IceDogs unable to resist battalion attack

A rebuilding team seeking its second straight win was no match for an Ontario Hockey League championship contender who sits second overall in the league.

Only the Ottawa 67s (31-9-1-2) had more points and a higher winning percentage than the North Bay Battalion (31-11-1-1) heading into the weekend.

In contrast, the Niagara IceDogs hosted Battalion Saturday night at the Meridian Center in St. Catharines last in the 20-team league with a 9-25-6-1 record. North Bay took the ice with more than twice the points of Niagara, 64-25, and the IceDogs have three games in hand.

While the Battalion, a team with eight National Hockey League draft picks on its roster, including former IceDog center Pasquale Zito, won 8-2, the game on the ice was not as unbalanced as the end result on the scoreboard.

Indeed, the hosts started strong and held on in a first half that was played mostly between the blue line. The shots were 8-6 in favor of the battalion who entered the break with a 2-1 lead.

It would be as close as the IceDogs would get. North Bay had a four-goal streak, including one that was allowed after being reviewed for goalie interference, before Niagara found the back of the net.

“I thought we had lost our temper a little while maybe some of the goals were questionable,” IceDogs head coach Ryan Kuwabara said.

Bouncing back from this can be ‘tough’ for a young team.

“They are young, they are sometimes emotional,” said the coach. “They digress a bit.”

There’s only one way to right the ship when this happens.

“Just keep them updated on the process,” Kuwabara said. “You can’t control what the referees are going to call, bad rebounds, none of that.

“You can just control what you’re going to do on your next shift, so it’s just reset and ready to play.”

The IceDogs had a good game Thursday night when they snapped an eight-game losing streak and won for the first time in 2023. They hoped the momentum from their 5-1 win over the Erie Otters, too at home, would help them keep pace with the battalion.

“I think the first half we played very well, we contained them as much as we could. We had some bad rebounds there,” Kuwabara said. “In the second and third it kind of got away from us.

“A few things didn’t work for us. We must learn to fight against this adversity.

Kuwabara, a former Montreal Canadiens draft pick whose 17-year professional career included 14 seasons in Japan, acknowledged that catch-up hockey is “difficult to play.”

“But it is what it is,” he said. “Sometimes when you’re younger it’s hard to deal with that. You start worrying about things that aren’t important.

Daniel Michaud scored both of Niagara’s goals and leads the team with 17 goals and 31 points in 38 games.

“He’s tough, he skates well, he moves pucks well,” Kuwabara said. “When he gets in the area in front of the net, he’s hard to contain.

“He’s a key for us, that’s for sure.”

After the game, the team boarded the bus for a trip to Erie, Pennsylvania, where they faced the Otters on a 2 p.m. matinee.

“We can’t change what happened in this game, we can just learn from it,” Kuwabara said of the battalion loss. “We just have to refocus, prepare for tomorrow.”

North Bay outshot Niagara 39-32 and went 2-for-4 on the power play while limiting the IceDogs to one of four power-play opportunities. North Bay also scored a shorthanded goal.

Josh Rosenzweig went the distance in net for Niagara while Winnipeg Jets prospect Dom DiVincentiis picked up the win in net for the battalion.

Kyle McDonald and Kyle Jackson, with two goals each, Josh Bloom, Ty Nelson, Ethan Procyszyn and Nikita Tarasevich scored for North Bay.

This week, the IceDogs must play three games in as many evenings: Thursday at Peterborough Petes, Friday at Hamilton Bulldogs, Saturday at home against the Kitchener Rangers.

‘Dog Biscuits: North Bay has eight NHL draft picks on its roster. Zito, C, Detroit Red Wings; was Niagara’s only hope when he was traded to the Battalion on Dec. 12 for five draft picks and center Michael Podioukh… Six players were injured on the IceDogs roster: Anthony Agostinelli, RW; Landon Cato, D; Juan Copeland, LW; Owen Flores, G; Gerard Keane, D; Andrew Wycisk … Reported attendance was 4,503.

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