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BRAMPTON, Ont. – It’s one of the oldest clichés in sports, but the Brampton Battalion truly has to take its Ontario Hockey League season one game at a time now.
The Battalion trails the Niagara IceDogs 3-0 in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series after dropping a 6-3 decision at St. Catharines on Tuesday night. The Battalion hosts Game 4 at 7 p.m. Thursday. A fifth game would be played at Niagara on Saturday night.
“It’s do-or-die for us every game now,” overage left winger Brett Mackie said Wednesday. “We’ll have a good practice today and we’ll come out ready to go tomorrow. The guys should be up for it. If you’re not, you shouldn’t even be playing hockey.
“We need to have the mindset that we have nothing to lose tomorrow. We need to leave it all out there and go for the win.”
The Battalion took its first lead of the series in the first period of Game 3 when Matt MacLeod scored at 7:33 and Philip Lane followed with a shorthanded goal at 11:55. Tom Kuhnhackl cut Niagara’s deficit to one at 15:34, and Alex Friesen tied the game with a shorthanded goal at 1:24 of the second period. Freddie Hamilton gave the home side its first lead at 7:18.
Zach Bell tied it on the power play at 10:46 but, with Sam Carrick off for hooking, Lane received a major penalty for checking to the head and a game misconduct at 13:08. The IceDogs capitalized with the two-man advantage on a Kuhnhackl goal at 13:40. Niagara got two more goals from Hamilton in the third period to seal the win.
Battalion coach Stan Butler said Lane was spared supplementary discipline and will be in the lineup for the fourth game.
“We had a good first half,” said Mackie, who ran a points streak to six games with an assist on MacLeod’s goal. “But we ran into some penalty trouble in the second period, and things started to get away from us a bit. They really capitalized on their chances, and it threw us off our game a bit.
“We could have used another goal to try to control that lead, but I think the 2-0 lead is one of the worst leads in hockey, and that showed again last night. You don’t want to get into a run-and-gun game with those guys. They really jumped on our mistakes.”
Matej Machovsky was solid in goal for the Battalion, making 23 saves, but was victimized by some defensive lapses.
“It definitely wasn’t Matej’s fault,” said Mackie. “We had some breakdowns in our backchecks, and we probably could have helped him out more. Hopefully we can help him out more tomorrow.”
Machovsky has manned the crease throughout the Battalion’s seven playoff games.
“We all know how good they are, but last night there were some bad breakdowns for us,” said Machovsky. “That five-minute penalty didn’t help either. They had a couple of lucky bounces and scored two goals. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen tomorrow.
“As a goalie, you have to love a series like this. You’re up against a strong team and getting plenty of work.”
Mackie, acquired in an Oct. 4 trade with the Belleville Bulls, said the Troops have shown resilience throughout the season.
“The guys have bounced back many times. There’s a lot of character in our room, and we have a lot of good guys who know what it takes to win. The older guys who have been there before need to bring that to the younger guys.”
Said Machovsky: “The coaches have been telling us that we have to believe. We can’t pack up and go home. We have to know that we can get back into this series.”
The Battalion was on the other side of the fence in its quarterfinal against the Sudbury Wolves, in which the Troops posted a 4-3 road victory in double overtime to sweep the set in four games.
“We were up 3-0, and if you lose that fourth game you never know where a series will go from there,” said Mackie. “If we can get one win, we can try to shift all the momentum to our side.”
A fourth-round pick by Belleville in the 2007 OHL Priority Selection, Mackie practised on occasion in 2007-08 with the Bulls squad that advanced to the OHL Championship Series against the Kitchener Rangers. Belleville fell behind 3-0 in the series but won the next three games to force a seventh game, which the host Rangers won 4-1.
“I heard plenty of stories about that series the following season. When I practised with them, you could just see the leadership the older guys brought to the younger guys, and then they carried it on.”
Mackie, part of the Battalion’s three-man overage contingent with fellow left wingers Mitchell Porowski and Ian Watters, said he’s in no hurry for his OHL career to end.
“I’m not ready for that yet, and I know all the guys here who aren’t in their last season are playing for those of us who are.”