Curtain Rises on New Cast
NORTH BAY, Ont. - The North Bay Battalion enters a new era when it plays host to the Erie Otters at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Interim head coach Ryan Oulahen will run the bench, with Adam Dennis observing as general manager of the Ontario Hockey League's youngest club.
Stan Butler, director of hockey operations and head coach since the Battalion began play as an expansion franchise in Brampton in 1998-99, has been reassigned as special adviser to owner Scott Abbott.
"Job 1 is to get on the bench there tomorrow night and really start getting a feel for this team," Oulahen told a larger-than-usual media gathering Wednesday.
Oulahen, 34, served as a Battalion assistant for five-plus seasons starting during the 2010-11 campaign before two-plus years as head coach of the Flint Firebirds, who had a won-lost-extended record of 52-78-13 under him.
"I'm a better coach now than I was when I went to Flint," said Oulahen, who faced a hugely dysfunctional situation in Michigan with a club working to recover from turmoil.
He resigned early in the 2018-19 season after the team started 0-7-0, eventually going 0-16-1 before winning a game. Ironically, the Battalion visited Flint in the first game after Oulahen's departure, and the Firebirds scored a 5-3 victory Sunday at Memorial Gardens in Butler's last game on the bench.
"We've got to get back to being the hardest-working team in the OHL," Oulahen said of his approach in taking over a club that he acknowledged represents a longstanding coaching goal.
"When I got the phone call from Mr. Abbott, I was thrilled and honoured."
Oulahen, who had served this season as the Troops' skills coach, played three years at centre with the Battalion, culminating in 2004-05, when he was captain, and said he owes a deep debt to Butler.
"There's no doubt that Stan is a big part of me. He's a big believer in me. I could not be here right now if he wasn't supportive of this."
Abbott said he had grappled with the personnel decision for some weeks, with a 4-3 road loss Nov. 29 to the Kingston Frontenacs, in which the Battalion led 3-0 after 20 minutes, being particularly troubling.
"We have a lot of very talented young players. The most important thing is that they embrace the right approach for the future. They're the leading edge of our next team that will have a roster to compete for a title.
"They have to get the proper foundation this year, and I could see in recent weeks that they were getting away from that."
Abbott noted that Butler "has a wealth of institutional intelligence, organizational knowledge, that's going to be important."
"He's said he'll do anything I ask to further the future of the team."
Dennis, 34, pointed to his background with the OHL office as helpful in his new role, which will encompass considerable scouting.
"Coming from the league office as director of recruitment, I feel that's a strength of mine."
Dennis, who said the players' work ethic is paramount to him, alluded to the Troops' earliest days in North Bay, starting in 2013-14, when the '7th Man' in the stands was known throughout the league.
"We want to see them work hard and get the love of the game back a little bit, start having fun coming to the rink every game, start making Memorial Gardens a very hard place for teams to come and play."
Captain Brad Chenier, who acknowledged all that Butler has done for him and others, said, "Obviously, it's a new start for us, looking at the next 40 games type of thing."
He noted: "We're excited to have Oulie here and get things moving on the right track."
Apart from Oulahen, the new look of the Battalion bench will include Bill Houlder, who moves into a fulltime assistant coaching position from the part-time role he's held since 2017.
Houlder, who played three OHL seasons with the North Bay Centennials, was a fourth-round pick of the Washington Capitals in the National Hockey League Entry Draft in 1985. He skated for 16 seasons on defence with seven NHL clubs before retiring in 2003.
Scott Wray continues in his assistant's position with the Battalion, 5-23-0 for 10 points, fifth and last in the Central Division, Eastern Conference and league. Erie is 11-10-8 for 30 points, fifth in the Midwest Division.
North Bay completes the week's play by visiting the Mississauga Steelheads on Friday night and playing host to the Owen Sound Attack on Sunday.
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