It was a week of give and take for the Rayside-Balfour Canadians of the NOJHL.
First, the team welcomed media for a $10,000 cheque presentation to Northern Ontario Families of Children with Cancer (NOFCC), the beneficiary of the first-ever Superhero Jersey Promotion hosted by the local club.
Just a few days later, the Canadians were more than happy to take the chance to confirm the signing of Sudbury Wolves' prospect and Nickel City Sons' product Wilson Farrow for the 2020-2021.
The fundraising initiative was noteworthy for a handful of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that the proceeds from the Super Mario-themed game on February 7th versus the Blind River Beavers was very much on par with previous initiatives that Rayside owner Mark Burgess had undertaken during his time in the OHL.
And the timing could not have been better.
"Every single fundraiser that we had scheduled has been cancelled," noted NOFCC Executive Director Dayna Caruso. "In order to raise money, you pretty much need to bring people together. Our families are in even more need of help now than they were before."
"This is a small organization that has a big mandate," acknowledged Burgess, whose family owned the Sudbury Wolves from 1986 until 2016, jumping back into junior hockey ranks with the Canadians prior to the start of the 2019-2020 season.
"It's (NOFCC) a great family-focused organization, but there are a lot of worthy charities," he added. "I wish that we could help even more."
While Burgess has been thankful to spend a little more of the winter down south, he is equally as excited about the NOJHL partnership that he has entered with long-time friend Blaine Smith. "After being out of it for four years, I thought that it was time to get back into it," he said.
"We want to win an RBC Cup - that's why we are in this. It's something that eluded me at the OHL level, but it is very hard to win there."
To that end, the Canadians hoped to solidify their back-end with the addition of Farrow, a 6th round pick of the Wolves in the 2020 OHL draft. "Wilson's ability to skate and make plays, to make that first pass and get himself out of trouble, they're all reasons why I think he is a worthy candidate for a 16 year-old card in Rayside," suggested Canadians' GM Jeff Forsyth.
Still, he knows that patience will be needed, patience that does not always come easy for young hockey talent looking to make a name for themselves. "It's an adjustment that takes time," said Forsyth. "We see it in all of these young kids."
"They've been the elite in their age group, then they come into junior hockey, and all of a sudden, they're playing against older, bigger, stronger kids. He's got to give himself until Christmas to really feel comfortable."
"That's when we start to see the player that we think is there for us, after that internal growth that we always talk about. Give them time to grow and they will."
With the graduation of blueliners Zach Snow and Gregory Arnburg, the Canadians will look to build around twenty-year old local product Joel Mongeon, sophomore defencemen Avery Chisholm and Graeme Siren, Elliot Lake acquisition Michael Campbell (the Wildcats have taken a leave of absence from the league for the coming year) and Farrow, along with a few more newcomers still to be signed.
"I think our back-end was somewhere I want to really focus on," said Forsyth, looking to the returning goaltending tandem of David Bowen and Nicholas Heinzle to cover-up for a few defensive miscues early on.
Up front, questions remain, mostly due to the fact that a good number of the Rayside forwards will be looking to crack the next level in the fall. Those that don't will return to a group that will likely be lead by Mathieu Dokis-Dupuis, Brady Maltais, Gavin Brown and (hopefully) Matt Belanger, as well as at least one more 16 year-old prospect in the form of Samuel Assinewai.