Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Part 20: Bryan Pitton & Kyle Pereira

Bryan Pitton and Kyle Pereira both wore the Brampton Battalion’s logo on their sweaters long before sporting it for the Ontario Hockey League club.

Goaltender Pitton became the first graduate of the Brampton Youth Hockey Association to play for the Battalion when he debuted in 2005 and he was followed three years later by defenceman Pereira. A third player, blueliner Sam Nyberg, a minor midget teammate of Pereira’s, played 14 games for the Troops over two seasons.

Pitton, 25, said he was a house league player until his parents encouraged him to try out for a triple-A team as his older brother Jason, a left winger who played four OHL seasons for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Guelph Storm, was doing.

“I played house league until I was 10 and when my brother was trying out for a triple-A team my parents thought I should go out too,” Pitton said recently via telephone from Scotland where he is in his first season with the Fife Flyers of the British Elite League where he also plays with his brother. “I wasn’t great, but I made the team and played for the Battalion until 2004.

“We had season tickets for the first season so even before I played there I grew up watching them and aspiring to play there one day. It happened and it was tough to hear they are moving.”

Pereira, currently a first-year student at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, was also a regular at Battalion games as a youth. He began playing in the BYHA as a seven-year-old.

“I remember being at the first home game and I was really excited to have an OHL team in my town. When I was a kid Battalion games were the thing to do for us as a family on a Sunday.  I remember sitting in the stands cheering, either with my teammates or my father. Even before I got the chance to play for the Battalion the team was a big part of my childhood. I used to look up to those guys and wait after games for autographs.

“I had roots with the Battalion long before I had a chance to pull that sweater on. It was unbelievable to get a chance to play for them.  I can’t say enough about the organization.”

A sixth-round pick of the Battalion in the 2004 OHL Priority Selection, Pitton said he had very little contact with the club heading into the process.

“I definitely didn’t expect to get taken by the Battalion. I remember filling out a survey for them, but I spoke to many other teams in the OHL, either over the phone or at one of my games. I wasn’t even thinking about the Battalion, but all of sudden my name came up. I thought it would be fun to go away from home and play and experience what my brother was doing, but once I got taken we realized it couldn’t be any better to stay at home and play for the home town team.”

After a season with the Jr. A Wellington Dukes, Pitton enlisted with the Troops and backed up Daren Machesney on a high-powered, veteran Battalion squad.

“That was probably the best team I was with during my time with the Battalion,” said Pitton, who posted 16 wins in 24 appearances that season. “We had a lot of good players and it was a deep team. I didn’t get to play a lot, but I had an opportunity to show what I could do. I learned quite a bit from Daren, he plays in the British league too and I will see him in a couple of weeks. It will be nice to get caught up with him again.”

Pitton, who was a fifth-round pick of the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers in the 2006 Entry Draft, became the starter the following season and was a workhorse, playing 61 games, at the time a club record, including setting a club mark by starting 19 consecutive games as 16-year-old backup Patrick Killeen battled mononucleosis.

“We were a young team then, we all had a lot to learn,” said Pitton. “I was expected to be the starter. That was a tough season, we barely made the playoffs. There was nobody to push me since Killeen was out for such a long time. I was expected to play every game and I remember showing up one day and I could hardly move because I had a rib pop out, but it didn’t matter because there was nobody there to back me up. It was an up-and-down season, I’d have one good game and then a couple that weren’t so good. The team the previous season won a lot, it was tougher to be on a team that couldn’t win as much.”

Pitton and Killeen split the netminding chores in 2007-08 and only allowed 187 goals, at the time the fewest in club history. Pitton played 39 games, earned 22 wins and was one of three Battalion players named to the OHL’s All-Star Classic at Sault Ste. Marie.

The Troops won the Central Division and squared off against the Barrie Colts in an Eastern Conference quarterfinal. The Battalion was upset in five games and although Pitton posted a fine goals-against average of 1.80, he was outshone by Barrie’s Michael Hutchinson who made 221 saves and recorded a goals-against average of 1.44. 

“I had a good series, but he was outstanding,” said Pitton, who holds the club record for wins by a goalie with 64. “He was making saves I’d never seen before. He was just in a zone. It didn’t seem like we were getting to the tough areas to score. We were taking shots from the outside and expecting to beat a very good goalie, which won’t happen too often in the playoffs. On paper we were a scary team, we could score and we had some toughness. We just didn’t pull it together in the playoffs. I felt like I had a good season.”

Like Pitton, Pereira debuted as part of a terrific Battalion team. A sixth-round pick in the 2007 OHL Priority Selection, Pereira played for the Jr. A St. Michael’s Buzzers in 2007-08 and the following season played 57 games for the Troops as they advanced to the OHL Championship Series for the only time in their history.

“I got really lucky to be able to come into a team of that calibre. There were so many talented guys like Cody Hodgson and Matt Duchene and it was great how that team was able to come together at the right time and accomplish what we did. We fell a little short in the end, but we went down in history as the best team in Battalion history. As a Brampton guy it was great to be a part of it.

“I was a young guy battling for ice time and that didn’t always come for me as the season went on. But it was a great experience to get. A lot of guys never get that chance in their OHL careers and it really helped me as I moved forward in my career.”

Pereira played 79 games for the Battalion over the following two seasons before being traded to the Storm on Dec. 1, 2010 for goaltender Matej Machovsky. Pereira would play 95 games over two seasons with the Storm before finishing as an overager last season.

“It was a tough to move on from the team. It all happened so quickly and I really missed the guys and being around my home town. The Battalion was moving towards a much younger defence then and for me to be able to move to a team where I could help out as an older guy was great. I wanted to play as an overage and I got that opportunity in Guelph.”

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