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Friday, Sep. 21, 2018
Canadians keep title hopes alive
by Randy Pascal

The Rayside-Balfour Canadians kept their hopes alive for an NOJHL West Division title alive, picking up a critical 3-1 win over the Cochrane Crunch Sunday evening at home.

The locals scored once in each period and received an outstanding effort between the pipes from Brayden Lachance, improving their record to 36-14-4-1 (77 pts), two points better than the Soo Thunderbirds (36-15-2-1).

The two teams will go head to head Tuesday night at the John Rhodes Community Centre, a contest which closes out the regular season for Rayside-Balfour. The T-Birds, with one game in hand, finish things off Wednesday evening opposite the Soo Eagles (34-20-0-1).

Kyle Liinamaa, Taylor Woolcott and Noah Serre propelled the Canadians to a 3-0 lead last night, with Lachance shutting down the Crunch completely until the very late stages of the contest. With just 1:24 to play and goaltender Taylor Unruh on the bench in favour of an extra attacker, Austin Staufer snapped the shutout bid, but not before Lachance had turned aside 41 Cochrane shots.

"It felt very playoff-like, to be honest," noted the winning goaltender, a lifelong Sudbury product who was suiting up with the Summerside Western Capitals in Prince Edward Island last fall, before being acquired in early December by the Canadians.

"It was a hard hitting, fast paced. It was just a good game, all around. The defence helped out, our forwards pitched in, they kind of made it easy on me." As for the move that would see him return home for the first time since the 2014-2015 campaign, Lachance simply felt the timing was right.

"I enjoyed it there, but I thought that coming back, going to school part-time, playing for my hometown team where I would get a lot of playing time, especially after being injured early on in the season, I think that helped me a lot in making that decision."

With post-season play only a week or so away, the 20 year old puckstopper is feeling that his adjustment to a new team is now pretty much complete. "It was just a matter of getting used to our systems and the way our team plays, knowing what I was expected to do, and knowing what the defencemen or forwards were expected to do," said Lachance.

"It was a little bit different compared to other teams that I have played on, but I've adjusted pretty well. We're a bit of a younger team here, younger "D" corps, where you need to settle them down, you need to kind of help them out, and they've picked up great on it."

As for the keys to a lengthy playoff run, Lachance is preaching the same message the Rayside coaching staff has focused on for some time now. "I think we just have to keep doing what we're doing, but stay out of the box - that's going to be our main thing," he noted.

"We've been taking a lot of penalties, and we have a great penalty kill, but we have to keep those down if we're wanting to go deep in the playoffs." A schedule for Rayside-Balfour playoff games is expected to be released later this week, once the dust settles on the race for top spot in the West.

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