Welcome back, Cray Roberge.
The Valley East native, who suited up with the Blind River Beavers (2012-2013) and Espanola Rivermen (2013-2014) following his selection in the eighth round of the 2012 OHL draft by the Barrie Colts, has returned to some very familiar faces.
Playing in a lineup that includes some teammates and opponents from local minor hockey days, Roberge made the most of his debut in a Sudbury Nickel Barons uniform, drilling a hat-trick to lead the team to a season-opening 4-2 win over the Mattawa Blackhawks.
Roberge potted a pair in the opening frame, with Jimmy Roy scoring the eventual game-winner early in the third, and Roberge adding an insurance tally with under four minutes to play. Tyler Brodersen and Alex Hufford replied for Mattawa, with Sudbury goaltender Jessie Morin coming up big as well.
Acquired from Blind River, Morin turned in a 33-save performance, providing a nice 1-2 punch at both ends of the rink with Roberge. "On the first one, I created something," said Roberge, providing a brief scoring recap.
"The last two were kind of tap-in goals, but I'll take any goal. I really want to be a good leader on the team and show by example, on and off the ice." On a squad that featured only six players in their lineup on Wednesday who were also with the team to close out 2013-2014, the need for offensive contributions from multiple sources is evident.
A fast and shifty stable of forwards appears ready to tackle that challenge, though Roberge understands the game is not merely one-directional. "Today was a perfect example of not enough backchecking going on," he said.
"They had a lot of odd-man rushes. Right now, it's early in the season, so teams are still adjusting. But as the season goes on, we can't let that happen any more. We can't afford odd-man rushes when it comes to the playoffs."
Still, there is plenty of time to get there, as coach Jason Young and company prepare for just the second game of regular season play next Wednesday at home, welcoming the Elliot Lake Wildcats to Copper Cliff.
Barons Banter: Talk about setting the bar high for team toughness. It will be difficult for any Sudbury player to complain too vehemently when attended to, on the ice, by the Barons training staff.
Taking a clearing attempt directly in the back of the head in the second period, team trainer Lisa Parisé received five stitches during intermission and returned to the bench for the third period of play, tending to her critical role with the team.
The Sudbury lineup on Wednesday included goaltenders Jessie Morin and Kevin Labelle, defensemen Davis Gadjovich, Ryan Mooney, Brett Whitehead, Yanic Hébert, Jonathan Lavigne and Kyle Fransen, as well as forwards Jimmy Roy, Josh Moore, Lucas Toth, Bradley Sutton, Christopher Rossi, Joel Lemay, Jacob Bonin, Danny Lepage, August Jarecki, Cray Roberge and affiliated player Owen Fransen.
Defenseman Khadyn Butterfly and forward Dylan Callaghan are still with the Wolves, though both would be welcomed back with open arms if things do not work with the local OHLers. Former Abitibi Eskimo Peter Poulin-Roy is also currently on the team roster, though he did not show up for a couple of practices this week, nor last night's game, with the team unsure what the make of his current status.