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Thursday, Apr. 25, 2019
Canadians work hard to complete home and home sweep of the Express
by Randy Pascal

The wins might not have come quite as easily as they would have liked, but in the end, the Rayside-Balfour Canadians did manage to secure both ends of a home and home set with the Espanola Express.

Last Thursday night in Chelmsford, the homeside needed a power-play tally from Ethan Lavallee midway through the third, snapping a 2-2 tie and lifting the Canadians to a 3-2 win over the Express.

Part of the reason for the teeth-gnashing in Rayside was a very impressive performance, especially early in the game, from Espanola goaltender Joel Rainville, who finished the contest with 43 saves, 15 in the first period alone.

Only rookie Mathieu Dokis-Dpuis managed to solve the product of the North Bay "AAA" Trappers system in period one, giving Rayside a 1-0 lead at the 13:52 mark. Zac Matyasik got that one back in the second, as both sides opened it up, forcing Canadians' puckstopper Sebastien Plamondon to match Rainville save for save through the middle stanza.

When Kyle Liinamaa found the back of the net following an outstanding individual effort in the opening minute of the third, the sense in Chelmsford was certainly that the tides had turned in favour of the local NOJHLers.

Not so fast, countered the resilient Express, who battled back to knot the contest for a second time when Diego Pasula hit the mark for head coach Dave Clancy and company.

The game-winning goal by Lavallee allowed Rayside to back-end an earlier 6-3 win in Espanola on October 26th, a matchup in which the Canadians surrendered a 3-1 third period advantage, only to need three unanswered goals in the final seven minutes to secure their road triumph.

The crew that recently welcomed back head coach Dan Cuomo from a health-related leave of absence benefitted from a balanced attack that would see Noah Serré, Kyle Liinamaa, Nick Belisle, Christopher Clark, Mathieu Dokis-Dupuis and Eric Eschweiler all find their way on to the scoresheet.

The rematch in Rayside required Plamondon to bring his "A" game in helping the Canadians improve to 12-9-1-1, two points back of the Soo Thunderbirds. "For myself, my focus was strong, really strong," noted the native of Timmins.

"I was quick. But the boys made it easy for me. It's always fun when it's a team win." Plamondon, who had a good showing with the team at tryouts back in the fall of 2017 before opting to ensure himself more playing time and a solid developmental year with the Kapuskasing Flyers of the Great North Midget League, suggested that the jump to juniors might not necessarily be noticeable, for goalies, in the areas that general fans might expect.

"Everybody thinks the shots will be different, but the shots are pretty much the same," explained Plamondon. "Your shot can only get so hard at one point. It's mostly the speed of the game. The players here think a lot faster, their decisions are quicker. One second the guy has the puck, the next second, it's completely across the ice."

One other interesting aspect of the NOJHL lies in the general parity in the loop, with no less than seven teams bunched in currently between 23 and 30 points, and another three squads only slightly further back than that.

"It's a weird league," said Plamondon. "It's the first time, for me, being a league where everyone is so close and there really isn't much of a difference." In fact, even the teams near the bottom of the standings are showing improvements.

After finishing far behind their nearest entry with a woeful record of 2-52-1-1 last year, newly hired coach Clancy and the Express have already surpassed their point total from 17-18, showing signs of progress at 4-16-0-0.

"Coming out of training camp, we knew that we were a raw team," said Clancy, certainly one of the local hockey minds most well equipped with the proper perspective to understand the job that lies ahead of he and his staff.

"We only had three returning players, so it was going to be a work in progress for us. For the last seven or eight games, I think we've shown every team that we can play with them, play against them. We obviously don't have the finish that a lot of the teams have and sometimes it comes back to haunt us."

"But I am happy with how the team is progressing," added Clancy. "We still have lots to learn and hopefully, by the middle of the season, we'll start winning some of these games." For their part, the Canadians return to action this evening, battling the Hearst Lumberjacks in Chelsmford at 7:00 p.m.

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