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Rayside-Balfour Canadians gaining momentum

Truth be told, the Rayside-Balfour Canadians would have likely been quite content to walk away with a pair of wins as they eyed a tough three in three stretch this past weekend.

After all, the Canadians were taking their 9-7-0-0 record into Elliot Lake to face the 10-4-3-0 Wildcats, before hosting the Powassan Voodoos (14-1-0-0) and Soo Thunderbirds (17-1-0-0) the next two nights.

But the Rayside crew, who have undergone some significant shuffling in the lineup since they opened the 2015-2016 campaign back in early September, got things rolling right off the bat, recording a 5-4 win in double overtime over Elliot Lake.

Danny Lepage scored the game-winning goal, with the teams playing three on three hockey, as the Canadians overcame a 4-2 deficit with 5:14 to play, providing a wonderful kick-start to the weekend.

Captain Ryan Erickson enjoyed a two-goal outing for Rayside, with Ryan Mooney and Jayme Forslund adding one goal apiece. Spencer McLean scored twice for the Wildcats, while Shane Woolsey and Ismael Dumerlas also tallied in a losing cause.

Coach Jason Young and company wasted little time moving back into high gear at home on Saturday, scoring three times in the opening period and holding on for a 3-2 win over the Voodoos.

Otis Goldman got things going just 49 seconds in, with teammates Joel Lemay and Erickson joining him on the scoresheet, while Eric Champagne got one back for Powassan in the first.

The score stayed the same until early in the third, when Daniel Golbo trimmed the margin down to just a single goal. But with Rayside-Balfour goaltender Jessie Morin posting his best performance of the season (33 saves on 35 shots), and the local juniors defensive acumen limiting the high scoring Voodoos to just seven shots in the third, the Canadians made it two wins in as many nights.

With the margin between winning and losing razor-thin on Sunday, the home side once again took advantage of key opportunities, as Rayside-Balfour doubled the Soo Thunderbirds 4-2.

Goals by Lepage (13:24 of the second) and Goldman (PP goal at 0:26 of the third) had propelled the Canadians to a 2-0 lead, before the T-Birds countered with a pair of their own.

Brandon Grandinetti pulled the trigger with the man advantage (2:29), and Brett Jeffries drilled the equalizer less than three minutes later, as the teams fought tooth and nail throughout this fast-paced affair.

With just 45 seconds to play, and Matt Caruso serving a high-stick penalty for the visitors, a point drive from Mooney was tipped in, through a crowd, by Lepage, with Matt Neault adding some insurance into the empty-net with but ten clicks remaining on the clock.

Mackenzie Savard finished with 31 saves on the evening, following directly in the footsteps of Morin in displaying the type of netminding required to help keep the Canadians in each and every game.

"We have finally really started committing, as a team, focusing on the game, and not on other stuff," noted rookie forward Bradley Chenier, who sits fifth in team scoring with 18 points in 18 games.

"We're starting to gel, and understand the game a little bit more, the way we need to play." The Nickel City Sons product has been a busy boy of late, mixing in games with the North Bay Battalion (Chenier has played six OHL games, recording one assist), and then doing double-duty with the Chelmsford crew.

"I just try and play my game, whether it's here or in the OHL," he said. Like most 16 year-olds playing junior hockey, Chenier has faced a steep learning curve. "It's a mindset. Even though they're bigger and faster, you just have to kind of figure it out."

"I think I've been playing well," he added. "It's new to me, but I think I've adjusted well." Three years older, Lepage is now in his second year with the Canadians franchise. Noted for the scope of his all-around game, the Lively native was thankful for the chance to contribute offensively, most notably with a pair of game-winning goals.

"I got some good luck, for sure, and some good bounces," said Lepage modestly. "Today, I got lucky on that rebound goal, and that was a nice shot from Mooney, at the end, that I was lucky enough to get my stick on and tip it in."

Hovering in around the .500 mark, the Rayside juniors were thrilled to be able to extend their current winning streak to four games, especially while facing some of the NOJHL elite.

"We were a bit nervous, we knew this was a big weekend," acknowledged Lepage. "Obviously, those are three of the bigger teams in the league. Our main focus was shutting down their big lines. We did defense first, and the goaltending was great all weekend."

"Coming off three wins, the boys are pretty fired up," continued Lepage. "It's fun beating teams like that." The only downside to the three in three stretch came in Sunday's game, when Rayside-Balfour lost the services of veteran defenseman Yanic Hebert, for what is likely to be an extended period of time.

Hebert sustained a dislocated elbow and possible fracture in his arm, the result of a relatively harmless looking collision between the Rayside net during the opening period versus the Thunderbirds.

The Canadians will get a chance to catch their collective breath, as the team travels to Powassan on November 14th, and then to Noelville to face the French River Rapids on the 20th, before returning home to face that same team the very next evening.

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