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BRAMPTON, Ont. – The success that the Brampton Battalion enjoyed in the 2011-12 Ontario Hockey League season stemmed from its identity as a physical, competitive and tough team against which to play, said head coach Stan Butler.
“The one thing we can always control is our work ethic, and that’s what made us such a strong team,” said Butler, to be inducted into the Brampton Sports Hall of Fame in the builders category on May 1.
The Battalion yet again proved many preseason prognosticators wrong, finishing the regular season with a won-lost-extended record of 36-22-10 for 82 points, third in the Central Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference.
“It was something we really emphasized to the guys, that it was important that we battle hard all the time, and as a result we made the game very difficult for our opponent.”
The Battalion, which swept the Sudbury Wolves, fifth in the conference, in four games in a first-round series, advanced to face the Niagara IceDogs in a conference semifinal before being eliminated in four games.
“It was a much harder series than the four games indicate,” noted Butler. “Although they did beat us every game, we played extremely hard each and every game and we forced them to compete hard for every win.”
Said Butler: “As a coach that’s your goal as a hockey team, to compete at a high level every night and try to get the most out of each of your players.”
After taking some time to reflect on the season, Butler said he was pleased with the improvement and character the team showed on a nightly basis.
“They grew as a team and as an identity, and the character and determination of this group was seen in their work ethic each and every game.”
Centre and captain Sam Carrick was a force, pacing the Troops in scoring with 37 goals and 30 assists for 67 points in 68 games.
“Carrick did a really good job leading this team. He battled hard, and on most nights he set the tone for the rest of the team. He was a quiet leader. He led by example, and he was a warrior on the ice who battled hard all the time, and the guys followed.”
Defenceman Cameron Wind, right winger Barclay Goodrow and left winger Ian Watters served as alternate captains.
“Our leadership was the key to what made us successful. All the kids got along great. They were a tight-knit group, and that’s a credit to the leadership of this team.”
The Battalion, which finished with the league’s third-fewest goals against at 188, behind the No. 2-ranked London Knights at 178 and leader Niagara at 169, was led between the pipes by veteran goaltender Matej Machovsky and first-year partner Keegan Wilson.
“Both our goalies gave us good goaltending all year, and I was really happy with how the two of them played,” said Butler. “They did a really good job for us, and our goaltending had to be good because we weren’t a gifted offensive team. We didn’t give up a lot but we didn’t score a lot, so this group had to win a lot of tight games.”
Wilson, a 1992-born resident of Mississauga, was a ninth-round pick from the junior C Stayner Siskins in the 2011 OHL Priority Selection. He posted a 12-9-6 record while compiling a 2.82 goals-against average and an .892 save percentage.
“He’s a very good athlete and he fit really well into our system,” said Butler. “Obviously, it was a good draft pick. Anytime you can get a guy who comes in to play on the team right away, you have to be happy with that.”
The Battalion boasted the OHL’s second-best penalty-killing performance with a success rate of 84.9 percent, behind the top-ranked IceDogs.
“That’s a credit to the players and the fact they achieved it on the premise that the guys really worked hard at it and did a great good job.”
The Battalion, which had a defence corps comprising six veterans and one rookie in Brenden Miller, could see the return of all seven.
“It’s important to have continuity in your group, and six of these defencemen playing together for the past two seasons really strengthens our team,” said Butler, who noted that offensive production is an area in which he’d like to see improvement.
“Our power play wasn’t great,” said Butler, whose Troops were 18th in the league with a man-advantage success rate of 15.7 percent.
“Not only do we need to be better with the man advantage, but we need to produce more offence at even strength. We’re just going to keep looking for ways to generate more offence.”
Butler cited the development of the rookie group as a bright spot. The Battalion had five rookies on the roster, numbering forwards Brandon Robinson, Patrik Machac, Connor Jarvis and Jamie Lewis as well as rearguard Miller.
“I was happy with the way they played. They all had a good first season, and they’re a group we expect to grow and continue to get better over the next year.”