener of a road trip of three games in as many days.

Anthony Romani and Justin Ertel each had one goal and one assist and Brice Cooke also scored for North Bay, which moved its won-lost-extended record to 29-18-8 for 66 points, second in the Ontario Hockey League’s Central Division.

The Battalion, 11-4-2 in its last 17 games, was without Jacob Therrien, who served the second game of a five-game suspension issued after he drew a checking-from-behind major and game misconduct for a shove on James Guo in a 5-3 home-ice loss to Saginaw last Sunday. Owen Van Steensel returned from a one-game absence with a bruised foot suffered in the same game.

Joey Willis scored one goal and assisted on another for Saginaw before a crowd of 5,083, while Sebastien Gervais and Guo each had a goal and goaltender Nolan Lalonde made 26 saves. Lalonde had won his previous 16 decisions since a 6-5 loss Nov. 2 to the visiting Erie Otters.

Saginaw, 40-15-1 for 81 points atop the West Division, is 22-7-1 at home and 15-3-0 in its last 18 games.

The Battalion, which led 4-2 at the second intermission, got a sterling right-pad save from DiVincentiis against Matyas Sapovaliv in the fourth minute of the third period before Vilmanis converted a power-play rebound at 9:41, with Ertel and Romani assisting.

Defenceman Guo scored his first goal of the season on a screened right-point shot at 14:23 to cut the Battalion’s lead to 5-3, but Vilmanis, sent off on a breakaway by Jacob LeBlanc, hoisted a backhander behind the outstretched Lalonde at 16:58. It was Vilmanis’s 27th goal and his 17th in 17 games since a trade from the Sarnia Sting.

Vilmanis opened the scoring at 13:27 of the first period, taking a centring pass from Liam Arnsby and beating Lalonde from the high slot. DiVincentiis also drew an assist.

Gervais went behind the net to the right side and put the puck past DiVincentiis at 17:14 off a pass from Willis. The goal, which looked as though it may have followed an offside zone entry, survived a challenge for goaltender interference by Willis.

Cooke connected eight seconds later, wiring the puck through a screen from well out. The unassisted tally was his 11th.

Willis scored off a rink-length odd-man rush at 16:07 of the second period, assisted by Sapovaliv and Alex Christopoulos, but Romani responded 49 seconds later. Paul Christopoulos and Van Steensel assisted as Romani converted a cross-ice pass to put home his team-leading 45th goal.

In 175 career games, Romani has 76 goals and 69 assists for 145 points, two more than Luch Aquino and Mitchell Russell and 25th in franchise history.

Penalty killer Ertel, playing his 100th OHL game, struck for what proved to be the winner at 19:47, driving down the left wing to the net and backhanding his 21st goal behind Lalonde. Ertel’s fourth shorthanded goal of the season was his seventh overall and tied Kamil Kreps, Cody Hodgson and Mathew Santos for the sixth-most in franchise annals.

BATTALION BULLETS: Work continues at the Dow Event Center ahead of the Memorial Cup tournament May 24 to June 2. New dressing rooms and suites, a larger media gallery and a video messaging ring are among the enhancements … The Spirit retired Brandon Saad’s No. 22. A Pittsburgh product, he had 61 goals and 70 assists for 131 points in 103 OHL games. On Oct. 20, 2011, he became the first, and still the only, player to score against the Battalion while two men short, netting the eventual winner at 13:26 of the second period in a 5-2 victory at Brampton … Van Steensel has a seven-game points streak in which he has seven goals and eight assists for 15 points … Ertel was a third-round pick in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection from the Toronto Red Wings minor midgets. A third-round choice of the Dallas Stars in the 2021 National Hockey League Draft, he has 35 goals and 56 assists for 91 points over two seasons … The Battalion went 1-for-3 on the power play. Saginaw was 0-for-4 … Opening lines had Dalyn Wakely centring left winger Van Steensel and right winger Romani, Arnsby pivoting left winger Ertel and right winger Vilmanis and Ethan Procyszyn centring left winger Andrew LeBlanc and right winger Cooke. Left winger Ihnat Pazii and right winger Lirim Amidovski had various linemates … Apart from Therrien, the Battalion was without Brayden Turley, Nolan Laird and Stef Forgione … Jack Hennigan and Drew Jackson were the referees.

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