Justin Brazeau's season a 'special story'

Article content

With three weeks left on the Ontario Hockey League schedule, the North Bay Battalion hopes the slate has turned in its favour.

Of nine games left to play, the Battalion has seven at home, starting with three in four days this weekend, with the Owen Sound Attack getting things started with a visit at 7 p.m. tonight. The Niagara IceDogs follow on Friday night and the Sudbury Wolves on Sunday.

Apart from playoff ramifications for the Battalion, which has a won-lost-extended record of 26-28-5 for 57 points, fourth in the Central Division and tied with the Peterborough Petes for seventh in the Eastern Conference, there’s the matter of Justin Brazeau and his scoring exploits.

Brazeau scored a franchise-record 51st goal of the season Sunday in an 8-1 loss to the London Knights in the Battalion’s fourth consecutive road game and the third in three days last weekend. Mike Amadio scored 50 goals in 2015-16.


Story continues below

Article content

Brazeau netted the record-setting goal on the power play, the Troops skating four-on-three, at 13:34 of the first period to tie the game 1-1.

The Battalion applied pressure in the London zone, with Luke Burghardt passing the puck from deep on the right wing back to Nick King in the high slot. King fed Brazeau wide in the left-wing circle for a shot that was wired high to the far side and appeared to glance off the left shoulder of goaltender Joseph Raaymakers.

Brazeau is the sixth player in franchise history to score as many as 40 goals in a season, with Cody Hodgson having accomplished the feat twice. After Brazeau and Amadio, Wojtek Wolski boasts the highest total, with 47 goals in 2005-06 for Brampton. Other seasons of 40 or more goals belong to Raffi Torres, with 43 in 1999-00, Hodgson with 43 in 2008-09 and 40 in 2007-08, and Evgeny Grachev with 40 in 2008-09.

Torres enjoyed his highest production in the Battalion’s second season, breaking his own club record of 35 goals set in the expansion campaign of 1998-99. The Battalion franchise moved to North Bay from Brampton for the 2013-14 season. Now, of course, every goal right winger Brazeau scores sets a record.

The Battalion chose the native of New Liskeard, Ont., in the 13th round of the 2014 OHL Priority Selection.

“It’s special, especially for Justin’s story,” assistant coach Adam Dennis said Wednesday of the overager’s unprecedented performance.

“He’s a Northern kid, first and foremost, (and) I think it’s important for the kids in North Bay to see that, you know, you can achieve some pretty special things up north. The other thing is he’s a 13th-round pick so, for people to see where he’s come from to where he is now, I think that’s special too.


Story continues below

Article content

“And the other side of it, just the way that he’s grown. I’ve been fortunate enough to be here for three years to watch him, as a person, as a player. He’s a guy that’s always adding stuff to his game, and it’s been really special to watch. I think our young guys are really fortunate to get to watch what he’s done this year. We’re all pulling for him.

“As a guy that’s played against the Brampton Battalion, seeing some of those guys that have put up those franchise records and knowing what they’ve done, seeing them for the last 15 years in pro careers, it’s special what he’s doing, and I think he’s got a bright future, it’s safe to say.”

In addition to the single-season goals record, Brazeau is continuing his ascent on other franchise lists. In 259 career games, he has 118 goals and 101 assists for 219 points, sixth all-time, four points behind Torres, seven behind Amadio and 10 short of Barclay Goodrow. Brazeau’s assists total is 11th in franchise history, trailing Dylan Blujus and Goodrow by one.

Owen Sound, 27-26-6 for 60 points, sixth in the Western Conference and fourth in the Midwest Division, defeated the visiting Battalion 4-3 via shootout Jan. 5 in the teams’ only other meeting. The rematch marks the last game against the opposite conference for the Troops, who are 14-9-4 at home.

“We’re expecting a young, hardworking group,” Dennis said of the Attack.

“They had a coaching change not too long ago, and every time that happens you get a whole group that wants to impress the new bench boss, so you’ve got a team that’s really trying to show what they have, trying to jockey for position inside the lineup. They’re young and they’ve got some talent, so it should be a good match-up.”

Assistant Alan Letang took over as Owen Sound’s coach after Todd Gill was dismissed Jan. 28.

The game figures to feature two forwards traded for each other Dec. 28, in Mitchell Russell of the Battalion and the Attack’s Adam McMaster. Russell was a first-round pick, 20th overall, by Owen Sound in 2017 and McMaster a first-rounder, 13th overall, by North Bay in 2016.

The Owen Sound game marks Bumper to Bumper Night.

News Near North Bay

This Week in Flyers