(Supplied by the Ontario Hockey League)
It has been a tough first half of the season for the North Bay Battalion.
The Troops stumbled out of the gates, eventually falling to 5-23 and last in the league under former head coach and Director of Hockey Operations Stan Butler. Attendance numbers haven’t been there either as Memorial Gardens on some nights is less than half full.
On December 10, Battalion owner Scott Abbott made the decision to move Butler to a new role as Special Advisor to the owner while assistant coach Adam Dennis was made General Manager and skills coach Ryan Oulahen was named interim head coach. In the eight games since North Bay has gone 4-4. Not exactly setting the world on fire, but in a lost season, it represents a step forward.
With the step forward, however, the Battalion faithful, or seventh man as they were known their first few seasons, have seemed to have awoken from their four-year slumber. The Troops last home game came on Thursday when they fell 9-8 in overtime to the Niagara IceDogs, but the team was serenaded all game with “go Troops go” chants, along with “Luke! Luke! Luke!” chants when Luke Moncada recorded his first career hat trick. There was even a standing ovation as the team left the ice.
“That’s always been the joy here in North Bay,” Oulahen said shortly after the defeat. “The fans are true hockey fans, they understand the game and big moments in the game. Whether it is big penalty kills, big goals, even chances, they can see the momentum coming and you can hear the chants.”
Some players have used the newfound passion for the team as motivation as well as the top line consisting of captain Brad Chenier, NHL draft prospect Brandon Coe, and Moncada have combined for 40 points in the eight games since the change.
“Offensively they’re doing a really good job,” Oulahen explained. “I think all three of them have a ton of confidence. We are seeing some unbelievable play from Coe, and Moncada, I know Chenier is a little bit more proven in terms of the offence, but the other two are breaking out and that’s awesome for us.”
As for Oulahen, he spent the first three seasons the Battalion was in North Bay as Stan Butler’s right-hand man on the coaching bench so he was there in the thick of things during the seventh man’s heyday.
“It’s awesome,” Oulahen stated. “It’s going to be great when we get some more fans in the building and get this thing rocking even louder. That seventh man is always great and will continue to be.”
With continued forward steps made by the team, Memorial Gardens will be sure to be as loud as ever in the future.