In the last go-around at the Bunker, the Peterborough Petes' urgency was AWOL.
There is no fooling anyone that junior teams are just as prone as the pros are to to mailing it in at the end of the regular season, before the real hockey begins. Winning had no tangible importance for the Brampton Battalion, but they made their last regular-season game at the Powerade Centre memorable — bitterly so for Peterborough Petes partisans — by winning 5-2 to deny the Petes a playoff berth. Coming in, it seemed like the Petes had come too far to get tripped up by some Troops who had nothing at stake, but it happened.
Brampton/North Bay merely had to get through the game before preparing for its series against its Northern Ontario rival, the Sudbury Wolves. The notable aspect of playing it out was they refused to go through the motions in front of the send-off crowd of 3,432, which was about double the size of the usual sparse turnout at the Powerade Centre.
"We came to the game knowing we couldn't move up or down and we knew Peterborough was fighting for a spot in the playoffs," Battalion defenceman Dylan Blujus told Rogers Television. "We knew they were going to come out hard and we had to give it everything that we had ... we were a little slow in the first period, we picked it up toward the end of the game and it was a great win for the crowd."
Well, they didn't have to give it everything, but play along.
"The Battalion fans have been here for 15 years, they've been great," Blujus added. "It's sad to see our last home regular-season game go by, but the fans were great for my years I was here. When we scored the first goal [tying the game 1-1 late in the first period], I've never heard a place so loud. It gave the boys the chills and it felt great for us."
There is no taking back the move to North Bay. By the time the Battalion made their plans official in November, it was evident Battalion owner Scott Abbott had stuck it out long enough by trying to offer a niche product that is the OHL that works best in small to medium-sized cities to a disinterested corner of a fragmented marketplace. Yet no one should say the Battalion didn't have their small band of fans who are being left out in the cold, since their options will be supporting lower-level minor pro, supporting the rival Mississauga Steelheads or being colonized by Leaf Nation.
The Battalion almost did not want to do it, but it would unlike a Stan Butler-coached team to not show up.
From Mike Davies:
Even Battalion coach/GM Stan Butler felt bad for the Petes.
“(Petes coach) Jody Hull did such a great job,” Butler said. “They probably ran into the wrong team for the last game of the season. We probably had as much at stake as they did it being our last regular season game ever. I feel really bad because I'm very good friends with the D'Agostini family. He (Petes goalie Andrew D'Agostini) is a good goalie. I felt for their team. It was a bittersweet win. That may sound corny, I was happy we won, but I felt bad for them because what a comeback they made.” (Peterborough Examiner)
While Peterborough crumbled — it was almost like the purpose drained out of them after they moved into a playoff position with a nationally televised OT win over Kingston on Friday — the Frontenacs rolled. Overage captain Cody Alcock scored the first two goals in a 5-1 walkover over the Ottawa 67's.
"The guys were probably scared about the car rides homes, their dads yelling at them or something," Alcock quipped to TV Cogeco Ontario, noting most of his teammates had family in the stands after the Frontenacs held their team banquet on Saturday.
Kingston (27-35-3-3) climbed into seventh place and a first-round date with the Barrie Colts. Thanks to soon to be former neighbours, Mississauga (26-34-0-8) got eighth and a matchup against Malcolm Subban and the Belleville Bulls.
As for the Petes ...
The Petes, despite that 18-12-0-3 second half under new Hull and new GM Mike Pelino, ended up in the exact same position as 2011-12. Their record (26-35-3-4) is about the same as their '12 finish (27-34-3-4). Only time will tell whether that second-half run is irrefutable proof of progress or a mirage created by a team that thrived on living on the margins and went 8-4 in shootouts and still missed the playoffs in the mediocre Eastern Conference. They will pick No. 3 overall in the OHL priority selection draft next month and have four of the first 42 selections.
What was it all for?
Granted, there is always that argument that playoff watches over the final one or two spots is a fuss about nothing, since the last teams in are almost always the first ousted. Having 80 per cent of the teams make the playoffs is too much. No one denies that, but they could pull their head out of the snowbank and look at the improved attendance figures for two of the teams in that three-way race. The Frontenacs have had more people in the seats this season, although it will be more than a one-season job to get the Kingston market to vote more with its wallets. Peterborough's attendance also increased as a playoff spot began to look like more and more of a possibility.
In cities such as those, there is always, deep-down, that pull to support a hometown team, even a flawed one, which is giving it everything it's got. Brampton is going to North Bay to build into that almost unconditional bond as exists in other OHL cities. There's some irony; if the Battalion weren't moving, maybe their approach on Sunday would have changed and Peterborough would have won and made the playoffs. Hockey's funny that way.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.