SUDBURY, Ont. – Before joining the Brampton Battalion, left wingers Derek Froats and Brett Mackie had trouble finding success in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs.
Froats, who turns 20 on May 21, was acquired in a Jan. 9 trade with the Kingston Frontenacs, with whom he played two-plus seasons. Overager Mackie played 179 games over three-plus seasons with the Belleville Bulls, who traded him to the Battalion on Oct. 4.
Froats advanced to the playoffs twice with the Frontenacs, who were defeated in seven games by the Battalion in an Eastern Conference quarterfinal in 2010 and ousted by the Oshawa Generals in five first-round games last year.
Mackie was a rookie when the Battalion bounced the Bulls in six games in the 2009 conference final. Belleville missed the playoffs in 2010 and was swept by the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors in the first round last season.
But Froats and Mackie both played key roles in a 4-3 double-overtime victory Wednesday night over the Sudbury Wolves. Froats scored his first OHL playoff goal, while Mackie was a thorn in the Wolves’ side throughout the game, which gave the Troops a four-game sweep of the first-round series and sends them to a conference semifinal for the seventh time in their 14-year history.
Froats, who had seven assists in 15 previous playoff games, gave the Battalion a 3-2 lead with an unassisted goal at 11:13 of the third period. He intercepted a Ryan Hanes pass just outside the Sudbury zone and, at full speed past four defenders, beat goaltender Joel Vienneau with a wrister to the glove side from deep in the left-wing circle.
“I came off the bench and had a full head of steam,” said Froats, whose goal looked like the game-winner until Derek Schoenmakers tied it on the power play at 18:10. “The puck came right to me. I made a move and saw the goalie was showing me a lot of net on the glove side.”
Froats, who scored three goals in 23 regular-season games with the Troops, opened the game at right wing on a line with centre Connor Jarvis and left winger Brandon Robinson. Froats’s efforts were noticed by Battalion coaches, who rewarded him with additional ice time as the game, which ended on a Cameron Wind goal, went on.
“I haven’t been happy with my performance in the series, even though it was great that the team was so amazing,” said Froats. “I thought I could do a lot better, and for the first time in the series I was happy with my game.”
Mackie seemed to be a target for the Wolves from the drop of the puck. Justin Sefton was called for roughing after checking Mackie into the boards 15 seconds into the game, and Mackie also was on the receiving end of hard hits by Brody Silk and Frank Corrado before the first period was done.
“That’s the role that I like to play, and I guess I got under their skin a little bit,” said Mackie. “I drew some penalties. It was just a huge effort from all of us.
“We’d seen them play like that against us during the regular season. They’re a tough team to play against, and when they come at you like that it can be tough. We struggled a little in the first period, but once we fended them off we were able to come back. It was real playoff hockey, especially in a situation where one team needs to win to stay alive.”
Mackie, who has six assists in 25 career playoff games, set up Wind’s winning goal, collecting a loose puck and dishing it to the defenceman, who hammered a shot over Vienneau’s blocker from above the left circle.
“I just saw we had a two-on-one and the play got broken up,” said Mackie. “I picked up the puck and passed it to Wind. All I saw after that was the mesh move.”
Froats said he’s enjoying the success the Battalion has achieved to date.
“It’s unbelievable. I’d never been on a team that even had the lead in a playoff series, and to get a lead, then my first playoff goal and a sweep was amazing. I’m just loving it here.”
Mackie said he hopes he can pass on the lessons learned in his first playoff run, which marked the Bulls’ third consecutive appearance in the conference final.
“Looking back to my first year, I learned a lot from the older guys. Now that I’m one of those guys on this team, it’s nice to be able to help lead the way.”