Sports

Barrie, North Bay open second-round series Friday night at BMC

By Gene Pereira, Special to Postmedia Network

North Bay Battalion defenceman Nick Moutrey, right, celebrates with teammate Nick Paul after their first goal against the Kingston Frontenacs during Game 3 Ontario Hockey League Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff action action at the Rogers K-Rock Centre in Kingston. North Bay swept Kingston in four straight games. The Battalion and Barrie Colts open their second-round series Friday night at the Barrie Molson Centre. QMI AGENCY FILE PHOTO

North Bay Battalion defenceman Nick Moutrey, right, celebrates with teammate Nick Paul after their first goal against the Kingston Frontenacs during Game 3 Ontario Hockey League Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff action action at the Rogers K-Rock Centre in Kingston. North Bay swept Kingston in four straight games. The Battalion and Barrie Colts open their second-round series Friday night at the Barrie Molson Centre. QMI AGENCY FILE PHOTO

Friday's Eastern Conference semifinal series opener between Barrie and North Bay will mark, a year — almost to the day — since the Battalion knocked the Colts out of last year's Ontario Hockey League playoffs.

The Troops won the second-round series in six games and the stinging feeling after the loss is something Andrew Mangiapane hasn't forgotten.

As far as incentive goes, the Colts forward says he and his teammates have plenty of it going into this year's best-of-seven series against their Central Division rivals.

"I guess there's a rivalry between us," Mangiapane said ahead of Game 1 tonight at the Barrie Molson Centre. "They beat us out last year, so we definitely want to get some revenge on them.

"They're a strong team and we know that," he added. "I feel like we can beat them this year. Last year, we fell a little short and I want to beat them this year."

Much like last year's playoff battle, there appears to be once again the makings of another closely contested, long, hard-fought matchup, especially considering there was little separating the two teams in the regular season.

Both teams finished with 85 points, with the Colts winning the division title and home-ice advantage thanks to their edge in the win column.

The two foes also split their six-game, head-to-head season series.

"Each series takes its own identity, but we obviously tied in points and split (games) 3-3, so it looks to be pretty even," said Colts head coach Dale Hawerchuk, whose club swept the Belleville Bulls four straight in the opening round.

While new story lines are likely to develop as the series carries on, going in they clearly point to a matchup that features offence versus defence and speed against size.

"We are what we are. They are what they are," said Hawerchuk, whose club bolstered its size on the blue-line this season with the acquisitions of Ben Harpur, Brandon Prophet and Chadd Bauman. "Like I said before, that's for other people to speculate about size or whatever.

"For us, it's about executing our game plan, which is no different than what they're thinking," the coach added.

Only the Oshawa Generals gave up fewer goals this season than the Troops and led by the likes of Nick Paul, Nick Moutrey and Kyle Wood, Gang Green has no shortage of size and brawn throughout the lineup.

Led by the 100-point trio of Joseph Blandisi, Kevin Labanc and Mangiapane, the Colts bolster a speedy, offensive attack that scored 278 times. Only Sault Ste. Marie, Erie, Oshawa and London found the back of the net more times this season.

"It's not like we haven't played each other a lot," Hawerchuk said. "We've played each other quite a bit. It comes down to whoever executes the best in the week to two weeks."

For the Battalion, that usually means clogging the neutral zone. Few teams frustrate opponents and limit offensive opportunities like North Bay does.

They consistently end up outshooting opponents and fewer, if any, teams are better at forcing turnovers and capitalizing on them.  

"We have to play a full 60 (minutes) against them," Mangiapane said. "Sometimes we're not patient against them and that's what cost us the game.

"I feel we have to play a full 60 and stick to our structure."

With a big, veteran group led by Marcus McIvor, Kyle Wood, Brendan Miller and Miles Liberati, the Battalion boast one of the OHL's top blue-lines.

McIvor's status for Friday remains up in the air after taking a head shot from Kingston's Lawson Crouse in the final game of the opening round.  

Backed by veteran standout Jake Smith in goal, North Bay completely shut down a talented Kingston Frontenacs club, giving up just four goals in a four-game sweep.

Mangiapane knows the Colts' big guns are going to have to find a way to battle through if they are to advance. Five Barrie skaters scored 30 or more goals this season.

"I feel like there's a little pressure on us and I feel we can handle it though, and we're going to be there to help the team win," Mangiapane said.

Some help could be on its way up front for Barrie. Both Brendan Lemieux (hand), who has been out since March 5, and Nick Pastorious (head), out since Feb. 25, have been practising with the club.

"Both Pastorious and Lemieux are real close," Hawerchuk said. "They could start (Friday)."

The Battalion used the boisterous crowd at the North Bay Memorial Gardens to win all three games at home in its second-round win over Barrie, but this time it's the Colts who hold home-ice advantage, which could prove a key factor in a tight series.

"That's what we fought for," Mangiapane said. "They got a pretty wild crowd and we want to stay away from that as much as we can, so it's nice to play at home the first two games and get the crowd (at the BMC) behind us."

As he's done all season, Hawerchuk wants his team's focus on only the next game.

"When you have home ice, you want to hold home court. That's always the plan," the Barrie bench boss said. "Each series, each game takes its own identity and you have to be ready to evolve to it, adjust if you have to.

"I never like thinking too far ahead. As a group, we're the same way. We just get ready for the next game."

HEAD TO HEAD

(2) Barrie Colts (41-24-3) vs. (3) North Bay Battalion (37-20-11)

SEASON SERIES: Battalion 3-1-1-1

SERIES OPENER: Tonight at BMC, 7:30 p.m.

KEYS FOR BARRIE

TALL IN THE CREASE: The Battalion will face a much more mature and experienced Mackenzie Blackwood. "He's one of the best goalies in the league," teammate Andrew Mangiapane said. "He's been playing great for us lately and we need him if we're going to go on a run here in the playoffs."

QUICK OUT OF THE SADDLE: "They seem to be the type of team, they can protect leads well," Hawerchuk said. "Good starts are important for sure, but if you don't get them you've got to find a way to get back into it."

PREDICTION: Colts in 7

THE GENIE SAYS... OTHER SERIES CALLS

(1) Oshawa Generals vs. (5) Niagara IceDogs: Goaltending and home ice proves the difference. GENS IN 6

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Soo Greyhounds vs. (4) Guelph Storm

Defending champs won't make it easy, but these Hounds are in for the long run. HOUNDS IN 5

(2) Erie Otters vs. (3) London Knights

Otters stars should prove too much for young Knights back end. OTTERS IN 6


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