Story by Peter Ruicci (Independent Media) | Photo by Bob Davies
Skill can kill.
The North Bay Battalion paid the ultimate price on Friday at GFL Memorial Gardens.
Soo Greyhounds forwards Tanner Dickinson and Cole MacKay were among those who put their offensive talents on display, leading the Hounds to a 4-1 victory before a crowd of 2,476.
Dickinson and MacKay snapped home slick, second period markers to break a 1-1 tie in what marked the 2021-2022 regular season opener for the Greyhounds. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hounds were playing in their first Ontario Hockey League game in nearly 19 months.
“I saw a good spot, top right-hand side and snapped it,” said MacKay, who burst down the left wing and beat Battalion netminder Dom Divincentiis with a well-placed shot, high to the glove-hand side. “Honestly, our speed and skill are underrated. I think we’re going to surprise some people if we combine it with a solid work ethic.”
MacKay’s goal, at 12:34, gave the home side a 3-1 lead.
A little over two minutes earlier, Dickinson let fly from just inside the left face-off circle.
Working on the power play, the Perrysburg, Ohio, native beat DiVincentiis high to the short side to snap what had been a 1-1 tie.
“I want to establish myself as a dangerous shooter, so if I see a lane where I can have a good scoring opportunity, I’m going to take it,” Dickinson said. “Their defenceman went down to one knee, so I was trying to shoot it where the goalie wouldn’t get a good view of it.”
“A couple of those shots in the second period were pretty good,” said Hounds head coach John Dean, whose club plays host to Sudbury on Saturday (7:07 p.m.). “We’ve talked this year about playing with speed first and skill second. We think we have a group that has a skill set that can respond to situations in front of them.”
Along with Dickinson and MacKay, linemates Rory Kerins and Tye Kartye also displayed the kind of speed and offensive savvy that allowed the Hounds to dominate their Northern Ontario rivals.
After Battalion defenceman Ty Nelson blew a tire late in the opening period, Kerins pounced on the opportunity, beating DiVincentiis through the five- hole. Kartye made the feed and the home side led 1-0.
Kerins used his skill to draw the minor penalty which resulted in the power-play goal by Dickinson.
“Execution is speed for us,” said Kerins, who, like MacKay, finished with a goal and an assist. “There are a lot of skilled players in this room and when we move our feet and work hard, that’s when our skill comes out.”
Rob Calisti scored midway through the final period, ripping one home from the point for a 4-1 lead.
Matvey Petrov scored his fourth goal of the young season just :38 into the second period, beating Soo netminder Samuel Ivanov to tie the game 1-1.
Less than two minutes later, Owen Van Steensel appeared to give the visitors a 2-1 lead on an odd-man rush. Upon review, the goal was disallowed due to the Battalion entering the Hounds zone offside.
North Bay head coach Ryan Oulahen called the disallowed goal “the turning point in the game. Scoring two quick goals, we were rolling and carrying the play.”
Oulahen went on to say “that sunk us a little bit.”
With the score 3-1, Hounds penalty-killers rose to the occasion, disposing of a five-minute North Bay power play. At 15:29 of the second period, Soo captain Ryan O’Rourke was handed a five-minute major and game misconduct for a check to the head.
The OHL is expected to review the hit and O’Rourke could be facing a suspension.
The successful kill “changed a lot of the momentum in the game,” Dean said. “We sent out three groups of forwards and five defencemen. Credit (associate coach) Jordan Smith for preparing those guys well.”
Dean was also impressed by the play of Ivanov, congratulating the goalie on his first OHL victory.
The coach also said he hadn’t made a decision on who will start in goal on Saturday and hadn’t decided if the overage players who sat out on Friday would be used against Sudbury.
Notes: Winger Marc Boudreau contributed a pair of assists in the opener.
With five overage players still on the roster, the Hounds chose to dress MacKay, Kartye and Calisti on Friday.
Forwards Joe Carroll and Alex Johnston sat out.
General manager Kyle Raftis said Friday he hopes to be down to three OAs “sooner rather than later.”
He spoke of how the Hounds don’t have a set rotation planned as they move forward.
As far as the market for overage players, Raftis said he’s anticipating “things will loosen once the opening weekend is done and teams get a chance to look at their players.”
The OHL announced on Friday the league’s 17 Ontario-based franchises may begin welcoming 100-per cent capacity, fully-vaccinated crowds beginning on Saturday. The announcement follows the Ontario government’s expansion of spectator capacity limits at indoor sports facilities.