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BRAMPTON, Ont. –The Brampton Battalion hosts the Niagara IceDogs at 7:30 p.m. Friday to open a two-game weekend in which the Troops won’t hit the road. That will change soon enough.
The Battalion, which may have two long-sidelined players back in action, entertains the Ottawa 67’s at 2 p.m. Sunday before playing its next five games away from home, including a three-game, four-day road trip next week.
The IceDogs defeated the Battalion 4-1 at St. Catharines on Oct. 27 in the teams’ only previous meeting this season.
The Battalion and Niagara are rivals in the Central Division, the tightest in the Ontario Hockey League, with the first- and fifth-place teams separated by just six points. The Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors are atop the division with 23 points from a won-lost-extended record of 10-5-3, while the Battalion is second, one point behind, at 10-6-2.
The Barrie Colts and Niagara are tied for third place with 18 points, with the Colts holding a game in hand at 8-7-2 and the IceDogs at 8-8-2. The Sudbury Wolves, 8-7-1 for 17 points, are the OHL’s top-ranking divisional basement dwellers.
All five teams are in action Friday night, with Barrie at Mississauga and Sudbury visiting the Kitchener Rangers.
Niagara comes into the Powerade Centre without left winger Tom Kuhnhackl, a German import who was suspended 20 games after receiving a charging major and game misconduct Nov. 4 for a hit on defenceman Ryan Murphy of the host Rangers. Kuhnhackl is eligible to return to play Jan. 6.
The IceDogs acquired Kuhnhackl in a Nov. 2 trade with the Windsor Spitfires, dealing Jaroslav Pavelka and Phillip DiGiuseppe as well as second-round OHL Priority Selection picks in 2012, 2014 and 2015 and their first-round choice in the Canadian Hockey League’s 2013 Import Draft. Niagara got back Windsor’s second-round CHL Import Draft selection in 2013.
Kuhnhackl had one assist in two games with Niagara after recording one goal and three assists for four points in as many games this season with Windsor. As a Spitfires rookie last year, he scored 39 goals and earned 29 assists for 68 points in 63 games before adding 11 goals and 12 assists for 23 points in 18 playoff games.
While the IceDogs are missing a player touted as one of their main cogs, the Battalion could have right winger Michael Santini and centre Connor Jarvis in uniform this weekend. Both have been sidelined with high-ankle sprains but have practised this week. Overager Santini has played six games this season, none since Oct. 10, and rookie Jarvis three, through Sept. 29.
With them returning to health, left winger Ian Watters is the only member of the Troops still in sick bay. He is recovering from surgery to repair severed tendons in his right wrist and is expected to be out another two months. The overager played the first four games of the season, scoring four goals.