Oulahen a Winner in Debut
NORTH BAY, Ont. - Ryan Oulahen, with some timely help from Simon Rose, made his debut as interim head coach of the North Bay Battalion a winning one.
Rose scored on the power play at 11:48 of the third period to lift North Bay to a 4-3 Ontario Hockey League victory Thursday night over the Erie Otters, snapping a four-game losing skid.
Brandon Coe, Brad Chenier and Mitchell Russell each provided one goal and one assist as the Troops, who rallied from 3-1 down, moved their won-lost-extended record to 6-23-0 for 12 points, fifth and last in the Central Division. Goaltender Joe Vrbetic faced 33 shots before 1,742 in the Battalion's first win since a 4-3 verdict Nov. 24 over the visiting Niagara IceDogs.
Chad Yetman had two goals and Austen Swankler one for Erie, 11-11-8 for 30 points, fifth in the Midwest Division. Goaltender Aidan Campbell made 27 saves for the Otters, who have lost their last six games, the first five at home, going 0-5-1.
"I'm thrilled for the players - they're the ones who have had the toughest week," said Oulahen, who took over the bench after Stan Butler, director of hockey operations and head coach since the Battalion started play in Brampton in 1998-99, was reassigned to special adviser to owner Scott Abbott.
"There were some moments in that game that were pretty sloppy, but you got a glimpse of what the North Bay Battalion should be about in the last two minutes of the game with a one-goal lead and the crowd cheering. Guys were putting themselves on the line, paying the price to win a hockey game. It was fun to see.
"We talked about managing the puck and in our zone. We made some big errors that led to two of their goals, and those are areas we can clean up. Vrbetic was outstanding. His third period was his best period by far, and he made key saves at the right time."
The Troops, who trailed 3-2 to start the third period, killed a lengthy two-man disadvantage before capitalizing on some power-play time of their own as Elias Cohen and Danial Singer were banished at 10:07 for hooking and unsportsmanlike conduct respectively.
Russell tied it at 11:19, blasting the puck from above the right-wing circle high over Campbell's blocker as North Bay skated four on three. Nick Grima and Coe assisted on Russell's ninth goal of the season.
Defenceman Rose struck 29 seconds later, hammering a drive from the high slot that beat Campbell low to the stick side. Liam Arnsby had the lone assist on Rose's first goal.
Vrbetic turned aside Erie's two best chances the rest of the way as Swankler and Drew Hunter enjoyed close-range attempts.
Coe opened the scoring at 4:27 of the first period, barrelling to the net around Jacob Golden and sliding the puck inside the right post. Chenier and Luke Moncada assisted on Coe's ninth goal.
Yetman replied at 11:30, shoveling home a pass from Hunter from the deep slot, and Swankler connected nine seconds into a power play, sweeping a feed from Maxim Golod past Vrbetic from the right circle at 14:56.
The teams traded goals while skating four-on-four in the second period. Yetman, scoring his team-leading 20th goal, converted a Golden pass while moving through the deep slot at 6:56, and Chenier made it 3-2 just 32 seconds later, finishing a three-on-one rush with Russell and Paul Christopoulos. Russell drew the sole assist on Chenier's 13th goal, which tied Moncada for the team lead.
Vrbetic denied Golod from the deep slot early in the frame, Emmett Sproule had a solid chance in close, and Vrbetic foiled Noah Sedore when he rushed to the net in the 18th minute. Vrbetic slid to deny Connor Lockhart in the last minute. Brendan Sellan hit the left post in the 12th.
Bill Houlder, a onetime member of the North Bay Centennials and a veteran of 16 National Hockey League seasons, was on the Battalion bench in his debut as a fulltime assistant coach. Scott Wray is the other assistant.
The Battalion visits the Mississauga Steelheads at 7 p.m. Friday. The game can be heard live in North Bay on Country 600 CKAT.
BATTALION BULLETS: The crowd was the smallest ever for a Battalion home game at Memorial Gardens. The previous low was 1,744 for a 5-1 loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs on Nov. 14 ... In 233 games, Chenier has 67 goals and 74 assists for 141 points, one more than Nick Paul and 20th on the Battalion's all-time list ... North Bay went 2-for-8 on the power play. Erie was 1-for-8 ... Opening lines included Moncada centring left winger Chenier and right winger Coe, Russell centring Mason Primeau on left wing and Arnsby on right wing and Cameron Peters pivoting left winger Harrison Caines and right winger Chad Denault. Josh Currie centred left winger Kyle Jackson and right winger Alex Christopoulos ... Defence pairings were Braden Henderson with Paul Christopoulos, Rose with Grima and Pacey Schlueting alongside Ryan Thompson ... The Battalion was without James Mayotte, Niki Korpialho and Christian Cicigoi ... Reece Proulx was called up from the affiliated junior A Pembroke Lumber Kings of the Central Canada Hockey League to back up Vrbetic. Cicigoi was injured in practice last week. Proulx, an 11th-round pick in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection from the North Bay Trappers minor midgets, has played in two OHL games this season, going 0-1-0 ... Erie was without Jamie Drysdale, who's at the Canadian national team's selection camp at Oakville, Ont., preparing for the World Junior Championship.
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